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Tracing photographs


Illustrator CS6 Essential Training

with Justin Seeley

Video: Tracing photographs

Once you have familiarized yourself with all of the options inside of the Image Trace panel, it's time to put those skills to use by tracing different objects inside of Illustrator. In this movie, I'll walk you through tracing photographs inside of Illustrator, and give you an insight into my basic workflow when I try to do this. So I am going to first create a new document, just with Command+N or Control+N on my keyboard. It doesn't really matter how big the document is in this case, but I am going to do just a standard 8.5 by 11. Once I have that document open, I am then going to place a file into it.
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  1. 1m 15s
    1. What is Illustrator?
      1m 15s
  2. 2m 17s
    1. Welcome
    2. Using the exercise files
      1m 19s
  3. 41m 25s
    1. Understanding vector graphics
      5m 0s
    2. Setting preferences
      9m 24s
    3. Touring the interface
      9m 41s
    4. Exploring the panels
      6m 54s
    5. Working with the Control panel
      4m 25s
    6. Creating and saving workspaces
      6m 1s
  4. 43m 42s
    1. Creating files for print
      4m 42s
    2. Creating files for the web
      3m 36s
    3. Managing multiple documents
      3m 25s
    4. Navigating within a document
      5m 21s
    5. Using rulers, guides, and grids
      6m 59s
    6. Changing units of measurement
      1m 50s
    7. Using preview modes
      3m 10s
    8. Creating and using custom views
      3m 12s
    9. Locking and hiding artwork
      3m 43s
    10. Creating and using artboards
      7m 44s
  5. 1h 1m
    1. Setting your selection preferences
      5m 57s
    2. Using the Direct Selection and Group Selection tools
      4m 6s
    3. Using the Magic Wand tool
      5m 45s
    4. Using the Lasso tool
      4m 9s
    5. Selecting objects by attribute
      6m 48s
    6. Grouping objects
      3m 7s
    7. Using isolation mode
      4m 48s
    8. Resizing your artwork
      3m 55s
    9. Rotating objects
      2m 10s
    10. Distorting and transforming objects
      6m 27s
    11. Repeating transformations
      5m 7s
    12. Reflecting and skewing objects
      4m 54s
    13. Aligning and distributing objects
      4m 38s
  6. 29m 28s
    1. RGB vs. CMYK
      1m 46s
    2. Adjusting Illustrator color settings
      5m 10s
    3. Process vs. global swatches
      5m 6s
    4. Creating spot colors
      3m 40s
    5. Using the swatch groups
      2m 33s
    6. Working with color libraries
      3m 18s
    7. Importing swatches
      4m 4s
    8. Using the Color Guide panel
      3m 51s
  7. 57m 37s
    1. Understanding fills and strokes
      4m 18s
    2. Working with fills
      4m 58s
    3. Working with strokes
      8m 46s
    4. Creating dashes and arrows
      8m 1s
    5. Creating variable-width strokes
      4m 3s
    6. Using width profiles
      3m 32s
    7. Outlining strokes
      3m 51s
    8. Creating and editing gradients
      5m 45s
    9. Applying gradients to strokes
      3m 8s
    10. Applying and editing pattern fills
      4m 52s
    11. Creating your own pattern fill
      6m 23s
  8. 20m 20s
    1. Understanding paths
      2m 41s
    2. Understanding anchor points
      4m 20s
    3. Working with open and closed paths
      5m 28s
    4. Joining and averaging paths
      4m 9s
    5. Using the Scissors tool and the Knife tool
      3m 42s
  9. 37m 57s
    1. Understanding drawing modes
      4m 23s
    2. Creating compound paths
      5m 15s
    3. Creating compound shapes
      4m 11s
    4. Working with the Shape Builder tool
      6m 32s
    5. Working with the Blob Brush and Eraser tools
      5m 26s
    6. Working with the Paintbrush and Pencil tools
      7m 9s
    7. Smoothing and erasing paths
      5m 1s
  10. 35m 53s
    1. Exploring the Pen tool
      2m 39s
    2. Drawing straight lines
      5m 12s
    3. Drawing simple curves
      5m 23s
    4. Understanding the many faces of the Pen tool
      6m 10s
    5. Converting corners and curves
      1m 46s
    6. Your keyboard is your friend
      2m 14s
    7. Tracing artwork with the Pen tool
      12m 29s
  11. 35m 34s
    1. Adjusting your type settings
      4m 10s
    2. Creating point and area text
      3m 36s
    3. Basic text editing
      2m 14s
    4. Creating threaded text
      4m 59s
    5. Using the type panels
      9m 48s
    6. Creating text on a path
      5m 12s
    7. Converting text into paths
      1m 43s
    8. Saving time with keyboard shortcuts
      3m 52s
  12. 27m 25s
    1. Exploring the Appearance panel
      4m 44s
    2. Explaining attribute stacking order
      1m 40s
    3. Applying multiple fills
      3m 1s
    4. Applying multiple strokes
      4m 20s
    5. Adjusting appearance with live effects
      4m 46s
    6. Saving appearances as graphic styles
      8m 54s
  13. 20m 44s
    1. Exploring the Layers panel
      4m 18s
    2. Creating and editing layers
      3m 27s
    3. Targeting objects in the Layers panel
      3m 3s
    4. Working with sublayers
      3m 0s
    5. Hiding, locking, and deleting layers
      4m 14s
    6. Using the Layers panel menu
      2m 42s
  14. 46m 0s
    1. Placing images into Illustrator
      2m 53s
    2. Working with the Links panel
      6m 5s
    3. Embedding images into Illustrator
      3m 12s
    4. Cropping images with a mask
      5m 8s
    5. Exploring the Image Trace panel
      12m 14s
    6. Tracing photographs
      8m 6s
    7. Tracing line art
      4m 33s
    8. Converting pixels to paths
      3m 49s
  15. 19m 22s
    1. What are symbols?
      2m 45s
    2. Using prebuilt symbols
      3m 3s
    3. Using the Symbol Sprayer tool
      4m 19s
    4. Creating new symbols
      3m 50s
    5. Breaking the symbol link
      3m 19s
    6. Redefining symbols
      2m 6s
  16. 12m 9s
    1. Defining a perspective grid
      4m 29s
    2. Drawing artwork in perspective
      3m 49s
    3. Applying artwork to the grid
      3m 51s
  17. 35m 8s
    1. Printing your artwork
      6m 16s
    2. Saving your artwork
      2m 2s
    3. Saving in legacy formats
      3m 0s
    4. Saving templates
      4m 19s
    5. Creating PDF files
      5m 23s
    6. Saving for the web
      4m 46s
    7. Creating high-res bitmap images
      3m 58s
    8. Using Illustrator files in Photoshop and InDesign
      5m 24s
  18. 56s
    1. Next steps

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Watch the Online Video Course Illustrator CS6 Essential Training
8h 48m Beginner May 07, 2012

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Adobe Illustrator can be used to accomplish many different design tasks, from illustration to app development. This course demonstrates core concepts and techniques that can be applied to any workflow—for print, the web, or building assets that will find their way into other applications. Author Justin Seeley explains the elements that make up vector graphics (paths, strokes, and fills) while showing how to use each of the drawing tools, and demonstrates how to combine and clean up paths and organize them into groups and layers. The course also covers text editing, working with color, effects, and much more.

Topics include:
  • Understanding vector graphics
  • Creating and setting up files for print or web destinations
  • Selecting and transforming objects on the page
  • Creating spot colors
  • Applying fills, strokes, and gradients to artwork
  • Adjusting appearances and effects
  • Working with anchor points and paths
  • Drawing with the Pen tool
  • Creating text
  • Managing layers
  • Creating and using symbols
  • Printing, saving, and exporting artwork
Justin Seeley

Tracing photographs

Once you have familiarized yourself with all of the options inside of the Image Trace panel, it's time to put those skills to use by tracing different objects inside of Illustrator. In this movie, I'll walk you through tracing photographs inside of Illustrator, and give you an insight into my basic workflow when I try to do this. So I am going to first create a new document, just with Command+N or Control+N on my keyboard. It doesn't really matter how big the document is in this case, but I am going to do just a standard 8.5 by 11. Once I have that document open, I am then going to place a file into it.

I am going to go up to File > Place, and I am going to select girl_trace inside of my Chapter 12 images folder. Once I click Place, she's going to pop into the screen, and I'll zoom out a little bit, so we can see it, and then I am going to shrink it down, just like so. Then we'll zoom back in, and I am going to perform a trace. The thing you have to do right off the bat is you have to determine what type of tracing you want to perform here. Am I tracing this because I need it to be photo-realistic? Am I tracing this because it needs to look like a cartoon? What exactly am I looking for here? Once you have determined the purpose for tracing, you can then focus on the result.

So in this case, I think I want to do a photo-realistic representation on this girl. I am going to go up to the Window menu, and I'm going to choose Image Trace. That's going to bring up the Image Trace panel. With the Image Trace panel open, I am also going to zoom in, because I'm not really concerned about the details in the backpack, or the books, but I am concerned about the details in her face. So let's zoom in right there on her face. This is going to be my reference point for how photo-realistic it actually looks. Once I have my objects selected on screen, and I have got my Image Trace panel open, I then come up, and I dive into the preset menu.

The preset menu should get you 50% to 75% of the way there, and the rest of the panel should help you refine that until you get exactly what you are looking for. It should be noted that the Image Trace panel is not necessarily a silver bullet. That means that you're not going to get the perfect result each and every time out of the Image Trace panel, but with some work inside of the Image Trace panel, you can get really close, and give yourself a good jumping off point for then manually manipulating your images later. Let's take a look at the presets now. I am going to drop this down, and remember, I said I wanted this to be photorealistic, right? The ideal situation here would just be to pick High Fidelity Photo.

When I choose that, Illustrator is then going to go through and render it. Once Illustrator has finished rendering this, I can now see just how good, or in this case, how not so good it did. What I am going to do is adjust some of these settings in here. I think my colors are a little low, so I am actually going to crank this up. By cranking the colors up, I get a little bit more of the detail back into the image. It's still not perfect, but it's better than it was.

Now I'll come down here to the Advanced options, because up here, I can only adjust basic things like color and tonality. I've pretty much got the color and tones that I need; now I need accuracy. Let's take a look here. First of all, there's Path fitting. A higher value means a tighter fit. Let's crank that all the way up, and see what it does. When it finishes rendering, you see here that it does indeed snap very closely to the edges. The problem here is that it snapped a little too close to the edges. It's actually gone in, and it sees individual pixels, like right around in here, around the ear; look how chunky that looks? So I need to actually back that down, because I want the edges to be smooth.

So I'll back that down, and let's try something like maybe 35%, and see what that looks like. Once that's done rendering, you can see that it's smoothed out some of the areas, but again, I'm still getting some of those chunks on the outside. So you may even drag that down a little more. Let's try something like 4%. Now that that's finished rendering, you can see that I have significantly smoothed out the ear, and also the jaw line. There are still some areas that need refinement, but this is probably as close as I'm going to get with this particular setting.

Now let's focus on Corners. The corner emphasis section controls how many corners there are in your image. So if you drag this to the right, it means you have more corners. Well, there are not a whole lot of corners going on in this image. In fact, everything is curvy: the face, the scarf, the backpack, everything, so I am actually going to drag this down a little bit. Maybe something like 15%. You might not see a big visual change right off the bat, but it has definitely smoothed out some of those pointy areas that I had going on here in the scarf, and right here on the edge of the backpack.

If you want to see that even more, drag that further to the left. But for now I am going to move on. The Noise section is going to help me clean up the artwork. There are several little areas of straight paths that I might want to clean up. In this case, if I drag this all the way over to the right, we should clean up most of those areas. Did you see it change? Let's undo that, and show you before and after. Here is before, and watch right down here on the edge of the sleeve. You'll also see a significant change in the face as well. Once I hit Undo, you can see that all these little stray pieces come back in.

However, when I did that, it cleaned up the areas I needed it to, but it also simplified this region in the face; not necessarily something I want to do. So let's take that to the left, and see what it does. I'll take that down to something like 5 pixels. Once I take that down, I actually get a little bit more detail back in the face, and that's exactly what I'm looking for. These little stray things that are all throughout the backpack area here -- like this little white dot, and then these little dots on the sleeve -- I can manually remove those later. The main thing I am concerned about, remember, is the face.

At this point, I'm pretty much at the end of the road in terms of what I can refine here inside of this panel. So let's zoom out a little bit and see how we did. When I zoom out, it doesn't look half bad, and I could actually use this in certain projects, depending on the scale of the image. I couldn't print it on a 20 foot banner, because it would look a little chunky, but using this in a Web site graphic, I would be very confident that nobody could tell the difference between this and a regular photograph. You can see that it also caught some of the texture in her jeans, and in her shoes. So it's done a pretty good job.

Like I said, it's not perfect, but we are close. Once we're finished with this, we can pretty much close up the Image Trace panel. From now on out, it's what we call a tracing object. You can resize and manipulate this image, just like you could anything else inside of Illustrator. The problem is, each time you do that, you're going to have to re-render it. So for instance, if I were to take this and scale it down, watch what happens; once it finishes rendering, you can see that it's got the same photo-realistic representation, only smaller. The problem is that render time.

Although it's faster in CS6, it still takes a little bit of time. So if you're in a rush, my suggestion is to not worry about resizing right off the bat, but just getting your tracing result exactly like you like it. You also need to go ahead and inspect the object after you've resized it, because resizing it changes the way the image is rendered. So let's zoom in here on the face, and make sure that I am still going okay. You can see here, I've got some clumps around the eyes that I didn't have before. I have also got some areas around the mouth that are sort of running together, and I don't necessarily like that.

So what I am going to do is zoom back out, and I'll undo the resizing that I just did, and I did that with Command+Z or Control+Z. Once it finishes rendering, I'll zoom back into the face one last time, and you can see, I don't have near as many clumps around the eyes, this is a little bit better right around the mouth, so it's right back to the way it was. I'll zoom back out, and I can save my project from here. So the next time you need to take a bitmap photo, like the one I had here, and convert it to vector, for whatever reason -- maybe it needs to go on a banner, maybe it needs to go on a billboard; who knows -- bring it into Illustrator, work inside of the Image Trace panel, and do your best to get yourself about 75% of the way there.

The rest of it is going to depend on you, and your ability to manipulate the paths that are generated from the image.

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A: Discover more on this topic by visiting graphic design on
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