We often are forced to print in bulk, but still want that personalized touch of a signed letter or card. Although each card is not “hand signed”, you can still give that effect with a vector digital signature. Don’t worry, if you are printing out hundreds of letters or cards, it is not realistic to expect them all to be hand signed. This is where a digital signature can be both a time and muscle saver!
Getting the artwork
When converting analog into vector digital, the quality of the scan is extremely important. The more contrast there is between the art and the paper, the less post-scan modification will be needed. It’s highly recommended that you get a piece of regular white copy paper and a dark black ballpoint or felt pen (the darker, the better). Depending on your preference, a wider felt pen will give you thicker paths right off the bat, however, a dark ballpoint pen will give you thin lines to scan, which will work just as well. It’s totally up to you!
Don’t worry if the lines don’t look perfect. Bottom line, it’s not important that the signature be 100% smooth. Any nuances in the handwriting or slightly jagged letterforms makes it look more realistic, therefore giving the impression it is not just coming from a machine. Unless you have perfect penmanship, a signature will have very organic elements to it.
Making the Signature Digital
When things are live traced, they become workable paths. Colors can be changed and lines can be thickened if needed.
Step One: Digital Sketch in Adobe Photoshop
To get the best effect, scan the signature at 400dpi. If you do not have a scanner, you can try taking a photo of the sketch. Scans typically work better because the lighting is more even than with a photo, but in a pinch, a photo will do. Take the picture in bright, even light.
Keep an extra copy of the artwork in a separate Photoshop layer. Make sure you have duplicated the layer that your scan or photo is on in Adobe Photoshop.
Step Two: Make Grayscale
It’s helpful to have the image set to Grayscale. To do this in Adobe Photoshop, go to Image > Mode > Grayscale. Adjusting the image using Image > Adjust > Brightness/Contrast or Image > Adjust > Levels is helpful when increasing sharpness and contrast (if needed). If there are stray lines, simply clean the image using the Eraser Tool (E).
Step Three: Get the Artwork Ready for Live Tracing
We want to get rid of the white paper background so that only the black text is left. To do this, simply go to Select > Color Range. Make sure the eyedropper with the plus sign is selected and click on various places of your image to select different tonal ranges. The tonal ranges that you select here will add to the amount that will be selected. The more you click on with the eyedropper, the more that will be selected. Boosting up the Range and Fuzziness typically selects more as well.
Step Four: Save Working File
Once the white of the image is selected, delete it and if done correctly, you should only be left with the text. Make sure to save your document as a PSD file so you have it just in case of adjustments. We will be opening this file in Adobe Illustrator so we can make it into vector art with paths that we can manipulate.
Step Five: Live Trace in Adobe Illustrator
Create a new document in Adobe Illustrator. In this new file, go to File > Place and choose your .psd file. You may have to do a little resizing.
Make sure the Image Trace palette is open (Window > Image Trace). In here, you will find different setting options.
- “Preview” is checked
- “Ignore” White is checked
- Although we did adjust in Photoshop, make sure that “Black and White Mode” is checked
- View should be set to Tracing Results
- Optional: Experiment with the different options available to you, so you can see what they do
Click the Trace button.
You may find that things need a little smoothing. By increasing “Threshold” and lowering the number of Paths, things may be cleaned up a bit. Remember, things do not have to be perfect, because the hand-drawn look is great in this situation.
To make things workable, we will need to expand things. To see your newly created paths, you will then need to hit the Expand button or Object > Live Trace > Expand to see the actual results. This will make artwork selectable and you can work with the paths by using the selection tool.
On a sidenote, I’ve personally done this for holiday cards. On a metallic stock with black printing, you could barely tell the signature was printed and not hand signed. If you have multiple signatures, consider changing the color of each one of them slightly so that they look like they were signed with different inks.
Once you have your signature created, be sure to save it for future use. If you have multiple signatures to create, be sure to embrace the nuances of each signature so they look unique and realistic. And just like that, with just a few steps in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, you have created a high-quality digital signature.