Illustrator CS5 Essential Training
Illustration by John Hersey

Converting pixels to paths with Live Trace


Illustrator CS5 Essential Training

with Mordy Golding

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Video: Converting pixels to paths with Live Trace

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.
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  1. 3m 35s
    1. Welcome
      1m 18s
    2. What is Illustrator CS5?
      1m 46s
    3. Using the exercise files
  2. 12m 37s
    1. What are vector graphics?
      6m 3s
    2. Path and appearance
      3m 42s
    3. Stacking
      2m 52s
  3. 32m 6s
    1. The Welcome screen
      2m 23s
    2. Creating files for print
      6m 7s
    3. Creating files for the screen
      2m 55s
    4. Using prebuilt templates
      2m 40s
    5. Adding XMP metadata
      4m 18s
    6. Exploring the panels
      6m 33s
    7. Using the Control panel
      3m 11s
    8. Using workspaces
      3m 59s
  4. 43m 44s
    1. Navigating within a document
      9m 15s
    2. Using rulers and guides
      7m 26s
    3. Using grids
      3m 6s
    4. Using the bounding box
      3m 37s
    5. Using Smart Guides
      5m 56s
    6. The Hide Edges command
      3m 22s
    7. Various preview modes
      3m 47s
    8. Creating custom views
      4m 3s
    9. Locking and hiding artwork
      3m 12s
  5. 28m 46s
    1. Using the basic selection tools
      8m 50s
    2. Using the Magic Wand tool
      5m 22s
    3. Using the Lasso tool
      2m 28s
    4. Selecting objects by attribute or type
      3m 37s
    5. Saving and reusing selections
      2m 15s
    6. Selecting artwork beneath other objects
      2m 13s
    7. Exploring selection preferences
      4m 1s
  6. 1h 16m
    1. The importance of modifier keys
      1m 52s
    2. Drawing closed path primitives
      11m 38s
    3. Drawing open path primitives
      5m 47s
    4. Understanding anchor points
      3m 43s
    5. Drawing straight paths with the Pen tool
      7m 37s
    6. Drawing curved paths with the Pen tool
      9m 47s
    7. Drawing freeform paths with the Pencil tool
      5m 33s
    8. Smoothing and erasing paths
      3m 8s
    9. Editing anchor points
      7m 21s
    10. Joining and averaging paths
      10m 9s
    11. Simplifying paths
      4m 55s
    12. Using Offset Path
      2m 17s
    13. Cleaning up errant paths
      2m 32s
  7. 48m 26s
    1. The Draw Inside and Draw Behind modes
      7m 34s
    2. Creating compound paths
      5m 56s
    3. Creating compound shapes
      8m 0s
    4. Using the Shape Builder tool
      10m 28s
    5. Using Pathfinder functions
      8m 6s
    6. Splitting an object into a grid
      1m 16s
    7. Using the Blob Brush and Eraser tools
      7m 6s
  8. 49m 1s
    1. Creating point text
      4m 2s
    2. Creating area text
      8m 13s
    3. Applying basic character settings
      7m 44s
    4. Applying basic paragraph settings
      4m 24s
    5. Creating text threads
      8m 25s
    6. Setting text along an open path
      6m 29s
    7. Setting text along a closed path
      6m 24s
    8. Converting text into paths
      3m 20s
  9. 18m 55s
    1. Create a logo mark
      11m 26s
    2. Add type to your logo
      7m 29s
  10. 42m 42s
    1. Using the Appearance panel
      8m 21s
    2. Targeting object attributes
      4m 42s
    3. Adding multiple attributes
      4m 25s
    4. Applying Live Effects
      5m 18s
    5. Expanding appearances
      4m 42s
    6. Appearance panel settings
      4m 33s
    7. Copying appearances
      4m 51s
    8. Saving appearances as graphic styles
      5m 50s
  11. 34m 0s
    1. Applying color to artwork
      5m 57s
    2. Creating process and global process swatches
      8m 54s
    3. Creating spot color swatches
      3m 19s
    4. Loading PANTONE and other custom color libraries
      4m 49s
    5. Organizing colors with Swatch Groups
      3m 31s
    6. Finding color suggestions with the Color Guide panel
      4m 24s
    7. Loading the Color Guide with user-defined colors
      3m 6s
  12. 50m 23s
    1. Creating gradients with the Gradient panel
      8m 12s
    2. Modifying gradients with the Gradient Annotator
      4m 37s
    3. Applying and manipulating pattern fills
      5m 33s
    4. Defining your own custom pattern fills
      9m 13s
    5. Applying basic stroke settings
      5m 22s
    6. Creating strokes with dashed lines
      3m 41s
    7. Adding arrowheads to strokes
      2m 45s
    8. Creating variable-width strokes
      4m 35s
    9. Working with width profiles
      2m 36s
    10. Turning strokes into filled paths
      3m 49s
  13. 32m 46s
    1. Creating and editing groups
      8m 18s
    2. Adding attributes to groups
      12m 17s
    3. The importance of using layers
      5m 9s
    4. Using and "reading" the Layers panel
      7m 2s
  14. 12m 13s
    1. Creating and using multiple artboards
      7m 52s
    2. Modifying artboards with the Artboards panel
      2m 2s
    3. Copy and paste options with Artboards
      2m 19s
  15. 31m 10s
    1. Moving and copying artwork
      3m 55s
    2. Scaling or resizing artwork
      6m 47s
    3. Rotating artwork
      2m 44s
    4. Reflecting and skewing artwork
      2m 34s
    5. Using the Free Transform tool
      2m 15s
    6. Repeating transformations
      3m 39s
    7. Performing individual transforms across multiple objects
      2m 10s
    8. Aligning objects and groups precisely
      4m 27s
    9. Distributing objects and spaces between objects
      2m 39s
  16. 35m 40s
    1. Placing pixel-based content into Illustrator
      5m 14s
    2. Managing images with the Links panel
      4m 49s
    3. Converting pixels to paths with Live Trace
      8m 44s
    4. Making Live Trace adjustments
      6m 9s
    5. Controlling colors in Live Trace
      6m 4s
    6. Using Photoshop and Live Trace together
      4m 40s
  17. 14m 42s
    1. Managing repeating artwork with symbols
      4m 38s
    2. Modifying and replacing symbol instances
      3m 8s
    3. Using the Symbol Sprayer tool
      6m 56s
  18. 16m 57s
    1. Cropping photographs
      1m 59s
    2. Clipping artwork with masks
      3m 22s
    3. Clipping the contents of a layer
      3m 31s
    4. Defining masks with soft edges
      8m 5s
  19. 25m 52s
    1. Defining a perspective grid
      7m 48s
    2. Drawing artwork in perspective
      8m 46s
    3. Moving flat art onto the perspective grid
      9m 18s
  20. 25m 8s
    1. Printing your Illustrator document
      3m 26s
    2. Saving your Illustrator document
      6m 39s
    3. Creating PDF files for clients and printers
      7m 30s
    4. Exporting Illustrator files for use in Microsoft Office
      1m 4s
    5. Exporting Illustrator files for use in Photoshop
      2m 31s
    6. Exporting artwork for use on the web
      3m 3s
    7. Exporting high-resolution raster files
  21. 2m 18s
    1. Additional Illustrator learning resources
      1m 36s
    2. Goodbye

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Watch the Online Video Course Illustrator CS5 Essential Training
10h 37m Beginner Apr 30, 2010

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

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.

Topics include:
  • Setting up a new document based on the output destination
  • Using rules, guides, and grids
  • Making detailed selections
  • Drawing and editing paths with the Pen and Pencil tools
  • Creating compound vector shapes
  • Understanding the difference between point and area text
  • Applying live effects
  • Creating color swatches
  • Transforming artwork with Rotation, Scale, and Transform effects
  • Placing images
  • Working with masks
  • Printing, saving, and exporting artwork
Mordy Golding

Converting pixels to paths with Live Trace

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.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Illustrator CS5 Essential Training .

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Q: Despite clicking the rectangle icon on the toolbar, as shown in the video, the other tool shapes are not accessible in Illustrator. The rectangle is usable, but the star, ellipse, etc. are not, and do not appear anywhere in the toolbar. What is causing this problem?
A: These tools are grouped together, so to access them, click and hold the mouse for a second until the other tools appear. If that isn't happening, reset the Illustrator preferences file. To do so, quit Illustrator and then relaunch the application while pressing and holding the Ctrl+Alt+Shift keys. Once the Illustrator splash screen appears, release the keys and that will reset the preferences file.
Q: In the video “What are vector graphics,” the author states that if he creates a 1 inch x 1 inch Photoshop file at 300ppi image, there are 300 pixels in that image. Is that correct?
A: This statement is by the author was not totally correct. If the resolution is 300ppi, it means that there are 300 pixels across one inch, both vertically and horizontally. That would mean you'd have 90,000 pixels in a 1 inch x 1 inch image at 300 ppi.
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