Saturday, March 13, 2010

Transferring Sketches With A Printer

*Edit: I corrected the title spelling, that's what I get for posting late at night lol

I have always used a light table to transfer my sketches to watercolor paper. A VERY time consuming process that almost doubled the amount of time it took me to complete books.  I'd watch a movie or listen to music while I mind-numbingly traced over my lines with a pencil.   Not to mention the times I've messed up on a painting and had to transfer for a second and some cases a third time.  So, what if I could cut that process out completely? If I did, I could possible fit in one, maybe two more projects per year and therefor have an easier time making a living as an illustrator.  I could meet deadlines much quicker as well.  Well there IS a way, but it will take an initial, fairly large investment to do it. I'm talking about large-format printers (to fit those larger double page picture books spreads). What I'd do is scan a clean sketch, lighten the lines until they're barely visible with Photoshop and print it directly on my watercolor paper. And if I mess up? No problem! I'll just print another copy. I know some illustrators have been doing this for years, but I guess I waited for the prices on these printers to drop more. I remember back when I checked on them they were averaging around 5k a piece (?) Ugh! Now they're definitely more affordable although still enough to make me hold my breath. 

Since I'm only on the sketching phase of my current book, I'll probably wait until the final art is under-way to get one. But when I do, I'll post my experiences with the new printer.

Also, please post a comment if you yourself have transferred sketches this way. Thanks!

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Have you thought of scanning everything in, transferring it to disc and taking it to Kinkos? If you bring your watercolor paper they will print on it.

Paige Keiser said...

Hi, thanks! That might be a good idea for other artists, but I don't have a Kinkos near me.

Kactiguy said...

I do this all the time. I HATE transferring sketches. Hate, hate hate.

Gay McKinnon said...

I just tried this for the first time the other day using my little A4 printer. I found it came out better if I printed the drawing in 'colour' rather than 'black' - more of the detail printed out and the lines were a nice light grey. The only drawback is if the printer ink isn't fully waterproof - I suspected there was a bit of bleed of grey into the subsequent watercolour washes. Might just be my particular printer, though.

Tomás said...

I have not a light table: I´ve used a window! If you make a copy you can´t erase the lines...

Ginger*:) said...

Paige, thanks for posting this!

This makes sense. I spent an enormous amount of time transferring sketches on a light table and the photographing them or scanning them into the computer.

As a digital artist I still love the sketching phase on paper. Lately I have skipped the light table except for really intricate pieces, and just photograph the sketches, transfer to the computer and then use layers to refine the work before I use my digital paint brushes.

When I want to paint in watercolor or acrylics I photograph the sketch, lighten the lines to almost nothing and print on quality paper or watercolor paper. I try to get the sketch as close to what I can work with when it is still in the computer because the paper is so expensive I don't want to have to do it over.

I found that my scanner is too small and the larger scanners for the mac are way to expensive. The photo-computer-printer-paper-paint process works so well.

woody said...

I have an Epson R2400 that I have a LOVE/HATE with, but I have done this before and it has worked great. Epson printers are great, and when I used water on it the ink did not bleed. The only drawback is that it only prints up to 13x19 inches, which is pretty big, but sometimes not big enough. I can even run 300lb. paper through this printer! And I think I paid around $700 for it a few years ago. You should be able to find a 13" printer for under $500 now.

Good luck!

theartofpuro said...

Thanks for posting,I transfer sometime my drawing on watercolour paper but only A4 format,a bigger printer is difficult to find at a good price.

I have an award for you on my blog:)

Erik Brooks said...

Sounds like a great idea Paige. I think that Janet Stevens does this, and if you look at Adam Rex's TREE-RING CIRCUS, he might use the technique on occasion as well.

Had the pleasure of seeing WOW ITS A COW! in person at the recent Scholastic Book Fair rolling though town. Nice work!

Tom Barrett said...

I have done this on my small printer (8.5 x 11) and it has worked pretty good. Your only limit is the thickness of the paper, unless the printer you get allows you to feed the paper thru the back.

Will Terry mentioned on his blog how he sometimes prints his sketches with color to reduce the amount of acrylic paint he has to put on the paper; basically a ink jet underpainting.

Paige Keiser said...

Lol same here Guy!

Hi Gay, thanks for posting your experience with this. Yes my own smaller printer is not waterproof, but I think the inks known as 'archival' are. I'm not sure how that works - whether you can just choose that type of ink for your printer, or only certain printers use it. I'll of course have to take a closer look at that point when I start shopping around.

That's try Tomas, but I usually outline my illustration in either ink or dark pencil anyways, so not being able to erase won't bother me too much. Of my style was more light and painterly it would probably be an issue though.

Ginger, guess what I tried recently - Corel painter! I LOVED it but the Wacom tablet irritates my wrist :( *sigh* Mine's a VERY old small one, but I don't think that's the reason for the pain unfortunately.

Hi Woody, yes I saw those printers! And I was so excited about the price--but then I worried about getting jobs for books that were 12" or larger tall. I need full bleed space, and 13" printable space wouldn't be enough :( Darn! What a huge price difference too, it's a shame.

Thank you for the lovely award Monica!!! :0)

Hi Erik! Nice to see you :) Oh my gosh Janet Stevens' illustrations are SO detailed, I can only imagine if she did the tracing technique. Yikes. I'll have to check out her site again, I've always loved her work. And Adam Rex too? Oh and that's so cool that you saw 'COW'! I didn't even know it was making the rounds at the book fair, neato! Thanks for the compliment on it.

Hi Tom! The large format printers allow all sorts of papers to be put in, as well as being able to program your own sizes. That will be nice indeed! And that's interesting about the acrylic painting, what a great idea!

Paige Keiser said...

Oops I meant "true" not "try" Tomas, sorry about that.

Marita said...

Found this very interesting. I just bought a Epson large format printer. I am about to start tracing the sketches for my next book and may try this. I am a little leary as I dont want the ink to bleed, but it wouldn't hurt to try huh? I do not have a large format scanner so I took pictures of the sketches and printed a book dummy out for the publisher and the author, but could never get the background completely white. That is what I worry about when it comes to printing the outlines for the original colors. Hmmm. Any thoughts ?

June said...

Most of the Epson Large format printers use archival ink that is water resistant, so you can print the line and work on it without it bleeding or fading. I do this occasionally.
Don't use other makes of compatible inks even though they are cheaper - they are not archival and contain dye which will fade and may bleed into your artwork.

Some of the regular Epson printers also use chroma inks as standard - archival and water resistant, so those printers can be used too if the watercolour paper isn't too thick to go through. Do make sure you don't use a paper with any shedding, as that flock may stick to rollers and cause paper feed problems later. And occasionally a highly sized paper lets a little of the print lift when the surface is wet for painting, so make sure the ink has time to dry thoroughly.

The large format printers usually have a rear feed slot so thicker paper isn't a problem.


You do need to use real watercolour paper, not printer paper that has a watercolour finish designed for making high quality prints on, as that has a special coating for the printing ink to give best reproduction, and you just can't paint on it properly. It absorbs too much.

(Before I had a suitable printer with archival inks, I would print in a very feint blue line using my cheap printer, and at least I could ink over this by dip pen rather than have to do a graphite transfer. By the time I painted, the blue was hardly visible and any bleed was so slight it wasn't noticable in the final illustration.)

The next skill needed is in making your scanned line good and clean without the background showing anything other than pure white, ready to print a nice clean line image.
The learning curve never ends :o)

Have fun!

Kat Scott said...

Hey Marita,
If you have photoshop or corel painter your simply go into the program and change the levels, (i.e. moving the white sliding bar to the left would probably do the trick). If you don't have either of those many simple photo programs allow you to change the contrast which will also help a bit.
Good luck!

Ginger*:) said...

Hi Paige.... I thought I would add to this in case you are reading old comments. I invested in an Epson Stylus Photo 1400. It is a wide body, was on sale at Amazon and takes up to 13 X 19 inch paper which also got from Epson on sale. The ink for this printer is also a saving as there are 6 cartridges instead of two and you can use the colors as they run out. The printer is also much FA S T ER ................ than my older one.

Abigail said...

This is exactly how I work. I use an Epson photo 1280 that prints up to 13 x19. I've had it for years. I usually convert my line art to duotone in shades of gray-blue if it's going to be a cool image or pale sepia if it's going to be warm.

The 1280 is not archival, but as long as I make the line art quite light, I don't have much trouble with bleeding as it just blends in with the watercolor. The only trouble is that when I make the image light enough to print right I can't see the lines on my screen at all, which can sometimes lead to problems if I want to manipulate things later without starting all over!

Incidentally, I bought mine refurbished from the Epson site, so it was under $500. Pretty good for the workhorse it's been. Makes beautiful portfolio samples, too.

Abigail said...

I just saw your comment that 13 x 19 isn't large enough. So that is a problem. I guess Kinko's printouts to watercolor paper is next best -- I read that Betsy Lewin (click clack moo) does her work that way. I'm personally too impatient to have to run down to Kinko's all the time!

Also saw the chat about Janet Stevens -- I saw her demonstrate once and her photoshop process is crazy! She draws and draws and draws and scans her drawings and a bunch of other stuff and then dumps her chaos of images into a photoshop file, makes a crazy collage in PS, prints out and starts painting on top of it all. Very cool.

Adelaida said...

I have also heard about artist who used printers not only to scan and then print their sketches - they make a mixed media image first scanning, then painting on a print, then scanning and painting in photoshop then printing and adding some stuff traditionally.

So you say tracing on a light table is time-consuming, then... I was just thinking about getting a light table :)