How to use Photoshop to make notepad sketches

Written by Verne on February 22nd, 2008

A few days ago, I wrote about the making of Creative Briefing and touched briefly on how the notepad sketches that you see on the top left of this site came to be. I’ll now go more in depth and offer a quick and easy tutorial on how I produced the image using Adobe Photoshop.

It should be noted that much of the work in this tutorial can be replaced by simply purchasing stock photos of notepads. However, if you’re not into spending money or aren’t able to find a stock photo that suits your needs, then this tutorial is for you.

The Goal

Here’s what this tutorial will help you achieve:

The final product!

Let’s get started!

Step 1

First you begin by tearing a sheet out of the notepad of your choice. Don’t worry too much about the line pattern or color of the sheet, we’ll only be referencing its general shape and torn edges. Here’s the notepad I used.

The notepad that I used.

Place the sheet on your scanner and place a cloth or large piece of paper with a strong contrasting color over it. This is so that you can ensure that the shape of the sheet you’re scanning doesn’t blend into the background. In my case, I simply placed a black tshirt over my notepad sheet and hit the Scan button.

Step 2

Once scanned, open up the file in Photoshop. It’s a good idea to save the file under a new filename so that you will always have the original scanned file in case you ever need to start over.  Here’s what I ended up with.

The scanned notepad sheet in Photoshop

The sheet I was scanning was quite thin so the black background actually came through a bit. But that doesn’t matter as I’m only going to be using the shape of the paper.

Make a copy of the layer so you can easily start again if necessary (hide the original layer by clicking the eye icon next in the Layers pane). Grab your Magic Wand Tool (W) and start selecting all the areas outside of the sheet by holding shift and clicking all the black areas. Once you have all the areas selected, hit Delete to give the sheet a transparent background.

The notepad sheet is now free from its background!

Note: This isn’t necessarily the best way to crop something out, but since we’re just looking for the general shape, using the Magic Wand Tool is the quickest and easiest method.

If you find the edges to be a bit rough, grab your Blur tool (R) and go over the edges.

Step 3

Next, I need to shorten the height of the sheet to accomodate for the site design, so go ahead and grab the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and select the bottom half of the sheet. Cut and paste, and then move the bottom half up to get the desired height. Again, don’t worry if the the lines on the sheet aren’t spaced out evenly.

Shortening the notepad sheet.

When done, merge the two layers together.

Step 4

Duplicate the layer with the shortened notepad sheet for backup and hide the old layer. On the new layer, go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation (Ctrl+U) and bring the Lightness to +100. This will make the entire sheet white.

Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation > Lightness = +100

It may be wise at this point to add a background layer with some color, as it will make it easier to see what you’re working with.

Step 5

Creating the line pattern.Next we’ll create the line pattern that will show up on the notepad sheet. Create a new file that is 60×60 pixels with a transparent background. Draw a 1px black line along the top.

Select All (Ctrl+A) and go to Edit > Define Pattern. Give the pattern a name such as “Notepad Sheet Line Pattern”.

Return to the window with the notepad sheet. Grab the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and select the area on the sheet that needs to be filled in with the line pattern. Create a new layer (above all other layers) and go to Edit > Fill.

Select Pattern in the Use drop-down, and select the Custom Pattern that was created above.

Filling in the line pattern.

After clicking OK you should have something similar to this:

The notepad sheet with the line pattern.

Step 6

Lighten the line color by selecting its layer and going to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation (Ctrl+U). Drag the Lightness bar to the right to get the desired shade.

Adjusting the Lightness of the line pattern.

Next, give the lines a bit of blur by going to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and setting the Radius to something small like 0.5 pixels.

Blurring the line pattern with 0.5 pixel radius Gaussian Blur.

Just like that, you’ve got yourself a simple graphical rendering of a notepad sheet. To give it a little more realism and some depth, let’s style it a bit more.

Step 7

Load Selection by holding Ctrl and clicking the layer’s thumbnail.Create a new layer beneath the layer with the white notepad sheet. Select the shape of the notepad sheet by holding Ctrl and clicking the thumbnail of the notepad sheet layer (see right). Fill the selection with black. This layer will be for the shadow of the notepad sheet.

Next, while on the shadow layer, go to Edit > Transform > Distort. Now shape the shadow any way you’d like to get the desired effect.

You should end up with something like this:

Distorting the shadow.

Next, go to Filter > Blue > Gaussian Blur and set the radius between 2 and 5 pixels, depending on the effect you’re going for. The sketches I have on the top left of this site have cleaner, vector-looking shadows, so I kept the blur to a minimum.

Once you’re done blurring, drop the Opacity of the shadow layer down to 10% and you should have something that looks like this:

The finished shadow.

Step 8

Create a new layer above all other layers, and select the shape of the notepad sheet as you did Step 7. On the new layer, use the linear Gradient Tool (G) and drag a grey-to-transparent gradient diagonally up, starting from the lower right-hand corner.

Adding a diagonal grey-to-transparent gradient.

Drop the opacity of the layer down to 20% and you’ve got yourself a blank digital notepad canvas!

The blank digital notepad canvas.

Step 9

Scan in your sketches and position them on top of your notepad sheet. Set the blending mode to Multiply.

Sketches on the notepad sheet.

Step 10

Resize. Tilt. Duplicate. Position. Detail. Ta-da! You’ve got yourself some nicely designed notepad sketches.

The Final Product

The final product!

For the final product, I added a second sheet complete with some more doodles. I also used some free coffee stain images to give them the roughed up and dirty look. This is a pretty accurate digital depiction of what my desk looks like… if you multiply the number of sketches and loose doodles by something close to a million.

Questions & Comments

This is my first Photoshop tutorial so go easy on me. I do invite questions and suggestions for improvements in the form of comments or emails via my Contact page.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the tutorial and have found it useful!

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