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How to Use Image Trace in Adobe Illustrator CS6

With the Image Trace feature in Adobe Illustrator CS6, you can take raster (bitmap) artwork and automatically trace it to convert it into vector artwork. This means that you can take scans of sketches, illustrations, and even photographs, and convert them into vector artwork that can be edited in Illustrator.

The Image Trace feature is not totally new — in previous versions it was known as Live Trace — but with CS6 it has been greatly improved. Additional options have been added, and you can easily access those options and “test” your trace using the new Image Trace panel. Follow these steps to try out this improved feature:

1

Choose File→Place and place a scan or raster illustration that you want to convert to vector paths.

Immediately after placing, you see that the Control panel now has additional buttons available.

Even though you can click on Image Trace immediately, you may want to consider selecting Window → Image Trace to access the Image Trace panel, which offers you more options and the opportunity to test your selections in advance.

You can also click on the Image Trace Panel icon in the Control panel to open the Image Trace panel.

2

Click on the Preset drop-down menu to select a preset most similar to the artwork you want to convert.

Many of the presets are defined according to the type of artwork that you are tracing — such as a sketch, technical drawing, or photograph. The 3 Color, 6 Color, and 16 Color options are useful when converting a photograph to a vector image.

3

Check the Preview box to see the results of your preset selection.

At this point you might be happy with the result. If so, you can click on Trace in the Image Trace button and be done with this task. If not, leave Preview checked and continue on to Step 4 to work with some of the Advanced options.

4

Expand the Advanced section and note the additional path options available there:

Paths determines how accurate a representation of the original art the path trace will be. The higher the percentage the more accurate the tracing. Be careful with this feature — if you set the percentage too high, you can end up with more anchor points then necessary. By default, this setting is at 50%, which should work for most of your artwork.

Corner determines how the Image Trace traces corners. A lower percentage produces a more rounded corner; a higher amount a sharper corner. Again, the default setting (75%) works for most cases.

Noise determines the minimum details size Image Trace can reproduce. The default of 100 pixels tends to work well. This provides you an area that will be recognized by the Image Trace feature of about 10 pixels x 10 pixels. You might have to play with this setting a bit to see what works best for your image.

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