On this post I wanted to cover a very important part of the process of illustrating which is editing and preparing illustrations for clients and printing purposes. Although sometimes tedious, good editing can ensure a great print and display of your work and, conversely, poor editing can result in lower quality and end up not doing your piece enough justice. Having worked as a graphic designer and, specifically in editorial work, editing images was crucial. Therefore, I would like to share here my personal process and some tips I learned along the way. I hope you find it useful!
First off, I start by scanning my work at a high resolution, usually 720 dpi or 600 dpi, at the lowest, for printing purposes. The format I normally use is TIFF but I also work a lot with JPEG, for lower compression and lower size files. I will not extend on scanning presets or tips, as I intend to focus on editing aspects only. However if you want me to do another post on that, leave a comment below!
Once I have scanned the file, I place it into Photoshop to start working with the image and, mostly, for cleaning it up and removing background noise. I use Levels Adjustment (Cmd+L or Control+L) first, to achieve a whiter background before I start to make a selection of the artwork itself, because it facilitates the process afterwards. Let me show you!
Since the idea is to have a white clean background, I select the little eyedropper on the right (as you can see in the image) which sets the white point for the piece. Then, you look for a grey shadow area in the image and select that point by clicking. The images turns brighter and, therefore, easier to mask and select.
At this point, I use the Magic Wand (W) tool to remove the background or select the original artwork. Now that the background is whiter than it previously was, this step is much more efficient.
By clicking on the white area, you get a full selection of it. You will notice that still some parts of the background might not have been included and we need to refine the selection. You can do that by pressing Shift while you click on those areas and therefore achieving a cleaner selection. Also, keeping the Tolerance lower, in this case, will let you reach more areas and select the background easier.
At this stage, what I usually do is, instead of deleting the background, I click Select > Inverse (Shift+Cmd+I or Shift+Control+I) and create a selection of the original piece. The reason I do this is to have more control over the image instead of the background which is ultimately removed, either way. Once I have the final selection, I click Refine Edge to achieve an even finer selection. By adjusting the Radius and increasing Smooth, you can make sure that no areas of the artwork are left behind, specially outer edges.
Then I press OK and voilà, we finally have our artwork selected. Now, we only have to add a mask to the layer.
By clicking on the Add Layer Mask icon, we have completely isolated the artwork from the previous. At this point, I create another layer and fill it with white solid color so that I can have this perfect white background.
Since most illustrations have a lot of details, it is possible that still some little areas of the background have remained through the process or, on the contrary, some of the illustration is hidden as a result of it. At this point, I normally zoom in and make sure that everything is smooth and in place. In the event that such problems have occurred, I focus on the layer mask to either hide or bring back parts of the artwork.
As a little side note, layer masks work as a grayscale image, so that areas painted in black are hidden and areas painted in white are visible. Having that in mind, instead of using the eraser tool to remove the remaining background, I select the Layer Mask in the layer menu and use the Brush Tool (B) to paint over the image in black or white, depending on whether I want to conceal or reveal parts of the image. By doing it this way, you have better control of the result as you can change brush pressure size or softness and achieve a cleaner result.
All that is left to do is to make the final adjustments such as contrast and color saturation, which are usually the ones I have to check out after all this process. Finally, we can save back the image in the format we prefer and send it to a client or print it. Maybe you find this process a little complicated but the effect and final result stands out.
This is by no means the only way to do it so if you know other tricks or steps that can be used to edit artwork better, just write a comment so that we can all learn and help each other!