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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.
One of the most powerful aspects of the Live Trace feature inside of Illustrator is its ability to make adjustments to the trace so that we get the perfect results. After all, we know that we can apply presets to images inside of Illustrator for the Live Trace. But those presets may not give us the exact results we're looking for. So let's see how to really modify a trace to get just the right settings. I'll start with a blank document. And I'll go to the File menu. I'll choose Place. And I'll place this image here called glories.psd as a Linked image into my document.
Next, I'm going to go ahead and apply the Colors 6 preset, because that's where I want to start from here as I start to make adjustments. Now I'll move the image down just a little bit in my screen because with the image selected, I'll now see that there's an icon in the Control panel called Tracing Options dialog. And if I click on that, this brings up all the settings that I could use with Live Trace. Now we've already discussed that Illustrator really goes through a two-step process before it actually performs the trace.
It first conditions, or adjusts the image itself, and then after it finishes doing that, it then performs the trace, which gives it better results. As we can see here inside of the Tracing Options dialog box, there are two main sections here: one called Adjustments and one called Trace Settings. In your mind, you could think of this Adjustments box as Photoshop. Anything that you apply in this section of the dialog box happens to the image while it's still in raster form before the Trace is performed.
Everything on the Trace Settings area controls how Illustrator actually creates the vectors in the trace. Now first of all, let's take a look on the far-right of the image here where it shows me the number of Paths, the number of Anchor points, the number of Colors being used, how many Areas are created and the Resolution of the image as well. These values will update as I make changes to these settings here. Now we see here in the list of all of our Presets, I chose the Color 6 Preset, but of course, all the Preset is is a whole bunch of these settings that have been saved.
Note that at anytime when you're working inside of Illustrator, if you create some custom tracing options for an image, you can always choose to save that as a preset on your own and easily apply that preset to other images. You can also click on the Preview button to see the trace update as you make changes. So let's take a quick look at some of these settings. As we've discussed, Illustrator can convert images using Black and White, Grayscale or Color. If I choose the Black and White option, then the Threshold option does become available.
Now right now the palette, or the colors that Illustrator is using, inside of the Live Trace is set to Automatic. I chose the Color 6 option here, and I have a maximum number of six colors. So Illustrator is going to automatically find six different colors inside of that image that are most prominent, and it will use those colors inside of the Trace. If I want more detail, I can increase the number of colors, or I can reduce them to have less detail in my trace. But later on in this chapter, we can learn that we can actually use customized palettes of colors and load them into the Trace Options dialog box so that we have Illustrator perform Live Trace settings with our colors.
But for now, let's move on to some of these other settings. I have the ability to Output to Swatches the colors that Illustrator is using, in this case, these six colors. And then there are two things here that I can actually do to the image itself. First of all, I can apply a Gaussian Blur to the image. Now certain images are very grainy or they have a tremendous amount of detail, which can start to trip up Live Trace. By adding a little bit of a blur to my image before illustrator does the Trace, I can smooth out that grain or that extra detail so I get a nice, clean and sharp trace.
Finally, if I have a high-resolution image, like 300 pixels per inch, Illustrator needs a lot more time to analyze that document. In fact, I found that I get better traces with low-resolution images than I do with high-resolution images. Apparently, when Illustrator has fewer pixels to look at, it does a much better job at smoothing things out and giving me great results. So if you have a high-resolution image, instead of waiting a really long time for that trace to work, you can resample the image to a lower resolution in just this case here.
Now when it comes to performing the actual Trace, Illustrator gives me the ability to choose whether or not it creates Filled objects or also objects with Strokes. If I use the Stroke setting, I can choose a Maximum Stroke Weight and Minimum Stroke Length, but by far here, the most important settings are Path Fitting, meaning how close Illustrator's paths match the actual pixels themselves. Usually a lower value here will increase the number of Anchor points and Paths in my trace, while a higher number will decrease the number of Paths and Anchor points in my trace.
And the Minimum Area setting allows me to define the size of the region that Live Trace will ignore. For example, right now my Minimum Area is set to 10 pixels. That means that any area of color that takes up less than 10 pixels in the image will simply be ignored. So you can see over here in the Trace itself, there was a lot of detail on these leaves and in these areas here, but they show up as the solid piece of color because all those areas of detail are smaller than 10 pixels in size. If I were to start increasing the Minimum Area size, I would start to see some of that detail coming back in.
The Corner Angle basically allows me to determine at what point Smooth and Corner Anchor Points are created. For the most part, I leave that setting right as it is at 20. Now, there's also an option here called Ignore White, where if you have areas in your image that are white, it will actually turn that to none, instead of white so you can see through them. As I've said before, once you get all of your settings here done, you can click on the Save Preset button to save that so you can easily apply it other images.
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