Three Very Basic Ways To Improve Digital Photos/Scans Of Your (Non-Commercial) Traditional Art

2017-artwork-quick-ways-to-improve-art-with-digital-editing

I’m sure I’ve given a similar tutorial to this at least once before but, if you’ve got a scanner or a digital camera, then you can use image editing programs to improve the scans/photos of your traditional art before posting them online (Note: If you’re actually selling the originals, then don’t do this – because it may be considered false advertising).

I’ve also written this tutorial in a program-neutral way, so that it will hopefully be useful regardless of which editing program you choose to use. However, for the example images, I’ll mostly be using a totally free editing program called “GIMP” [GNU Image Manipuation Program]. This program is completely open-source too, which also means that you can find a version that will work on pretty much any computer.

If you’re new to image editing and don’t have an editing program, then “GIMP” might be worth experimenting with. Likewise, if you’re new to image editing, make a backup copy of your digital image before you try any of these techniques.

So, what are some quick and basic things you can do to improve the digital copies of your artwork?

1) Brightness/contrast: Most image editing programs have a brightness/contrast adjustment feature. Usually, this can be accessed from one of the menus at the top of the screen.

For example, in GIMP 2.6 (a slightly old version of GIMP I downloaded a couple of years ago), it can be found in the “Colours” menu:

 This is how to find the brightness/contrast option in GIMP 2.6 (and probably in more modern versions of the program too)

This is how to find the brightness/contrast option in GIMP 2.6 (and probably in more modern versions of the program too)

This feature can come in handy if, after scanning or photographing your artwork, it looks slightly “faded”. To make your art look a bit more vivid (or to make line art look bolder), just lower the brightness level and increase the contrast level.

Most programs will allow you to experiment with this until you get it right (by showing you a preview of your changes, or having an “undo” function), but a good rule is to lower the brightness by about 20-30 % and increase the contrast by about 60-80%. However, every picture is different. So, be sure to experiment to find the right levels for your picture.

2) Cropping tools: One problem with scanning or photographing traditional artwork is that the digitisation process usually adds a lot of needless background details. After all, you probably just want to show off your painting or drawing, and not the scanner bed or the surface that your picture is resting on.

A simple way to get rid of all or most of these pointless background details is to use a cropping tool. This allows you to select a square or rectangular area using the mouse. Once this area is selected, you can click on it to remove anything outside of the area.

The icon for the cropping tool varies slightly from program to program (eg: in GIMP 2.6, it looks like a scalpel) but, in many programs, it will look like two diagonal halves of a square placed on top of each other. But, just hover your mouse over the icons until you find the right one. Here’s an example.

As you can see, different programs sometimes use different icons for the same tool.

A simple crop without any other alterations (provided it shows the whole painting or drawing [unless you are also showing close-up details]) is probably the only one of these techniques you can use if you are selling the originals of your art commercially.

Since any digital images of commercial artwork should be an accurate representation of the painting or drawing that is being sold, merely removing pointless background details (that have nothing to do with the artwork itself) probably doesn’t count as misrepresenting the product.

However, background details in photos can probably be useful to help potential customers gauge the size of the artwork quickly by comparing it to nearby objects (but, if you’re selling art, you should also state the size/dimensions of your picture in the description too).

3) Hue/Saturation: If you can find the brightness/contrast options in the program that you’re using, then the hue/saturation options will probably be somewhere on the same menu.

This option allows you to control both the intensity (saturation) of the colours in your artwork, as well as allowing you to change all of the colours by a particular amount (eg: the “hue” option).

You’ll probably also find a “lightness” option, which allows you to alter the brightness of the image too. Most programs also allow you to change these levels using user-friendly sliders.

These are the hue/satuation options in GIMP 2.6. Ignore the colour chart at the top of the picture, you'll probably just be using the three sliders at the bottom - which can also be found in many other programs.

These are the hue/satuation options in GIMP 2.6. Ignore the colour chart at the top of the picture, you’ll probably just be using the three sliders at the bottom – which can also be found in many other programs.

A good general rule is to only make very small adjustments to the hue levels in your picture, if you feel that it improves the picture. Of course, if you’ve completely messed up the colours in your picture, then making larger adjustments to the hue level can be one way to salvage your picture. However, it might also make it look slightly surreal.

To show you what I mean, here is a chart. The top picture has no hue adjustments. The middle picture has the kind of small, subtle hue adjustment that you should probably use. The bottom picture contains a very large hue adjustment.

Click on the chart, or open it in a new tab, to see a full-size version.

Click on the chart, or open it in a new tab, to see a full-size version.

One other ultra-basic way to salvage your picture is just to lower the saturation as much as possible, which will turn your picture into a greyscale image (Note: Once you’ve clicked “ok”, this may not be easily reversible, depending on whether you save the greyscale image and/or whether your program has an “undo” function. So, make a backup first). Like this:

Lowering the saturation levels drastically is one simple way to convert your image into a greyscale picture, which can be a useful thing to do if you've messed up the colours. But, MAKE A BACKUP COPY before you press "ok"! I cannot emphasise this enough!

Lowering the saturation levels drastically is one simple way to convert your image into a greyscale picture, which can be a useful thing to do if you’ve messed up the colours. But, MAKE A BACKUP COPY before you press “ok”! I cannot emphasise this enough!

Some images look a lot more dramatic in greyscale than they do in colour. Plus, a basic greyscale image will often look better than a badly-made colour image.

I won’t cover it in this tutorial but, if you’ve got a greyscale image, then you can often also use other features in your program (like the selection tools, colourisation tools, the “RGB levels” feature, image effects etc..) to re-do the colours in your picture in a better way. This is a bit more advanced than anything in this tutorial but, it’s worth experimenting with, given that you can also use it to create digital-style artwork like the picture at the top of this article, or this larger picture:

"1990s Office Awesomeness" By C. A. Brown

“1990s Office Awesomeness” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, these are three quick, ultra-basic things (brightness/contrast, cropping and hue/saturation) you can do to improve the digital copies of your traditional artwork. Just remember that, if you’re selling the originals of you art, you shouldn’t digitally alter the actual content of the art itself (although cropping an image to the correct size is probably ok).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂