Illustration: Scan and Clean your own Watercolors

Beginner level Adobe Photoshop Adobe Photoshop

First steps

The first tip I want to give you is that when you paint your illustrations, if you want to use them as a clipart set, you will need to paint them with enough space between each one. That will make the rest of the tutorial much easier. 


Each scanner has different settings, but here are some general tips you need to keep in mind:

  • The minimum resolution you want to scan at is 300 dpi. That way you can print your illustrations at high quality.
  • If you double the resolution, you’ll double the size of the painting. 600 dpi will allow you to print your illustration 2 times the original size.
  • I recommend you that you save your scan as a JPG file.

Editing the scan

Step 1

Start by opening your scanned file in Photoshop. To open your scan in Photoshop, you need to go to the top menu and select File → Open.

Step 2

Open the Layers panel (Window → Layers) and double-click on the Background layer.

Click OK at the popup window to unlock the layer.


Step 3

You can adjust the colors and the saturation using the sliders found at Image → Adjustments → Hue/Saturation.


Step 4

If you scanned your image at a higher resolution than 300 dpi, you can set it to this value by going to Image > Image Size.

Make sure the “Resample” option is unchecked!


Cleaning your paintings

There are several ways to delete the background paper of your scanned paintings. Depending on each file, there will be an option that works best. Here you have the 3 options I use:

Option 1

The first option to delete the background of our paintings requires the use of the Magic Wand tool.

Step 1

Make sure to choose the “Add to Selection” option in order to be able to select all white areas at once.


Step 2

When you have all the white areas selected, press the Delete key on your keyboard.


Option 2

This second option is a very easy and quick one. 

Step 1

All you need to do is go to the top menu and press Select → Color Range…

A new panel will open. Click on any white area in the image and adjust it if needed.


Step 2

Press OK and delete the selected area to clear the background.


This is my favorite option because it keeps the watercolor transparency. 


Option 3

Finally, this third option can come in handy in some cases. 

Step 1

In this case, we’re using the Magnetic Lasso tool.

Start by selecting the outline of your painting. 


Then, if you have small white areas inside, you can click the "Subtract from Selection" button and continue tracing.


As always, when you have it all selected, delete the white area.

Saving your files

Step 1

Once you have deleted the background, you'll want to separate each individual illustration.

I like to use the Lasso tool for this.


Step 2

Cut the selection and create a new document to paste it in.

Step 3

Open the Layers panel and right-click on the layer thumbnail. Then choose “Select Pixels”.


Step 4

Go to Select → Inverse.

Press the Delete key to remove any extra white space remaining on the background.


Step 5

Now you have your illustration ready to save. I recommend saving the files as PNG or PSD to keep the transparency of the background.


If you want to take this one step further and vectorize your paintings so that you can scale them without losing printing quality, you can follow these steps in Adobe Illustrator.

Step 1

Create a new file in Adobe Illustrator (file size is not important).

Open your individual painting in Adobe Illustrator by going to the top menu and selecting File → Place… Then select your saved painting.

You must open the file you saved in the previous steps, the one with clear background, not the original scan.


Step 2

Select the image and find a button called Image Trace.

Click on the arrow pointing down and select the High Fidelity Photo option.

It will automatically vectorize your image.


Step 3

If you want, you can open the Image Trace panel and adjust the settings. Depending on each image you’ll need different settings, but keep in mind that the more paths you add, the heavier the final file will be.


Step 4

When you are happy with how your image is looking, click the Expand button. The vector image will be created.


This is how your vector file will look like:


Step 5

Now you can save this as a vector file (.ai, .pdf, .eps…) and use it from now on as clip art!

Examples of use

Here you can see what I designed using the paintings of this tutorial as clip art:


Can’t wait to see what you create!

What do you think of this tutorial?


Using your own hand-painted illustrations as clipart will add lots of value to your graphic design work. In order to do so, you'll need to scan and clean your paintings properly so that they keep the original texture and transparencies but at the same time the background is clean and transparent.

Tut Details

Beginner level 20m 181 views