Easy-to-follow video tutorials help you learn software, creative, and business skills.Become a member
One of my favorite features inside of Illustrator is something called Live Trace. It basically allows you to take a photographic image and convert it into vector art with one click of a button. Not only is it fun to use, it can be great as far as experimenting with different types of artwork. Let's take a look at a few examples. I'm going to start with just a regular blank document and I'm not going to place a photograph onto my page. I'll choose File, Place, navigate to Chapter 15 of the exercise files and I'll choose this image here called surf_walk.psd. I'll leave it as a linked image and I'll choose Place.
Notice that whenever you have any kind of raster based or image content selected inside of Illustrator, the Live Trace button is now available to you in the Control panel. I'll click Live Trace and literally just like that, Illustrator converts it now into vectors. Now it's important to realize that the feature is called Live Trace because Illustrator has not thrown away the image. In fact, you can see the X that I have here to the image, the image is still here in my file, which allows me to continue to tweak or adjust that trace to get it just the way that I like it. I can't actually edit the vector path themselves until I go over here to the Expand button and click that. Now I have the ability to use my Direct Selection tool or any other editing tool inside of Illustrator to work with those vectors. But once I do so, I'll lose that live capability. I can no longer adjust the trace itself. I'm going to press Undo to go back to that live state right now.
I want to show you a few settings that you could do to adjust that particular trace. For example, take a look at the Threshold settings that's here. The Threshold setting allows me to determine how much detail is revealed in the trace. I can go ahead and I can increase that number and add more and more detail to that particular image or less detail. In fact, using the word detail probably doesn't make the most sense because detail is relative. Do you want there to be more pixels inside of your file that are black or more that are white? That's up to you based on the image itself but you can adjust the Threshold setting as necessary. Let's go over here to where it says Preset.
Currently Illustrator ships with a whole bunch of different presets. Choosing between these presets let you really choose different options for how that trace should look. By default, Illustrator uses something called Simple Trace. Simple Trace just turns your image using black and white. However, you may decide that you want this to be traced using colors. How many colors, let's choose this one here called Color 6. This now traces your image using up to 6 colors. Illustrator actually analyzes the images first to determine which colors are used in the file, and then it goes ahead and adjusts that color accordingly.
For more detail, I could use more colors. I'll choose now Color 16 for example and that will give me an image that looks even more closer to the original of the photograph. In fact, there's a setting here called Photo High Fidelity. If I choose that option, Illustrator will try to create as many paths as possible with as many colors to make it look as close to the original photograph as it can. Now even though this may look like a photograph, if I zoom in really closer, you can see that this is all made up of vector art. Let me zoom out for a second here, I'll warn you though that if you expand this, you will get a whole lot of anchor points over here. So this could be very complex, fun, could take some time to print out.
Let me go ahead and press Undo again to go back to our Live Trace. You can definitely experiment with some of the other presets that are here, but you can also go directly to this button called Tracing Options. This will give you the ability to specify on a step-by-step basis, several different settings that affect how the quality of the trace is created and not only can you go ahead and choose from the preset that ship with Illustrator, for example let me go back to the Color 6 option, you also have the ability to make your own settings here and then choose Save Preset and create your own preset of settings. This will allow you to apply the same type of trace to several different images that you might be using within an overall campaign for example. One thing that's pretty cool though about working with the Live Trace option, is that right over here there's an option here called Output to Swatches. If I choose that option right here, it will take the six colors that are being used in the trace and if I click on the Trace option here, it will also go ahead and add those colors directly to my Swatches panel.
These are added as global colors, which means that if I want to change some of these colors, for example this darker color, if I want that to change it to something else, maybe something with a little bit more blue inside of it, by updating it I can now see that I can make that change directly in the artwork even without expanding the artwork. Let's take a look at one other example. I'm going to go ahead and delete this right now. I'm going to choose File, Place, and let's choose another option here. Let's choose this photograph called palm_tree. I actually use this method a lot inside of Illustrator, let me zoom -out a little bit over here. There are many times when you could actually work with a photograph to create really interesting content that could be vector for using a logo for example.
Here, if I go ahead and I click on Live Trace, I may want to keep it as black and white, even though right now all of the rest of the file with the sky was there, that disappears as I'm turning it all into just black and white pixels. One thing that's interesting though when you work inside of Illustrator is that if I wanted to overlay this particular tree on a background, if I send this to the back right now, I'll see that the white is kind of blocking out that area. To prevent that problem, I can use a really simple setting inside of the Live Trace options. I'm going to click on this image right now, which has a Live Trace applied to it. I'll go to this dialog box called Tracing Options and I'll click on this option here called Ignore White. In doing so, the white actually gets filled with None. So now I can apply a lovely image here that I can pull out from any photograph into any design composition that I'm working with. What's great about Live Trace is that my possibilities are literally endless. I can sketch something on a piece of paper, scan it into Photoshop, bring that into Illustrator and then do a live trace on it.
I can go take my digital camera outside somewhere and take some really cool pictures, bring them into Illustrator, and then go ahead and do a Live Trace on them as well. And I could use them as direct traces or I can start to incorporate parts of them as design elements. If there's one feature that you really want to play around with and see what you can do, Live Trace is that feature.
Get unlimited access to all courses for just $25/month.Become a member
120 Video lessons · 63846 Viewers
119 Video lessons · 71379 Viewers
125 Video lessons · 32175 Viewers
84 Video lessons · 18738 Viewers
Access exercise files from a button right under the course name.
Search within course videos and transcripts, and jump right to the results.
Remove icons showing you already watched videos if you want to start over.
Make the video wide, narrow, full-screen, or pop the player out of the page into its own window.
Click on text in the transcript to jump to that spot in the video. As the video plays, the relevant spot in the transcript will be highlighted.