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In Illustrator CS5 Essential Training, author Mordy Golding explains the core concepts and techniques that apply to any workflow in Illustrator, whether designing for print, the web, or assets for other applications. This course includes a detailed explanation of the elements that make up vector graphics—paths, strokes, and fills—and shows how to use each of the Illustrator drawing tools. Also demonstrated are techniques for combining and cleaning up paths, organizing paths into groups and layers, text editing, working with color, effects, and much more. Exercise files accompany the course.
While it's true that you can place raster-based images into Illustrator, we know that they are just the single image, but you can't really change any of their pixels. Illustrator, of course, is a vector- based program, which focuses on the use of paths instead of pixels. One of the really nice things about working with Illustrator is that there is a way to go from one world to the next. You can actually take a pixel-based image into Illustrator, and convert it into paths that you can edit inside of Illustrator.
This feature inside of Illustrator is called Live Trace. So in this movie, let's see how we can convert pixel-based content to vector-based content using this Live Trace feature. I'm going to start by going to the File menu here, just a regular plain document. I'm going to choose Place, and I'll place this image here of these glories. I'm going to click Place. And notice over here, I'm leaving the Link option turned on. I'm not going to choose Place. And you'll notice that one of the options here at the top of the Control panel when the image is selected is something called Live Trace.
Before I go ahead now and trace the image, it's important to realize that, of course, there's a difference between what you can create with pixel-based images and what you can create with vector-based images. So when I make this conversion, I should expect some kind of a stylized, altered version of that photograph, not on the exact replica in vector form. In fact, one of most powerful aspects of converting images into vectors is taking a creative license and really changing things around somewhat.
Now there are a couple of things to note about working with Live Trace. First of all, it's called Live Trace for a reason. As we'll soon see, Illustrator is going to convert the pixels in this image to a vector version using paths. However, Illustrator is not going to remove the pixels or the image from my document. It's going to leave it there in case I want to make adjustments to how that trace happens. In other words, I can continually make adjustments to my trace, even after I've applied it.
Now by default, when I trace an image, Illustrator uses just Black and White to trace that image. However, as we'll see, Illustrator can actually trace images using three different color modes: Black and White, Grayscale, or Color. Let's take a look at exploring some of these basic settings. I'm going to start by clicking Live Trace. And instantly, Illustrator turns it to vectors, but like I said, it uses just Black and White to do so. Well, I had a lot of different tones and different colors. So, how does Illustrator really determine which of those pixels should become black and which should become white? The answer is this Threshold setting that appears right here.
As I go ahead and decrease the Threshold setting, I will see more and more parts of my image start to turn white. As I increase the Threshold setting, more parts of my image become dark or black. But I'll tell you that for the kind of image we're dealing with right now, I'm not really going to get great results using a Black and White Trace. So if I come over here now to the left side of my Control panel, I'll see there's something here called Preset. Right now, it's set to Custom. However, I'll see that Illustrator offers a variety of different types of settings for Live Trace.
For example, I'm going to choose Color 6. This is going to use six different colors to create a vectorized traced version of my image. If I want more detail, I can choose Color 16. This just uses additional colors to give me more detail in that traced image. There's even a setting here for something called Photo High Fidelity. This is if I want to get as close as possible to the original image. Looks pretty good, right? Of course, there are a variety of other presets, and you can experiment with these so that you find the best preset for any image that you place into Illustrator.
For now, however, I want to come back here to the Color 6 option. And I want to talk for a moment about exactly what's going on here inside of this Live Trace feature in Illustrator. We can see, for example, there's a button here called Expand. If I do so, Illustrator will throw out the pixels of my document and leave me only with the editable vectors. You can see that right now Illustrator still treats this as an image. It's showing me the vectors, but I don't have access to them. However, if I expand this, now I can see that I have access to all of the vector paths.
I'm going to press Undo, however, because I want to talk about exactly how Illustrator performs these Live Traces. You'll see over here, in top of the Control panel, two triangles. Upon closer inspection, you'll see that the triangle on the left looks like it has the jagged edges on it, while the triangle on the right looks to be smooth and is made up of paths. These two icons actually determine what I'm seeing inside of Illustrator. As I said before, Illustrator doesn't remove the image from the document.
It's still there, allowing me to make changes, and to modify the Trace settings. However, I don't want to see the pixels after I make the Trace. So Illustrator changes the previews so I see what the image looks like when it's traced, and I don't see the pixels anymore. Now you might ask yourself how does Illustrator trace these images? After all, there were millions of pixels in my document before. And now they became paths somehow. Well Illustrator actually has a little bit of Photoshop technology inside of it.
Before you actually trace an image, Illustrator, behind the scenes, applied some conditioning to the image to get a better trace. For example, instead of taking the image and turning it all into vector, which would result in a lot of colors, and then trying to find ways to reduce those vector paths down to 6 colors, Illustrator actually performs the conversion from a full-color image to 6 colors, all while still in pixel form. Then Illustrator performs the trace, which gives us much better results.
We can see that by adjusting some of the previews here with these icons. For example, I'm going to click on the Vector Result, which is basically what I'm seeing right now on my screen. Illustrator is showing me the Tracing Result right now. I'm going to set that to No Tracing Result. Illustrator has, indeed, performed the Live Trace, but I just don't want to see those results right now. If I come to the raster-based icon right here, which allows me to see the preview of the image, which right now is set to No Image, after all, Illustrator wants to show me how good of a job it did tracing the image, so it sets the visibility of that image to No Image.
I could choose Original Image - remember, the image is still here inside of my document - or I can choose Adjusted Image. This is what Illustrator did to the file while it was still in pixel form before it turned into vectors. Notice here the image is posterized. It's been reduced now to 6 colors because that's what we've specified here using the Preset. Finally, if you would like to, you can choose Transparent Image, which leaves the original image in place but sets it back in Opacity. That can be helpful, if you would then come back here to the Tracing icon and you choose to view the Outlines.
I can now see where Illustrator is going to be creating paths, and it's overlaid on top of that transparent image so I can compare the results. Finally, I also have the ability to choose Outlines with Tracing, which just give me a better idea of exactly what Illustrator is doing as it's tracing this artwork. For now, however, I want to go back to the No Image setting and the Tracing Result setting. Now there's one other thing that I want to show you about working with Live Trace inside of Illustrator. I'm going to go to the Object menu. I'm going to choose Live Trace.
And I'll choose Release. This will actually remove the Live Trace and return me to just a regular image. Remember, before when I expanded the artwork, I lost my image, and I was left just with the vectors. I just want to get rid of Live Trace altogether and just leave myself back with the original image. So I went to the Release command. Now if you want to save some time, instead of clicking Live Trace, which by default, converts your image using the Black and White option, there's a little triangle right over here that if you click on it, actually is a pop-up that shows you all of the Preset settings that come inside of Illustrator.
Well, if I know for sure that I want to use the Color 6 option, I can choose that right off the bat and get that trace applied right away. So we've seen how to apply Live Trace inside of Illustrator. However, what happens when I want to start making some changes and really modifying the trace, getting it to look exactly the way that I want to? Well, we'll find out how to do exactly that in the next movie.
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