How to Digitize Handlettering

By Aenea Liang • January 21, 2016



Hand lettering is great.  Its modern yet conveys a sense of days gone by, bringing us back to the good old days when signs and billboards were all done by hand.  Picture the artist with paintbrush in hand painstakingly adding to the design stroke by stroke. Best of all there is such a personal touch to Hand Lettering.  Each stroke is one of a kind, not to be found on any other design, unique.

Today, in 2016, there are a variety of handwritten fonts.  Each of them beautiful, but the uniformity of each lettering take away from that oh so special! feel.  The personality and fluidity is totally drained from it.  Sure you can do the best you can with kerning and line height, but itll never feel right, or human.

Thats why many designers today go back to lettering by hand.  The twist now is that its digitized.  Its super fun and easy, and heres how:

Step 1: Pick up a pen or brush and doodle away. Try as many variations as you want, then pick your favorite.

Step 1

Step 2:  Take a Picture and send it to yourself.  Make sure your image gets lots of light and try to try to avoid shadows.

Step 2

Step 3:  Send the Picture to yourself and open it in Photoshop. We want to get the image as close to Black and White as possible. Press Cmd+Shift+U to make the image black and White.

Step 3

Step 4:  Now you might notice that the image is in Black and White, but there is still a lot of gray in it.  To solve this problem we want to adjust the levels.  Press Cmd+L to open the levels panel.


Step 4

Step 5: Take the white eyedropper and click around for the brightest white in the image.  Once you have that, select the black eyedropper and click around for the darkest black in the image. We are going to ignore the gray eyedropper since we dont want a gray scale.

You may not be able to get all the gray out, but dont worry.  We just want to have the clearest contrast between black and white so just try your best. This is how my image turned out.

Step 5

Step 6:  Since this was a picture there is a bit of a shadow still present in the edges of the image. To get rid of this take the lasso tool and select around the object you want to work with. Copy your selection and paste it into Illustrator.

Step 6

Step 7:  Now let’s turn this image into vector.  We need Image Trace.  Go to Windows and open up Image Trace.

Step 7

Step 8:  In Image Trace choose a preset.  You can either choose one that youve customized yourself or a default one that illustrator already has.  In this case I chose Black and White Logo.  You can see how it got rid of the remaining gray that was in the image.

Step 8

Step 9: Click on the Advanced drop down and play around with the Paths and Corners.  The lower they are the smoother your lettering will be, but this depends on your image, so keep an eye on it as you toggle through each.

Step 10: When you are happy with how it looks click Expand in the tool bar above.  This will turn the image into a vectored object.

Step 10


Step 11: Ungroup the object, and delete the white spaces that make up the negative space in the object.  You just want to be working with the letters.

Step 11

Step 12:  Go in with the Smooth Tool or use the Direct Select Tool so go over and smooth out any bumps that might not look good. Once youre happy you are done!



Step 12 Now you can take your Digitized Hand Letters and place them in your designs or over an image.

Step 13

Have you recently used digital handlettering? Tell us about your project in the comments below!



Aenea Liang

NYC based visual designer. Movie nerd with a love for illustration.

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