Making a Transparent PNG

Turning your Artwork into a Transparent PNG from a Scanned Image

It’s time to get your artwork print-ready. The best way to do that is to create a Transparent PNG of your design. This means that you knock out the background of the design so that 1) it can be used across an array of colors and 2) only your design prints on the canvas and not a big box surrounding it. 

Making a Transparent PNG may be a different process depending on the type of artwork you have:
  • Simple and Clean Artwork : Artwork that has thick bold lines and is not heavily detailed
  • Illustrations : Intricate artwork, such as pen or pencil line drawings 
  • Colored Art / Watercolors : Paintings, artwork done with traditional media (i.e. watercolors, graphite, colored pencils etc.)

It’s important that you scan in your artwork at 300dpi for highest quality. In the example below, you’ll see that sometimes a scanner can wash out your linework and give a faded tint to the paper. For best results, adjust the Levels (Image > Adjustments > Levels in Photoshop) to bring out more black in your artwork and white in the paper.


Simple and Clean Artwork 

                                                                              Artwork by Katie Lukes
  1. Import your scanned artwork into Adobe Illustrator and do an Image Trace (Object > Image Trace).
  2. Check ‘IGNORE WHITE’ box in the Image Trace Window (under ‘Advanced’). The white background will disappear.
  3. Once you are satisfied with how this looks, expand the object to finish (Object > Expand).

Now that it’s expanded, you will be able to manipulate the color of the object if needed.



Illustrations

                                                                                Artwork by Betsy Lam
If you image traced more intricate artwork in Illustrator, it wouldn’t be able to pick up all the details you want – it would simplify it too much. Adobe Photoshop is a better tool for this type of artwork. There are several ways to do this in Photoshop, but here’s a method we've found the most success with- the least time consuming with the best results.
  1. Adjust the Image Levels in Photoshop (Image > Levels) to your liking.
  2. Go to Channels, right click 'Blue' Channel, and press ‘Duplicate Channel’. A ‘Blue Copy’ Channel should appear.
  3. Turn on this Channel (eye to the left) and turn off every other Channel.
  4. Select the new copy, and invert the Layer (Image Adjustments > Invert or ⌘+I on Macs). You’ll see the Layer become inverted. 
  5. Go to Select > Load Selection and hit OK. You'll see flashing dotted lines surrounding your illustration.
  6. Go back to Layer. Create a new Layer and simply fill with any color with the paint bucket. You should see your illustration as a separate layer from its background. 

Voila! You have your Transparent art image. Make sure you save as a PNG to preserve the transparency. 


Colored Art / Watercolors

                                     Artwork by Betsy Lam

Separating the background out of colored illustration – particularly watercolors- is quite difficult. You will never get a perfect extraction, so the goal is to draw out as much color as possible. There are many ways to do this (i.e. Select > Color Range > Pulling out the white) but here’s a method we've found to be the cleanest and most successful. This process is super similar to the Illustrations Transparent PNGs process above, with a different step at the end.
  1. Adjust the Image Levels (Image > Adjustments > Levels) so that the background gets as close to white as possible, as well as your colors being nice and saturated. This is also a method you can use to remove some of the paper texture that the scanner picks up.
  2. Go to Channels, right click 'Blue' Channel, and press ‘Duplicate Channel’. A ‘Blue Copy’ Channel should appear.
  3. Turn on this Channel (eye to the left) and turn off every other Channel.
  4. Select the new copy, and invert the Layer (Image Adjustments > Invert or ⌘+I on Macs). You’ll see the Layer become inverted. 
  5. Go to Select > Load Selection and hit OK. You'll see flashing dotted lines surrounding your illustration (You’ll need to invert this layer if your background is black).
  6. Go to Layers, and click on your drawing. Press Delete, and you should see the background erase from your design.

You will, however, notice that by pulling out the background you lost some saturation/volume in the design. The easiest solution to this is to duplicate your layers 2-3 times. You’ll notice your design saturate itself back to life. You can also tweak some of the layer styles to saturate the colors more. Don’t do any more than 3 times as you have the potential to add extra noise you don’t want. 

Pro-tip: Create a background layer below the layers either in white or your desired t-shirt color to check your transparencies. 

Ta-da! You have your Transparent art image. Make sure you save as a PNG to preserve the transparency. 

Best suggestion, especially for watercolors, is to keep them on lighter canvas colors (i.e. white). White is a great choice because no underbase is needed. When you get into super complicated watercolor art files, you have a chance of the underbase showing through on darker garments. Also important to note, when pulling out the white from colored illustrations, you might pull out white from areas you intended to be white – so always double check your work and make sure you add that back! 

Hooray! Your artwork is now a Transparent PNG and ready to be set up for all the canvases. Now, make sure your final file is set up correctly to be uploaded and add it to your Shop!

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