How I Clean up Black and White Linework

Today, I am please to present a tutorial on how I prep my scanned line work for paper doll sets. I was asked some questions about this by Bethany, who shows off her paper dolls on her Pinterest board.

In this tutorial, I will show you how I clean up linework from a rough scan to an image with only black & white. I don’t know if this is a perfect set of instructions, but I have done my best to encapsulate the process I use.

Before you begin, you will need your scanned linework. I scan at 600 DPI, but other people scan at other things and that’s okay. Load your scan into your version of Photoshop. I use CS5 and CS3, because I am quirky.

Ready? Okay… let’s do this.

Step 1: This is Your Scan.

lwt1In the image above you can see my 600 DPI Tiff that I have opened in Photoshop. My scanning bed is just a little too small to fit my 9 by 12 sketchbooks, so normally I scan in two parts and then join those parts using Photoshop’s automated picture combine features. In the end, this is what the scan looks like right before I am ready to start cleaning it up. As you can see, this is for a majorette set for Marisole Monday & Friends.

Now… let’s get ready to mess with it.

Step 2: Resize you Canvas

All my paper dolls have to share clothing. To maintain consistent proportions, I always make every canvas I work with the same size- 13 inches by 13 inches. My sketchbooks are 9 by 12, so everything will fit on a 13 by 13. I recommend making your canvas an inch or two larger then the longest measurement of your sketch paper.

Go up to Image -> Canvas Size.


This window will pop open. Change the “Pixels” to “Inches” and set it at 13.


This is what your picture should look like now. As you can see the sketchbook page is now bordered by some transparent space. (It’s important not to think of this space as ’empty’, because it isn’t. The transparent areas are still taking up bits and bytes of computer space.)

Step 3: Get Rid of Stuff you Don’t Want


Now is a great time to get rid of major problems. Minor problems (like smeared ink), I prefer to clean up after I’ve done my prepping, but that ugly spiral binding needs to go. So, I use the rectangular selection tool to select it and then just hit the Delete key. I’ll also use this time to remove any other issues I can see right off the bat.

Step 4: Creating a White Background

Transparency tends to cause issues later down the line and I want something that is pure white to make sure we actually achieve that color, so I like to make sure there is no transparent space. I could just fill the transparent areas with white using the Bucket tool, but this will leave a tiny unfilled border around the image. Rather than do that, I like to make a new all white layer and merge it with my scanned layer.


Create a new layer by going to Image -> Layers and selecting “Create New Layer” then fill that new layer with white (Hex#ffffff) using the bucket tool (circled in red). Drag that layer underneath your linework layer and then merge the two layers together by going to Layers -> Merge Layers which is at the very bottom of the Layers selection panel.

A little confusing, I know, but I didn’t think to take pictures of all those steps. Sorry.

Step 5: Adjusting Levels

I am pretty sure the Level Adjustment is meant for something other than what I constantly use it for, but this is what I constantly use it for. I make white things white with it and black things black. Here’s how…

Go to Image -> Adjustments -> Levels.


This little window will pop up. Now, the little slider on the far left controls the darkest areas of the image, the one of the middle controls the midtones and one on the far right controls the highlights of the image. Sliding them back and forth will change how dark or light these parts of the image are.

The image will change in real time. I wish I could say that I always use the settings above, but I don’t. I really just eyeball it.


After adjustments, you image should look something like this. The white area is no longer “grey” and then linework is very dark. Be careful not to over do this, or you will lose the detail. Also, as you can see on this image, I have a few inking errors and some smudging I need to clean up eventually. (Proving that I am not perfect when I ink.)

Step 6: Blurring the Lines

Okay, so one of the things that happens when you adjust levels is that the image will begin to feel pixelated. This isn’t the smooth beautiful line-work we want, so the next step is to introduce some blur.

Go to Filter -> Blur -> Glaussiun Blur.


I usually chose something between a .9 pixel and a 1.2 pixel blur, depending on how fuzzy I want to make things. Once again, the image will adjust in the window as a live preview, so mess with it until you find something you like. Also, it is easier to make things more blurry than it is to make them less blurry. Proceed accordingly.

Step 7: Level things off, Again

So, return to your Levels menu and begin to adjust the levels again. Remember, the goal is for smooth black lines with just the tiniest softness around the edges.


This is an example of what the levels I used for this image are and you can see how much smoother it looks than before. It’s no longer “blurry”, it is “smooth”

Step 8: Clean up the Linework

Okay, so I didn’t do this in this example, since I was just thinking in terms of getting this tutorial written, but this is the point where I would clean up my linework. Using the Pencil tool set on white Hex#ffffff), I clean up any smears, fix any stray lines or sometimes make a necklace chain look neater. Basically, make sure the image appears like I want it to before beginning to color.

Step 9: Getting Rid of the Grey

So, in order to make my Bpelt filter work, I have to have nothing but black and white in my image. This is tough sometimes, but totally possible. Here is how I do that part of the process.

Start by selecting Image-> Adjustments -> Posterize.


This little box will open up. Posterize lowers the number of colors in an image. Since we just want black and white, we type two in that box and the system converts any color that is not black or white to black or white.

Now, you might be wondering why bother to do all that levels, blur, levels absurdity just to lose all of that smoothness to this process. Had we use this tool on our first scanned image, it would have turned anything it thought was too dark into black and anything that was too light into white. The resulting image would have been disastrous. We use this tool now, because we have already made sure every dark line looks just like we want it too.

This is the Finished Scan

Here is the black and white finished scan. There are clearly some spots I’ll need to clean up, but that’s normal enough.


Before I begin coloring, and once I have cleaned up all the smears, I will need to do a few other things.

To start with, all the boots get put on stands. Then I need to space out the pieces on the canvas, so I have space for when I add tabs later. Once these things are done, I am ready to color. (There’s a tutorial for that, too.)

Questions? Please ask. It’s surprisingly hard to describe what I do by habit these days.

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1 comment

  1. I really like your work and have loved paper dolls since I was a child and played with “A dozen cousins” a full book of dolls and clothes. I especially like the dolls of color and will send a set of Petal Poppets to my grand niece (she’s 5) for her birthday. I haven’t seen anything except rosy cheeked children out there until now. Thanks again, I may just have to send you a family recipe. it’s not scones but I think you’d like it

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