Digitize your [traditional] art - on a budget

13 min read

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  1. Prelude

  2. Fantastic Equipment and Where To Find It


  4. Location Location Location!

  5. Digivolution - Make your Rookie a Champion!

  6. Final Words

I‘ve come across a bunch of #tutorials on #howto #digitize #traditional #artwork in order to #publish them and their first steps looks ever so often like this:

Get a small loan of a million dollars. Get yourself some decent equipment with it. This should do as first time setup:

But in my guide I want to show that this isn‘t necessary if you know where to look and which steps to take. Well, that sounds just like I‘m about to give advice to Pocarrontas while scratching my bork-beard.

Let me rephrase:

I‘m happy to show how I prepare my pieces of paper before spamming groups on DA ᵒʳ ʷᵃᵗᶜʰᵉʳˢ ᵒʳ ᵘⁿˢᵘˢᵖᵉᶜᵗᶦⁿᵍ ᴰᶦˢᶜᵒʳᵈ ᶜʰᵃⁿⁿᵉˡˢ ᵒʳ ᴵⁿˢᵗʳᵃᵍʳᵃᵐ with it.

2. Fantastic Equipment and Where To Find It

Yea sure you can use your #DLSR (or whatever gibber jabber order those letters come in) but I‘m not. I have a dated #Smartphone (Galaxy A3 – 2017) and I‘m going to use it.

I normally use #Photoshop CS6 – I was lucky enough to purchase a license before Adobe was like HA WE WANT MORE MONEY!

So – who of you remembers GIMP ? The ugly little brother of Photoshop everybody somehow knew of but avoided talking about? Kinda like Will Smith‘s first son…

Well guess what – that little buddy grew of age and it's kind of.. really awesome!

In my example I‘m going to use #GIMP , just to make a point of sticking to free options that are equal in quality. Get it here.

Alright so now that we got our tools ready, let‘s move on to preparing the photoshoot.


In this example I have intentionally chosen a #DinA3 picture which is twice the size of my scanner. Of course one could save some work and get DinA3 #Scanner. I really thought about it for a while, did some research and it turned out that the scanners are expensive af and their results don‘t compare to their regular #DinA4 mates.

Another option is to walk to a copy shop and have my art scanned in for a few cents.

If you have the option - go for it.

But we‘ll just assume you don‘t or you‘re as impatient as me and want things done. NOW.

First of all you want to make sure your camera is clean. I cannot stress this enough. If your camera looks like this:

Camera Lens Dirty

Your image is going to look like this:

cameraLens Dirty pic

But if your camera is clean, your result will look like this:

Camera Lens Clean

It makes such a HUGE difference!!! And it‘s such a simple twist. Just wipe it off with a corner of your T-Shirt and that‘s all it takes to bring out the colours.

Alrighty, now since you are going to work on it with program, you would want a high resolution. Get as much data from the picture as you can.

Make sure you pick a large format in your camera settings before taking the actual picture

InkedScreenshot 20200514-100744 Camera LI

I'm using 9,6MP for my example, you go with whatever you have available.

Dont forget to put it back to a smaller resolution after you‘re done or the next picture you send someone could already mean you‘re bursting your data limit on mobile. Or them.

4. Location! Location! Location!

Alright, now to pick the ideal spot.

You‘d be looking for a bright spot with lots of daylight.

So not the chest of drawers next to your desk.

Not something like this:


Eventhough it appears to be bright enough, there‘s light coming from all directions. My Desklamp from the left, the windows behind me and then we have the obvious: streaky shadows from those brushes...

Look for a spot on a window with no direct #sunlight.


This looks nice enough, eventhough shitty picture because it‘s against the light.

Position your #painting on the window board, not too close to the window itself to avoid drop shadows from the frame on it.

Ok Pic

Now you can still put on flash. You have a #lightsource creating a nice ambient light-like athmosphere, no hard light edges, no krass tint or shades.

The flash willbrighten up possible creases and helps your camera focus.

The pictures I take with flash (eventhough it‘s bright enough) are a lot less blurry.

But Cameras are different, work with what you feel most comfortable with and what you feel looks right.

So far so good, now see that you get the pictures from your camera to your PC and we will continue on how to use GIMP.

5. Digivolution - Make your Rookie a Champion!

Okay now, first thing you want to do is crop the picture.

While the windowboard might be somewhat decorative, it doesnt fit in an online publish.

Cut out as much of the whitespace as you want, if you feel like your picture needs more space or looks too narrow later on, we can add it back.

Find the #crop tool on the top left, draw a rectangle around the area you want to keep and click again in the middle of your picture to confirm the crop selection.


Next up we see that the supposed-to-be-white colour of the #background is not white.

Why is that?

First of, we‘re not using a million dollar setup.

Next the light we receive from the outside is slightly tinted by various factors, like weather, #bouncelight from objects and so on.

If you look at pictures with a far horizont, what you will see is that the more distant an obejct is, the more blue it seems to get.

The light of the sky bounces back from the ground, reflecting its light and its colour back onto other objects. As they get farther away there‘s more light particles (or waves, whatever theory you believe in) getting in the way.

Blue Exmaple

A wide mountain range while the farthest is blueish in colour, the closer ones get greener and greener.

Now if you were to visit the farthest mountain, it would most certainly not be blue.

BUT LUCKILY – we know of that circumstance and so does GIMP.

Therefor it offers to #filter a surplus of colours so that we‘re left with a pure(r) white.

Look for the top menu for „#Colours“ and select „#Level“ (some like curves better, but do as you like)


The little pop up will flood you with graphs, choices, checkboxes and more..

You don‘t have to be an expert to understand this, but it does make you look super cool if you handle these highly scientific looking #graphs well~

Important to know is that you‘re given three values to play with, plus one overall.

Please ignore the #value-graph for now, we will return to it AFTER we‘ve adjected the colour graphs one by one.


Alright here we go. See on the left where it says „Channel“ - pick Red for now. When selecting Red you see that the graph ends a lot earlier than there‘s space.

Use the little arrows and narrow the area of information down so the graph fills the entire space.

Do that with all of the colour-channels.

Throughout the process your picture will take on #hues according to the levels you‘re adjusting. Ignore that for now.


Here you see an edited graphs for blue, see the black little arrow pointing at the beginning of the curve (I ignored that little dot at the beginning) and the white arrow points where the graph ends.

GIMP should have filtered out all colour #distortions that were captured in the light together with your picture.

So now let‘s head back to the channel we started with, which combines all values and do some last edits on the levels.

It‘s still visible how the light flows on the paper – the top right corner is better #illuminated than the the lower left and so on.


Here we can see that also the value-channel needs some adjustments.

Go ahead and edit them as before, but dont confirm yet.

See that some areas of your painting get real bright?

If you adjust the values this way, you have to make sure that your adjustments dont „burn away“ information.


There‘s still texture and very light layers of watercolourwash in the tiger‘s face. If I was to hit confirm without double checking I‘d be left with this as result:


... Some might be like...

Yea it looks much better than the initial appraoch, BUT setting the whites this high also resulted in the fur I drew with light blue wash disappearing. So what you want to do now, is adjust the arrows on the values until you feel you‘ve displayed all information.

Try to also give more room to the white arrow, slide the middle arrow around. Just keep in mind not to overdo it.

This is my result so far.


See how the texture on the face returned?

So when it comes to colours, and lighting of the picture I‘m actually quite happy.

Now I‘d like the get the grey-ish shadows on the corners away.

Let‘s see how we can replace white analogue backgrounds with the digital equivalent.

- The answer is: Masks.


Locate the Magic Wand tool on the top left.

For my example I selected the „Add Mode“ and set the threshold up to 33.

The add mode allows me to click multiple times into my image and have the values be added to the selection.

I choose the different hues of white in my picture with the goal to later remove and replace them.

My picture looks like this meanwhile (notice the "marching ants")


You see that there‘s some white of the nose and the ear and eyebrow included.

That‘s fine for now, I will get it back later.


With the selection still intact (the ants still crwaling) on the very bottom right you see a tiny icon for masks. Click it and you‘ll be greeted with this pop-up window:

You will want to create a Mask for your current layer by using the inverted (!) selection – so choose „Selection“ and

„Invert Mask“ as shown.

Then hit „Add“

I'm left with this now


Nearly good!

The selection is there. Now hit CTRL+SHIFT+A to deleselect everything, add a new layer, drag it underneath your picture and fill it with white.


And find the Bucket Tool to fill it white. Make sure you adjust your foreground colour to white before clicking into the image.


Now let‘s look at it:



It‘s already good enough to count as publishable. Most of your colours are there, the major amount of details are there and you have a clean background.

But you can do more. Like get the fine watercolour wash back that is actually applied to the eyebrow.

Therefor we need to manually modify the mask.

I usually opt for just deleting the mask where I want the original colour, even if it‘s not pearly white – and sometimes because it is not meant to be pearly white (like fur).


For that I Right-Click on the Layer Mask and select „Show Layer Mask“.

Now I have a black-and-white picture of my mask, can grab my brush and paint those areas I dont want the mask to cut away white.



I use the regular brush, but made sure the spacing is all the way down, otherwise I‘d only get little dots here and there. Also I set the hardness up a little.

Notice that my „background“ is greyish?

The Selection tool apparently only recognized part of my white shade and therefor made my mask on the top half-opaque. If yours is completely black and white – that‘s how it should be. I had to correct mine a little still.


Next zoom in a little and look around if you can find little „mishaps“ you want to correct. Like smudges, sprinklers that don‘t belong there or similar.

I can understand if some people call it cheating, but if I want my painting to get printed or use it as background for my phone, I sure will use the possibility of correcting mistakes digitally.

Just paint black over them and they won‘t show up in the final result.

Alright, nearly done.

Save inbetween. Save often. Save as if this is your Skyrim playthrough with 240 mods.

Okay then, let's export this as png and see the before/after results.

Pick File → Export as


And click the little box on the bottom with „Select File Type“ → Scroll down until you find PNG image and hit export.


It‘ll spam you with a bunch of options next. Just hit export again and wait a tiny bit.

You‘ll find your rendered image with the same name as your working file in its directory.

So let‘s see what we managed to do:

Ok Pic

Congrats! Well done!

6. Final Words

No I didn‘t die, neither do I plan on.

It‘s just a poorly worded last chapter.

In the essence this was a #beginner friendly tutorial that people can do with what they already have. Without becomming criminal in order to inherit enough #money.

Of course once you‘re comfortable do feel free to play around with the setting, use curves isntead of levels of try other free #programs you come across with.

But essentially this is what you can accomplish here and now and today without spending a dime:



I have previously edited this very same picture in Photoshop CS6 before.

Observe the differences (if you can):


I hope you had fun reading this, best case you learned something.

The process after postprocessing always takes up some time.

I usually need 30min to 1hour depending on how complicated the masks are or similar.

If you have questions I will do my best to answer them or reply with where to find more info – but keep in mind, I am not an expert.

If you run into issues or have questions, leave a comment below or check out the original tutorial on my page - chances are someone else was having the same experience:

© 2021 DStever
anonymous's avatar
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ChimeraDragonfang's avatar

More love for GIMP! woot I've been using it since forever because free (also a fan of Inkscape, and Lightzone). Usually I use curves during touch-up because levels made no sense to me, but I'm going to revisit them next time I have to do any heavy colour correction, because after this tutorial I think I have at least a small grasp on what they do.

DStever's avatar

Uhhh! Yes Inkscape - I use that for work sometimes!

If you have an easier time with curves - maybe you wanna add a few screenshots in this comment as how to read and adjust them compared to my levels?

That'd definitely help people who also prefer curves to understand the difference and work with them - Just as idea, don't feel obligated though <3

ChimeraDragonfang's avatar

Mostly I kind of drag the curves around until the colours don't look like complete ass. Not sure how helpful that is to others. I don't actually know the specifics of what the curve data means. I do know that I usually need to start with the blue curve because my camera likes to skew yellow a lot of the time, then the values curve to lighten or darken the image.

DStever's avatar

so they "look complete ass" XDD Had me seriously laughing.

I know that feeling well though, got a few pieces I never published cause I didn't have the patience at the time to colour correct them neatly.

Thank you for your input though~~ I might give curves a shot next time~

Flammenfeder's avatar

I don't know if it's just me or if anything could be done about it anyways, but a lot of the pictures in this journal are not loading for me.

DStever's avatar

So far I have had no other issues, did you try visiting the original journal entry mentioned on the bottom of the post? Maybe the pictures work there - otherwise I'm just as puzzled.

ChimeraDragonfang's avatar

Seems to be a site-wide issue happening to some people: https://www.deviantart.com/comments/1/867715008/4898067239

As of me posting this comment, it is supposed to be fixed now.

Flammenfeder's avatar

Ah yes, you are right, everything seems to be working now^^ thanks for letting me know^^

Mrs-Durden's avatar

Hmm it could be your internet connection or browser? They all seem to load for me :/

Gejda's avatar

Great tutorial! Very easy to follow. And the gifs were awesome :D

DStever's avatar

Thank you~ I was aware of the rather dry and technical side of this and thought that gifs would definitely help loosen things up a bit and still make it an intereseting read~

anonymous's avatar
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