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Designs dekeConstructed: Gradient Dot Patterns with Illustrator
Illustration by John Hersey

Converting jagged raster dots to smooth vectors


Designs dekeConstructed: Gradient Dot Patterns with Illustrator

with Deke McClelland

Video: Converting jagged raster dots to smooth vectors

All right, I've gone ahead and zoomed in to 2400%, And now, notice that I'm not seeing any image trace features in the Control panel.

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Designs dekeConstructed: Gradient Dot Patterns with Illustrator
1h 19m Intermediate Feb 11, 2014

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Designs dekeConstructed, featuring best-selling author Deke McClelland, is a new series in which Deke breaks down the creation of cool designs so you can create them on your own. In this installment, Deke shows you how to make a custom gradient dot pattern with Adobe Illustrator. He begins by showing you how to load, apply, and scale the preset patterns that ship with Illustrator, and then demonstrates how to make your own gradient patterns with round and square dots. Last, he shows how to infuse your designs with energy using dynamic rotations that make your own specialized pattern wave.

Topics include:
  • Using Illustrator's preset gradient dot patterns
  • Creating a pattern of custom halftone dots
  • Filling editable text with a dot pattern
  • Turning circular dots into squares
  • Using dynamic rotations to create specialized patterns
Design Design Techniques
Deke McClelland

Converting jagged raster dots to smooth vectors

All right, I've gone ahead and zoomed in to 2400%, so that you can clearly see that even though the document resolution, at least with art raster is concerned is set to 300 pixels per inch, we still have some very jagged results. What we want of course is nice smooth vector art like these dots right here. And notice that they remain smooth no matter how far I zoom in. And incidentally notice, if I hover over this path outline, not only does it highlight but I see the word path in green, that's the function of Smart Guides.

So sometimes they're really useful, other times, they just kind of get in your face. Which is why I'm going to go up to the View menu and choose a Smart Guide's command. Or better yet, I'm going to press the Escape key a couple of times and press Ctrl+U or Cmd+U on the Mac in order to turn those Smart Guides off. And notice that we no longer have any flashing on screen. All right, I'll go ahead and switch over to my document in progress. So you may wonder what is the solution. How do you convert this raster graphic into a piece of Vector art, and of course the solution is Illustrator's automated image trace feature.

So I'll go ahead and click on this rectangle here. Even though I'm so far zoomed in. I can see that I've now selected it because there's my center point. And now, notice that I'm not seeing any image trace features in the Control panel. So, I'll go up to the Object menu, choose the Image Trace command and lo and behold, all of my options are dimmed. And that's because even though this is a piece of raster artwork, it's made of pixels, Illustrator thinks of it as being a rectangle filled with a gradient subject to a dynamic effect.

So we need to set it straight. And you do that by pressing the Escape key to get out of that menu. I'm going to go ahead and collapse the Gradient panel here, and I'll expand the half-tone layer by clicking on its little triangle to twirl it open. Notice, there's my rectangle, the word path right there. I'm going to go ahead and make a copy of it, so that I still have the original in case I want to come back to it. because I might want to adjust my settings. For example, I'll switch over to the Appearance panel here. I want you to see this. And I'll click on Halftone pattern in order to bring up my last applied settings.

You may recall we went with the Pattern type of dot and I set the Contrast Value to 50. But I had only set the size to three. It's now 12 and that's because Illustrator's automatically increased the size of the dots to the absolute maximum setting. It'd be nice if it went higher than that actually. But that's the maximum, 12 because I increase the resolution of the document. Anyway, I'll cancel out. Point is, I might want to come back and make some changes later. So, I want to keep a copy of this item right there. Now you may think the best way to do that is to go up to the Edit menu and choose the Copy command, which I'll go ahead and do.

Of course, you can press Ctrl+c or Cmd+c on the Mac, and then you return to the Edit > Paste in Front. Or you press Ctrl+F or Cmd +F on a Mac. But get a load of what happens, watch the layers panel over here. No response so far to my request. There it is. It finally comes up. The thing about copy and paste in front is that the commands rely on the clipboard, and the clipboard is extremely slow when working with complicated artwork. The better way to work is to press Ctrl+Z or Cmd+Z on a Mac in order to undo that change.

And all you need to do is press the Alt key or the Option key on a Mac, and drag this item right here, just up ever so slightly, like so until you get a fist with a plus sign next to it. And drop it. And notice that we see this thing immediately, and then it shows up, we get a thumbnail just basically a second afterwards. So it's a much faster way to work because it bypasses the clipboard. Now I'll go ahead and turn off that path, right there. I might as well rename it, so I know what it is. So I'll call it half-tone. And I'll also turn off ABC in the background, the letters.

And then I'll click on this new item, right there. I need to convince Illustrator that it's a piece of raster artwork. And you do that by going up to the Object menu and choosing Rasterize. And then, inside of the Rasterized dialogue box, leave the color model set to RGB. But we want the resolution, it's going to be high, 300 PPI by default, but you want it to be double that. So go ahead and choose Other. And let's Increase the resolution value to 600. And then I'll set the background to transparent. These other options are fine set to their defaults. Now click OK.

And you end up with an embedded image and you can tell that's the case because you'll see the word unembed up here in the control panel. So this is now a pixel based image. We might as well have created it inside Photoshop. All right, also notice that we have an image trace button up here in the control panel. All you have to do to use it is to click on it, of course. Now, Illustrator's going to gripe at you. Not only are you working in a fairly large piece of artwork, but you also have a 600 ppi image, and that frightens Illustrator up front.

It wants you to use a lower resolution. Well, that is a crazy idea. Never accept its advice because you'll get terrible results just bite the bullet and click OK. And in a few seconds you'll see a bunch of progress bars fly by and this is what illustrator was trying to warn you about its very complicated for the program to pull this off. So now we have a vector based image tracing. Look how good it looks already. Now I'm going to scroll over a little bit here, quite a bit actually. I'm space bar dragging so I can take advantage of the hand tool and you may or may not see some glitches here and there, actually this looks pretty darn good.

This guy is a little glitchy. He's got some corners going. You can make the dots look better. By clicking on this little panel icon, which will bring up the Image Trace panel and then what you want to do is twirl open Advanced. Notice this corner's value right here and by default, incidentally, mode is set to black and white. That's what you want. You want either black vectors or white vectors at this point. And you don't need to change the number of paths. This doesn't actually effect how many paths you have. It effects the path fitting. So if you go with the lower path fitting value.

You'll end up with some bad effects, frankly. They won't look like dots anymore. And if you go with a higher value, you won't get good-looking dots either because then you'll be tracing some of those bad pixels too well. You don't need to worry about noise because that doesn't really factor into the equation, but you want your corners to be less. You don't want any corners, if possible. You're still going to get some corners out of the tracing, but you want as few corners as possible, so go ahead and reduce that corner's value to its absolute minimum of 0%. And you will see a perfect little circle right here.

I don't know if it's absolutely perfect, but it looks better than it did before. Finally what we need to do, is drop down to Options. And turn on Ignore White, because we don't want any white at work in the background. And what that's going to do, is ensure that we just have black dots set against transparency and nothing more. And to demonstrate what I'm talking about I'll press Ctrl+0, or Cmd+0 to zoom out. You can go ahead and hide your image trace panel by closing it and then turn on the letters in the background and you can see through to them.

If I hadn't turned on Ignore White, then the white areas between the dots would be opaque, and we wouldn't be able to see the letters in the background. And that's how you convert your pixel based half-tone effect to the super smooth, nearly perfectly circular in many cases. But if not, then we have got these rounded square vector based dots using the image trace feature here inside Illustrator.

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