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How To Turn a Hand Drawn Logo Into a Vector

Joseph Walter March 31, 2021 · 6 min read
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A hand-drawn logo can be the perfect fit for the right project. Ever wondered how to start with a logo sketch and end with a vector format logo? Today I’m going to share my process on how I create a finished vector hand-illustrated logo, from scratch. The process shown here offers a very old school approach, and will deliver a finished product with an authentic hand crafted look and feel. These methods are only one way, and certainly aren’t the only way to do it. There are plenty of alternative methods and apps available today.

Here’s What You’ll Need To Get The Job Done:

  • Pencil (A basic mechanical pencil works well)
  • Pen (I use a Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pen)
  • Normal paper
  • Tracing paper
  • Adobe Illustrator software
Alright, enough of the introductory shenanigans, let’s get down to business…

1. Discovery

Since you’re reading this article on hand illustrated logos, it is pretty safe to assume you already have the hand-illustrated style in mind. Beyond the basic style, there are additional questions to consider as you brainstorm the possibilities. If you have a client project, I recommend discussing with the client and really trying to get to the core of their needs and intentions for the logo and their brand. This article mainly focuses on the process to go from sketch to vector format, but below is a list of questions to get you started on establishing a direction for the logo.

Questions to Consider

  • Who is the audience? Example: Kids, parents, women, men, etc.
  • What is the character? Example: Playful, serious, upscale, classic, etc.
  • Are there any basic iconic objects or visuals that communicate the message of the logo? Example: Mountains communicating outdoor adventure, etc.
Having some basics in mind when you start to tackle the project will help you set out on a direction when your hand gets moving in the next step.

2. Brainstorming

hand illustrated logos One simple method to brainstorm a variety of concepts is to quickly sketch a slew of small thumbnail style concepts. The purpose of this is to brainstorm different concepts, not refine the final version. Avoid getting caught up on details or refining too much as this can slow the process and inhibit the flow of ideas. No idea is a bad idea at this stage. Don’t judge yourself, just sketch.

Here are some brainstorming sketch pointers

  • Experiment with all caps text, bold text, italic text, cursive text, etc.
  • Try slanting the text, or drawing the text on a curved baseline.
  • Experiment with different basic shapes.
  • Experiment with where different elements are placed and how they are aligned.
  • If you have any iconic shapes, what varieties of the shape can you sketch?
  • Consider subtracting and overlapping shapes.

3. Final Sketch

final sketch Once you have decided on a thumbnail sketch to develop further, draw a larger version of your favorite logo that allows space for finer details and more refinement (see above image). The goal here is to draw a more refined logo that is suitable for tracing in the next step.

4. Trace

hand traced logo Pull out a sheet of your tracing paper and tape it over your final sketch. As you trace your illustration with a pen on the tracing paper, keep in mind that we are going for the hand illustrated look. Imperfections are welcome. I intentionally let my hand wander a bit as I trace over the sketch to exaggerate the hand crafted look and feel. To quickly fill in the logo I also like to use a thicker black marker once my outside lines have been traced.

5. Scan

In this step we will scan the penned logo tracing into the computer. If you don’t have a scanner, make a run to the local Kinko’s or borrow a friend’s scanner for this step. A phone camera could work in a pinch, but I don’t recommend it.

Scan Settings:

      • Most scanners offer a slew of options. Each scanner will vary, but you basically want to use a scan preset that allows you to scan in bitmap black and white for the easiest possible selection in the next step. For logos, I typically like to scan using the “Text” setting on my scanner. This setting may seem counter-intuitive, but it makes the conversion to vector format even easier as it scans in only black and white, no shades of gray.
      • The general rule of thumb is the higher the resolution, the better. If you have a scanned logo somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000px – 5,000px wide or so, you should be in great shape for the following step. A scan that is too low a resolution is too be avoided.
      • File format: I recommend an uncompressed TIFF format. This delivers a high-quality file and avoids undesired artifacts that result from a high compression and low-quality JPG, for example.
Scan the logo tracing. If you find the scanned logo has some issues you want to tweak, I recommend doing so on the original tracing paper and repeating the scan process.

6 Convert to Vector

At this point in the process, we will convert the sketch from a bitmap image to the industry standard vector file format (with paths). bitmap logo in illustrator Launch Adobe Illustrator and open the image file you just scanned. When the document opens, you’ll see your scan (see above image). However, what you see at this point is only bitmap image sitting in an Illustrator document, and won’t do as a final logo format. We need to convert this image to actual vector paths within Illustrator. illustrator trace sketchClick directly on the logo to select the bitmap image and then select “Object > Image Trace > Make and Expand”. This will likely trigger an Illustrator warning popup saying that the process might proceed slowly. Click the “OK” button to proceed. Once the process finishes you’ll have an actual vector logo! Side-note: all of the small red dots in the above image are the points along the vector path, and only display while editing the file in Illustrator. Lastly, I recommend deleting any unnecessary paths using the Layers palette. To do this expand the layer in the “Layers” palette, locate any unused layers, and delete them (see below image). This will keep your logo file clean and eliminate any messy and unused artifacts. remove unused layers

…And, We’re Done!

So there you have it folks, a process to go from a pencil sketch to a professional vector logo format — all while maintaining that coveted hand illustrated look. You’re now ready to select your brand’s colors and apply any further tweaks as you see fit in Illustrator. If this is your first time to do a process like this, it will probably take a decent amount of time. Once you’ve have done it a time or two, you’ll knock the whole process out quickly. Just like with most artistic processes, the more you do it the more efficient you’ll get. Leave a comment below with how this worked for you. Do you have a different process?

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10 Comments
  • Can this be done in Photoshop? 6 years ago
  • awesome 6 years ago
  • @Anwar Thomas Kind of, but it isn’t ideal because Photoshop simply lacks the powerful vector editing capabilities of Illustrator to refine the logo. However, if you don’t have Illustrator you could replace Step 6 from above with the following as a decent substitute…. Open you scanned image in Photoshop, and select the black part of the image (with the "Magic Wand Tool" or “Select > Color Range”). With the selection active go to your “Paths" palette and select “Make Work Path” from the palette menu. After your path is created then access “File > Export > Paths to Illustrator”. That will export a vector Illustrator .AI file. Hope that helps! 6 years ago
  • @adi wahyudi Thanks, hope this comes in handy! 6 years ago
  • Great tutorial for those of us who want that hand drawn look but don't have the luxury of a tablet. Thanks! 6 years ago
  • Very interesting blog Thanks for a great explanation.keep up the Good work.. For more details New Logo vector Designs Click here>> Logo Vector 5 years ago
  • Nice post. About the scanning part, I would suggest no less than a scanner that can scan 300 dpi. The scanner I have is really low-res (even worse than scanning from my phone/ tablet), so I use my DSLR camera (another good option). 5 years ago
  • Excellent recommendation and article, vector icons and logos are very better for SEO and look for be part of the future, we offers some for free on our site. 5 years ago
  • I sometimes have to vectorize complex lineart illustrations, so what I do is I bring it into photoshop first. I convert it to bitmap, so just black and white, and then I go in with a pencil tool and clean it up, fix mistakes. Then I bring it into illustrator to vector trace it. I think it keeps it a bit cleaner, and gives you a chance to fix any obvious stray marks. 4 years ago