How To Use Image Trace in Adobe Illustrator CC 2017

The image of a cow is traced using the Image Trace panel.
All it takes is a little planniing to master Image Trace in Illustrator.
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How To Use Image Trace in Adobe Illustrator CC 2017

The image of a cow is traced using the Image Trace panel.
All it takes is a little planniing to master Image Trace in Illustrator.

For what seems like forever, Adobe Illustrator has had the ability to trace line art and photos and turn them into vector images.  For what also seems like the longest time the results have been, shall we say, inconsistent not to mention painfully slow. With the introduction of the new and improved Image Trace function in Illustrator CS6 and subsequent upgrades, a whole world of possibility opened up to users of graphic software.

In this “How To” we are going to look at a variety of methods of converting a bitmap to vectors, which is exactly what Image Trace does.

Let’s get started …

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How To Get Started With Image Trace In Illustrator CC 2017

Image shows a cow and another image of a village. The village image has clutter and not a good candidate.
Images and drawings without a lot of clutter are best for tracing.

The first thing you need is an image. The preferred image has a subject that stands out, or strongly contrasts. with the background– like the cow in the above image. When converting an image to vectors the areas of contiguous colours are converted to shapes. The more shapes and vector points – the village image- the larger the file size not to mention the “hit” on the processor as it works to map all of those shapes, points and colours to the screen. Also you can trace sketches and drawings from your notebooks.

To add an image to trace, select File >Place and locate the image to be added to the document. When you see the “Place Gun” , click the mouse and the image drops into place. To start the tracing process, click once on the image to select it.

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How To Select What Type Of Tracing To Do In Illustrator CC 2017

Image shows the Image Trace pop down menu.
The key is determining what tracing method is to be used.

With the image in place, the most obvious starting point is the Image Trace pop down in the Illustrator Control Panel. There are a lot of choice that are aimed a specific tasks. They all have a different result and you might want to select each one to see the result. You can always return to your starting point by pressing Control-Z (PC) or Command-Z (Mac) or, if you really messed up, by selecting File>Revert.

When you choose a Trace method, you will see a progress bar showing you what is going on. When it finishes the image is converted to a series of vector paths..

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How To View And Edit A Traced Imaged In Illustrator CC 2017

The tracing paths are shown and the Simplify menu is highlighted.
Reduce the complexity of the tracing result by using the Simplify submenu.

If you select the tracing result with either the Selection Tool or the Direct Selection  Tool, the entire image is selected. To actually see the paths click the Expand button in the Control Panel. Do that and the tracing object is converted to a series of paths.

In the case of the above image I can select the sky and grass areas and delete them. If I want to further simplify the image, I can select Object>Path> Simplify and use the sliders in the Simplify panel to reduce the number of points and curves in the Traced image.

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How To Use The Image Trace Menu Item In Illustrator CC 2017

The image Trace menu item in the Object menu is shown.
An alternate method is to use Image Trace in the Object menu.

Another way of tracing an image is found in Object menu. When you select Object > Image Trace you are faced with two choices: Make and Make and Expand. The second choice does the trace then shows you the paths.  Unless you are tracing a pencil or ink  sketch or line art with a solid color, the result is usually black and white.

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How To Use The Image Trace Panel in Illustrator CC 2017

The Image Trace panel is open.
Use the Image Trace panel for "Industrial-strength" tracing tasks.

If you are looking for “Industrial-Strength” tracing then open the Image Trace panel found at Window> Image Trace.

Let’s walk through it from top to bottom.

  • The icons along the top are presets for, from left to right : Auto Colour, High Colour, Grayscale, Black and White and Outline.  The icons are interesting but the real power is found in the Preset pop down. The Preset pop down contains all of the choices in the Control Panel pop down. You also get to choose your color mode and the palette to be used.
  • The Colors slider is a bit odd. It measures using percentages  but the range runs from Less to More.
  • The Advanced options are where you can modify the tracing result. Remember, the image is converted to colored shapes, the Paths, Corners and Noise sliders allow you to modify the complexity of the shapes. As you fiddle with the sliders and colors you will see the values for the Paths, Anchors and Colors at the bottom of the panel increase or decrease.
  • Finally the Method area really has nothing to do with corners. It has everything to do with how the paths are created. You get two choices.the first is abutting which means the paths all bump into each other. The other is Overlapping where the paths are all laid over each other.
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How To Edit A Traced Image in Adobe Illustrator CC 2017

The background has been removed from the tracing of the cow.
Remove unwanted areas and shapes from a tracing to reduce file size and complexity.

With the trace completed, you may want to remove portions of the trace. For example, I just wanted the cow not the sky or the grass. To edit any traced object click the Expand button in the Control panel. This will turn the image into a series of editable paths. Switch to the Direct Selection tool – the hollow area- and click on the paths to be edited.