How to turn a hand-drawn sketch into a digital illustration in Affinity Designer

In this tutorial, Matt shows you how to transform a hand-drawn sketch into a digital illustration for screen printing in Affinity Designer.

Watch Matt’s creative session, then read his written guide below.

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Sketched idea to t-shirt mock-up in Affinity Designer with Matt Searston Step 1: Initial sketch

Here’s the initial design I created for the session, first by making a pencil sketch and then by using some tracing paper to create a duplicated fine-line version. I wanted to keep this separate from my initial sketch as it’s always great to have the original drawing to refer back to and also to avoid any nightmare situations where your only copy becomes damaged and you’re back to square one.

I wanted the design to have a handmade feel, which is why I decided to go down the tracing paper and felt tip route. Alternatively, another option (which I often opt for) is to sketch directly in Affinity Designer using either the Pencil Tool [N] or the Brush Tool [B].

Step 2: Create a new document in Designer

In this tutorial, we’re planning to create something that can be screen printed onto t-shirts and posters, so I would say creating an A3 Portrait document in CMYK and at 300 DPI would be the best way to start. This way you avoid getting to the end of the design process only to realise your design isn’t large enough for the intended purpose. It also gives you more options to adapt the design in the future.

If you’ve opted to draw your sketch digitally, you can go ahead and skip to Step 6: Adding colour to your design.

Step 3: Place your sketch

Assuming you’re using the same method as me and you’re going for a slightly more handmade look, we now need to get our inked drawing into the Designer document so we can start to digitise it.

Ideally, you would use a scanner to get a nice high-resolution scan of your drawing but I usually just use my phone camera with a good amount of daylight around. This is really important as the next step is much easier to do if we have a clear, bright image to work with.

Once you have an image of your sketch, go to File > Place then locate and open the file and click on your document to place it.

Step 4: Adjustment layers

Now we have our inked image in place we need to make sure it is as highly contrasting as possible. The best way to do this is by adding a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment.

We can do this by selecting our layer on the Layers Panel, and by going to Layer > New Adjustment > Brightness/Contrast or by clicking on the Adjustments icon within the Layers Panel too.

Now we have the dialog open we can tweak the settings to create more contrast in the image. What we want to end up with is a very clear separation between our drawn ink lines and the blank parts of our paper.

Tip: Alternatively, the Threshold Adjustment can be used to achieve this effect. Sometimes this can result in a slightly harsher image, but if that is the look you’re after, this might be

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