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Be Quicker on the Draw

Someone recently contacted me to learn the process of converting artwork drawn on paper into something that could be cut from CorelDRAW. You may have an idea, but bear with me because what may seem like the quickest way to convert the artwork is actually the worst option in almost all cases. Let’s go through the steps in the process.

Be Quicker on the Draw

Convert Hand-Drawn Art to Send to a Laser or Cutter

By Foster D. Coburn III

FIGURE 1: Scan of a horse trailer drawn with a marker

Someone recently contacted me to learn the process of converting artwork drawn on paper into something that could be cut from CorelDRAW. 

You may have an idea, but bear with me because what may seem like the quickest way to convert the artwork is actually the worst option in almost all cases. Let’s go through the steps in the process.

MAKE IT DIGITAL
This whole procedure starts with artwork on a piece of paper. When I was asked about this, the art had been drawn by hand with a marker. You might be dealing with something that has been printed. No matter how it originated, you need to scan it into your computer.

These days, we like to use the cameras in our phones as copy machines, but do not be tempted to do this. Do not take a photo of it! That distorts the art. 

I highly suggest you scan the art into Corel PHOTO-PAINT (or Adobe Photoshop if you prefer). Most likely you’ll scan in grayscale or even black and white. Rarely is color needed. Unless it is a really small drawing, 300 dpi is probably more than adequate.

Should you need to do any minor cleanup, you can do it in Corel PHOTO-PAINT (or Photoshop) after scanning. Save the file in PNG format; the JPG format would degrade the artwork.

The artwork that needed to be converted was fairly simple when I was asked about this process. For this tutorial, I’m using artwork with similar complexity, though the image is different. I’m working with a drawing of a horse trailer (FIGURE 1). Because you probably have no need for a vector horse trailer, you can follow along with the techniques described using artwork you’ve drawn.

CONVERT TO VECTOR
The next step is where users often take the wrong path by thinking the easiest way to convert this scanned art to a vector image is to use Corel PowerTRACE. In some situations, this method will flat out fail. In others, it is an inefficient method that wastes valuable time. 

In almost all cases, the best way to create a vector version of the artwork is to use the drawing tools in CorelDRAW to draw right on top of the scan. Horror of horrors, you have to draw! But the result is the best artwork possible, and it almost always takes less time.

Now that you know not to try to autotrace, let’s get started. Import the scanned artwork into CorelDRAW. Size it to whatever size you feel is appropriate. Go to the Object Manager and make the layer on which the artwork appears non-editable (the pencil icon). Create a new layer (FIGURE 2) that is editable; this is the layer we’ll redraw the artwork on.

Looking at the horse trailer image, several of the shapes are rectangles and circles. Even though it may not match the hand-drawn artwork exactly, it is the correct answer for this artwork. Use your own judgment to determine the right time to deviate a bit or to follow the artwork perfectly.

For the rest of the artwork, I’m going to use the Bezier tool. This is a tool I’ve covered in depth in previous articles, so I’ll only cover the general process here. Click once with the tool anyplace you want a node. A second click will create a straight line between the two nodes. If you instead click and drag, a curve can be shaped on the fly. This process may be confusing at first. Those who do not have good knowledge of the Bezier tool should spend at least 30 minutes practicing using it.

This particular piece of artwork can be redrawn in less than 5 minutes if you understand the basics of the rectangle, ellipse, and Bezier tools in CorelDRAW. The redrawn version is shown in FIGURE 3. More complex artwork may take a bit longer, but can still be re-drawn accurately in short order if you know how to use the tools. 

FIGURE 2: Object Manager showing scan on a locked layer and a new layer ready for drawing.


FIGURE 3: The redrawn version of the horse trailer.


PREPARE FOR CUTTING
Now that we have everything drawn, it is time to get it ready to cut. Each of the tires is made from two circles, so we’ll select the two circles and Combine (Ctrl + L) the shapes together to cut out the center holes. The same will be done to cut the rectangular windows out from the main trailer shape. Because this needs to be a single shape when done, we’ll now Weld the tires and trailer hitch to the main trailer.

Any shapes that are to be cut are shown in Figure 4 with a red outline; you’ll use whatever color is designated as the cut color on your device. Other shapes, such as the door and lights, will be given a black outline since our goal is simply to etch those on the artwork rather than cutting. Again, adjust the colors used to match your device.

FIGURE 4: The final version of the horse trailer, ready for cutting.

BOTTOM LINE
Often, users believe the quickest solution is to use software to autotrace scanned artwork. Yet the real answer is that it is almost always the wrong answer. It is extremely important that users learn to use the Bezier tool well to make the process of redrawing artwork really easy. Follow that up with node editing and good usage of Weld, Intersect, Trim, and Combine to get the perfect finished artwork.

Redrawing and putting the finishing touches on this horse trailer took less than 5 minutes. More complex artwork will take a bit longer, but it will still be faster and cleaner than autotrace.

Foster D. Coburn III is the author of 13 books on CorelDRAW, the last being CorelDRAW X6 Unleashed. He writes the free Graphics Unleashed Blog (http://graphics-unleashed.com) and provides fonts, artwork, and add-ons of interest to CorelDRAW users through the CorelDRAW Unleashed site at coreldrawunleashed.com. Connect with Graphics Unleashed at facebook.com/graphicsunleashed and follow Coburn on Twitter @fostercoburn and Instagram @fostercoburn.

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