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Tutorial: Fixing Poor-Quality Artwork for Cleaner Laser Engraving

JDS Industries provides a CorelDRAW/Photo-Paint tutorial on how to fix poor-quality artwork for a personalized, laser-engraved product. See how a blurry, faded, handwritten recipe was altered in CorelDRAW and Photo-Paint before being lasered onto a bamboo cutting board to create a sentimental personalized gift.

Tutorial: Fixing Poor-Quality Artwork for Cleaner Laser Engraving

A CorelDraw/Photo-Paint Tutorial

By Shon Roti, JDS Industries

(Originally published in the April 2017 issue of Insights.)

laser engraved bamboo cutting board with handwritten recipe

FIGURE A: The final product is a unique and personal product that anyone would be proud to display—or use daily in their kitchen!

Recently, I was discussing artwork for a project with a JDS customer, Stacie Dannenhauer of LaserCreations. The project involved lasering a handwritten recipe to a bamboo cutting board. Sounds fairly straightforward, right? However, there was an issue, and it’s one that we have all dealt with: poor-quality artwork (the lemon).

We all know the old proverbial phrase, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” But, lemonade, of course, requires sugar, and that is the point of the adage—you need to take what you have and make it better. Otherwise, what you have is just an undrinkable liquid.

The technique I shared with Stacie—and now with you— is one that I used when I was a production artist in our fabrication department, which I nearly had forgotten about until we spoke.

Any version of CoreDRAW and Photo-Paint can be used when following along with this tutorial, except the last part, which is optional. I will be using CorelDRAW X8 and Photo-PaintX8. This tutorial’s relevancy is not restricted to just lasering, but it does work best with an image that only needs to be rendered to a black and white bitmap or a single-color vector graphic.

Rather than risk giving away someone else’s favorite recipe, I’ve used my grandmother Roti’s dill pickle recipe as the example for this tutorial. FIGURE A illustrates the end result from this tutorial using an image that originally was scanned at 150dpi (FIGURE B). Notice the blurriness of the handwriting in Figure B, which will look even worse when I change it to a black and white bitmap. This is the image that I will attempt to fix.

handwritten recipe too faint for lasering

FIGURE B: Even magnified, handwriting on old documents such as this recipe often is barely legible and unsuitable for lasering.

 

adjusting Photo-paint threshold on handwriting sample

FIGURE C: After converting the image to black and white, a window enabling you to adjust the Threshold will automatically open.


pixilated handwriting after photo-paint threshold adjusment

FIGURE D: After adjusting the Threshold slider, the image may appear more pixilated.

In addition to the low resolution, there also is not much contrast between the light pencil marks and the yellowed index card, adding another level of difficulty. The focus of this tutorial will be to add contrast, fix some trouble areas, and smooth out the pixelated edges of this low-resolution image without compromising the handwriting style and readability.

I should mention that before you devote time and energy into fixing the artwork from your customer, it may be worth the time to ask if there is an original hard copy or a better quality digital file that can be used. A quick e-mail or phone call to the customer could save you a few steps.

THE PHOTO-PAINT STEPS

  1. Launch Corel Photo-Paint and open the image (Ctrl+O). If the image is in RGB, CMYK, or grayscale mode, change the image mode to black and white by going to Image>Convert to Black and White (1 bit). A window will open to enable you to adjust the Threshold (FIGURE C). Zoom in closer to the artwork by clicking on the left window. Move the Threshold slider around until you are satisfied with the adjustment. This step is one of the more important adjustments, so take your time to get this part just the way you want it. If you have the slider too far left, much of the handwriting may disappear. If the slider is too far to the right, unwanted pixels will be added that you will have to clean up later. As mentioned, the image may appear worse after this step because of the visible pixelization that has occurred (FIGURE D). But fear not, it will get better.

  2. Next, change the mode to grayscale by going to Image>Convert to Grayscale.

  3. The next step is to increase the number of pixels in the image. Go to Image>Resample. Change the Resolution to 600 dpi for the horizontal; the vertical should change with it automatically (FIGURE E). Click OK. This step does not increase the readability, but pixels will fill in and around hard edges and offer more data/pixels to work with for the next steps. FIGURES F and G illustrate the letter “D” in the artwork up close, before the resampling and after.

  4. Now remove any unwanted pixels from the artwork. In this instance, I’ve decided to remove the index card lines and some other random pixels. You can use the Rectangle Mask tool (r) to select an area and click the Delete button, or use the Erase tool (x) to remove the pixels. Remember to adjust the Nib size (brush size) as needed.

  5. Fix any broken or missing areas of the handwriting. For this fix, I like to use the Eraser tool in the negative space. Go to Image>Transform>Invert the colors. Select the Eraser tool (x) and change the nib size (brush size) in the Property bar. At 600 dpi, a nib size of 10 is about the same thickness as my grandmother’s pencil point. Use this tool to connect white areas as needed (FIGURE H). What you choose to fix in this step is going to be a judgement call, but don’t get too overzealous with the Eraser tool. You’ll want to make sure it still looks like someone else’s handwriting and doesn’t look overcorrected. You may find that leaving some areas unfixed helps with authenticity. I’ve chosen to fix just enough to keep it legible.

  6. In the next few steps, the techniques I use will help continue to smooth out the edges of the handwriting. With the image still inverted in the negative, go to Adjust>Brightness/Contrast/Intensity (Ctrl+B). Increase the Contrast to 100% but leave the Brightness and Intensity at 0.

  7. Invert the image again and add a slight blur. Go to Image>Transform>Invert the colors, then go to Effects>Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to 2 or 3 pixels (FIGURE I). Click OK.

  8. Open Brightness/Contrast again (Ctrl +B) and increase the contrast to 100% and slowly decrease the Brightness to about -10. You should see the black areas start to thicken. Now repeat this entire step (Contrast and Brightness). The edges should appear sharper and smoother.

  9. Invert the image again back to the negative and blur the image again by 2 or 3 pixels. Open Brightness/ Contrast again (Ctrl + B), increase the contrast to 100% and slowly increase the Brightness to +10. Now you should see further improvements to the edges of the artwork. FIGURE J illustrates the letter “D” in the artwork at this stage of the tutorial.

  10. Finally, Increase the contrast by 100% and then change the mode back to a black and white bitmap. Go to Image>Convert to Black and White (1 bit) and keep the Threshold slider in the middle (about 130). Save as a TIFF or PNG file.

changing resolution in Coreldraw

FIGURE E: Change the Resolution to 600 dpi; the horizontal and vertical sliders should change together automatically.


blurry handwriting before resampling

FIGURE F: The artwork before resampling.

 

larger handwriting after resampling

FIGURE G: The artwork after resampling.

 

black and white recipe scan

FIGURE H: Use the eraser tool to connect any gaps that may have been created.

 

CorelDraw blur tool taskbar

FIGURE I: Add blur as shown above to help smooth out the edges of the handwriting.  

 

handwriting with smoother edges

FIGURE J: The edges of the artwork appear substantially smoother.

CORELDRAW STEPS

  1. Launch CorelDRAW and import the new file you have created (Ctrl + I). With the bitmap selected, launch Trace Bitmap, Detailed Logo (FIGURE K). If you are prompted by a window that is asking you to reduce the bitmap, click on Reduce Bitmap. A new window will open and the rendering process will start automatically. Generally speaking, you will have better luck increasing the Detail to its maximum, but keep the Smoothing and Cornering low to maintain the details in the artwork (FIGURE L). As an option in this window, you can also choose to Remove Background, leaving only the original bitmap and the vectorized handwriting to remain. Click OK.

  2. Once the artwork is rendered to a vector, ungroup the new artwork (Ctrl +U) and delete the original bitmap that is underneath.

  3. Select and delete any residual white areas inside some of the letters. I’ve placed a gray box behind the artwork to help reveal these pieces (FIGURE M).

  4. If you have CorelDRAW X7 or X8, select the Smooth tool located in the flyout of the Shape tool in the Tool bar (FIGURE N).

  5. Choose the Nib size and Rate from the Property bar that are small enough to affect only part of an individual letter. A nib size of .0625 (1/16 inch) should be about right. Set the Rate (the speed at which changes occur) to 50 (FIGURE N).

  6. Click on the artwork with the Smooth tool to select it and then click again and hold over any area that requires flattening or smoothing. Notice the bumps flattening out in real time. FIGURES O and P show the word "Dil" before and after using this too.

Check out the final results of this artwork lasered into a bamboo cutting board (GFT172; FIGURE Q).

screenshot of coreldraw trace taskbar

FIGURE K: Select Detailed Logo under Trace Bitmap to begin the rendering process.


screenshot of coreldraw detailing adjustment

FIGURE L: Adjust the Detail, Smoothing, and Cornering as needed.


screenshot of recipe with white areas selected in Coreldraw

FIGURE M: Be sure to select and delete residual white areas to ensure they are not marked in the final product.

 

screenshot of coreldraw property taskbar

FIGURE N: Set the Rate via the Property bar.

 

the word 'dill' before and after smoothing process

FIGURE O AND P: The word Dill before (left) and after (right) using the Smooth tool.

 

closeup of handwriting laser engraved on bamboo cutting board

FIGURE Q: The final product makes a perfect gift for parents or grandparents, newlyweds, and amateur chefs and bakers alike!

 

IN SUMMARY

Over and over, you will find that the public has little idea about the amount of energy, expertise, and time that goes into their projects; they only see the end results. In business, the recipe for success includes exceeding expectations—and often working with a few lemons.

To view a video of this tutorial and others, go to our YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/user/ JDSINDUSTRIES.

Shon Roti is a sublimation specialist at JDS Industries, Inc. He has a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Sioux Falls with an emphasis in graphic design. He can be contacted at shonr@jdsindustries.com. JDS Industries is a leading supplier in the recognition and sublimation markets. For more on JDS Industries, visit www.jdsindustries.com.

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