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IMAGE TRACING - PIXEL TO VECTOR

Updated: Mar 27

Adobe has designed a wonderful workflow for getting a sketch off paper into vectors in Illustrator. You can even create multiple color versions in a matter of seconds. Let's give it a go.

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Why Image Trace?

The Image Trace feature is part of a workflow that also includes Live Paint and Recolor Artwork. With these three powerful tools, you can create hand-drawn artwork, then transform it into vector art. You can then paint it in color with Live Paint. The final stage is to create multiple color variations with Recolor Artwork.


Together, these tools give you a practical real-world workflow from pencil to final vector artwork.


The Workflow

Once we’ve created a sketch of our artwork on paper, we need to scan it. Our phones have amazing cameras these days, lets ensure we're taking an image of this on a flat surface and you're holding your camera as parallel as you can to the paper, for the capture.

there are other ways to scan this image in but it is easiest and fastest to capture the image with your phone. upload it as you see fit-send an email to yourself, put it in google drive and download it, or wire up your phone directly to the computer to import the image.


Once you’ve scanned your drawing, it’s a good idea to clean things up and increase the contrast in Photoshop.

You can paint out any stains you may have made while drawing on paper. It’s also useful to increase the contrast to ensure the blacks are as dark as possible and the whites are as light as possible. A Levels Adjustment Layer is the best way to do so.


Create a new letter document in Illustrator. In order to be able to trace our sketch, we need to place it in Illustrator with File > Place.

Never use the Open command from Illustrator to open a raster image. Use File > Place instead.


Make sure that the Link check box is checked in the Place dialogue. This will ensure that there’s a link between your Illustrator document and the image file. So, the image should be linked and not embedded. Embedding images is largely frowned upon because it slows down Illustrator’s performance a lot. - I will request that you embed the image so when you email me your assignment I will be able to see what you have created.


Select the image and click Place, you will get a loaded cursor, where you see an icon attached to your cursor. Simply drag a rectangle to the size you want your image. Feel free to re-size your placed image at will. We have no concerns about it’s resolution for output. It will be deleted from your Illustrator document in the process of tracing it.


Tracing Images

Once our image has been placed on an Illustrator Artboard, we’ll be ready to Image Trace it.

You can start by selecting your image, then clicking the tiny downward arrow next to the Image Trace button in the Control Panel. This will do an initial tracing of your image. We need to open the tracing options dialogue in order to refine our results.


We’ll dive in to the Image Trace options to make sure we get the most of our image tracing. Keep in mind that what we’re seeing in Illustrator is not yet vectors. It’s a preview of what our tracing will look like once we’re done. If you take a gander at your Links panel, you’ll see that your scan is still placed on the page. That needs to be gone by the time we’re done.


Once our tracing looks just right, we’ll hit the Expand button in the Control Panel to finally vectorize our tracing.

You can finish up by smoothing paths, if necessary. Select your vector art. Go Object > Path > Simplify… Go easy. If you simplify too much, you’ll distort your illustration. The best plan is to work on a duplicate of your illustration.


Or use your smooth tool. located in the toolbar panel under the shaper tool. Make sure the piggy is selected and just brush over the spots that you would like to smooth out. continue as needed until you reach your desired look. You may always use the pencil tool as well, to correct the lumps, or to add or subtract shapes.


Keep this folder in order to submit it with the Live Paint part of this project.


Live Paint

The Live Paint function in Illustrator is a great example of how Adobe caters to designers’ workflow. They create tools that fit right into how we work. After we sketch a concept and Image Trace it, we want to quickly apply color to the shapes. This is what Live Paint does.


Using Live Paint is like pouring liquid paint into your vectors. It fills areas with color until it encounters a boundary. We’ll use it to paint our traced artwork.


Let’s move on to the illustration that we’ve image-traced. To get some color into our vectors, we’ll select the whole sketch, then click on it with the Paint Bucket tool. This will make our vector art a Live Paint Group.

You can tell by the little asterisks in the bounding box anchor points.


Let’s get a few different color themes. We’ll open some from Illustrator’s libraries and download some from Adobe Color.

We’ll go to our Swatches panel and use the provided colors to paint our sketch. We’ll make the color swatches Global Colors before we apply then in our Illustration. To do so, double-click on the swatch, then check Global Color in the options dialogue.


First, we need to select the swatches, then click on the folder icon at the bottom of the panel. This will put them in a Color Group, which will in turn, make them available with our Live Paint Bucket tool.

Now you’re free to use these colors to paint your artwork. You can use the left/right arrows on the keyboard to choose colors while using the Paint Bucket tool. Click away!


Gap Detection

If there are gaps in your drawing that are making paint pour outside the shapes, you can use Illustrator’s Gap Detection settings to close them.

Gap Detection creates an artificial barrier so paint doesn't leak out of open shapes.


Gap Detection has its limits. You may need to use the Direct Select tool to manually close gaps.


Recolor Artwork

Now that we’ve produced a vector version of our sketch with color in it, we’ll want to show our client different color themes. This is where Re-color Artwork comes in.

Use color.adobe.com to either create or simply find different color themes for your sketch. Sync them to Illustrator, then apply them to multiple instances or your original sketch the same way you applied color the first time around.


If you organize swatches in Color Groups, they become accessible in the Edit Colors dialogue. We’ll use this to create color variations for our artwork.


This is an awesomely quick way to create multiple color variations to present to your client.


End of Class Activity

Your assignment is to use a simple handmade sketch to image-trace and live-paint. Once you’ve completed that, produce three different color themes. In your notebook sketch out an image. take a photo of it. email it to yourself or share it to your mac how ever you can, and follow these directions through again. CREATE 3 COLOR SCHEMES.


You’ll end up with the first image-traced graphic. Aside from that, you’ll create three other versions, each with their own color schemes.

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