Scaling a drawing up from it’s original size to the size of the final artwork isn’t always easy. A lot depends on the size of the drawing you want to scale up and the size you need to make it. No method I know of works with every combination, scale ratio, or convenience level. And there’s always the possibility of making difficult calculations about percentages, and whatnot. That’s just no fun at all!
For many, the ideal solution is to make the original line drawing full-size, the very first time you draw it, but that’s not always possible.
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Others, myself included, often find it easier to finish a small line drawing, then scale it up to full-size after it’s finished to our satisfaction.
So what’s the best method of scaling up a drawing?
1. The grid method
With the grid method, you place a grid over a reference photo (or in this case, your small drawing) then draw a grid of the same proportions on your full-size paper. The small drawing is then reproduced square by square on the larger paper.
The grid method has a couple of advantages over other methods.
First, you can scale the drawing to any size, larger or smaller. I’ve made full-sized line drawings for paintings of 20×24 and larger from 8×10 or 11×14 reference photos. It’s even possible to draw from digital images with the grid method.
Second, it’s often much easier to draw detail when working with a larger drawing, whether it’s full size or not.
I usually use the grid method.
Portrait work used to be my bread-and-butter, and since most portraits must be drawn accurately, the grid method was the fastest and easiest method available. It takes longer to draw this way, but there is no better method for drawing accurate proportions short of tracing.
A second way to scale up a line drawing is to use a copy machine. Make the line drawing whatever size is most comfortable for you, then take the drawing to a copy shop to be scaled up. This method is especially helpful if you’re not sure exactly how big you want the final drawing. You can make several sizes for review.
If your final work is larger than a standard copy machine, look for a copy shop with large format copy machines, or a professional copy shop that does printing and/or blueprint copying.
One of my most recent paintings was 24×36; larger than most standard copy machines. I made the line drawing as large as I could using the grid method, refined it as much as possible, then took it to a local professional printer. They made a full-size copy while I waited. I then sent it to send the client for approval as well as made a copy for myself.
If you work large, a professional copy shop may be your best option. Most of them print on paper rolls, which means you can scale up a drawing to almost any size.
3. The printer method
If your final artwork isn’t going to be too large or if you own a large format printer yourself, you can scan your finished drawing, enlarge it in photo editing software such as Photoshop or a cloud-based app, and print it at the desired size.
When your desired size is too large for your own printer, you can try printing the drawing in sections, then piecing them together again.
NOTE: It can be difficult to get the printed pieces of your drawing to fit together properly. Unless the software you use has the ability to tile an image (print it in sections,) it can also be time consuming. That’s why this is my last resort for scaling up drawings!
I typically only use my printer to scale drawings up when the final drawing needs to be no larger than 8-1/2 by 14 inches (a legal sized sheet of paper.) For anything larger, I use a copy machine or print shop.
4. The projector method
Projectors are an excellent way to scale drawings up. Opaque projectors can be used to project an image such as a drawing onto a larger surface. Simply trace over the projected image and your drawing is scaled up.
Digital projectors are also a good way to enlarge drawings. They perform just as well as an opaque projector, and have the advantage of projecting directly from your computer. The only downside is that you need to accurately photograph or scan your drawing into a digital format first.
With both methods, you need a large enough space to project an image on, and the surface should be smooth enough to produce a clear drawing. You also need to be absolutely certain to “square up” the projector with the projection surface, or the resulting image will be distorted.
If you have the space, using a projector is ideal because you can scale up to any size just by adjusting the projector. You can even use a projector to easily lay out a composition for a wall mural or extremely large canvas.
Of course, these 4 methods aren’t the only ways to scale up a drawing, but they are probably the most commonly used. Whether you use them alone or in combination is entirely personal preference. And, as with all things art-related, the only way to truly know what works for you is to experiment!