Join Justin Seeley for an in-depth discussion in this video Basic tracing: Line art, part of Illustrator: Tracing Artwork (2013).
Perhaps the most popular use for Illustrator's Image Trace feature is converting line artwork into vector form. Now, exactly what is line art? Well, line art can mean anything to many people. In this movie, I'm referring to something that somebody drew by hand on a piece of paper that I need to covert into an Illustrator file, but it could be anything, from blueprints, to napkin sketches, to old JPEG logo files. I'm going to be walking you through my personal workflow for line art, but remember, there is no real right or wrong when you're working with Image Trace panel. It's all subjective, and at the end of the day, as long as you're getting to where you need to go, the method you choose to get there is really not that big of a deal.
So, the first thing I do is I always open up the Image Trace panel. So I'll just go to Window > Image Trace, to make sure that is out on my screen somewhere. And then once I get that open, I'm also going to go to the File menu, and choose New, and for this particular project, what I'm going to do -- this is going to be something I'm putting on the Web, maybe, so let's just choose one of the Web presets, and let's do 1024 x 768. That should be okay. Everything else is fine, I'll hit OK, and there's my new document. I'm just going to move this over a little bit, so I have a little bit more room to work with, with my gigantic Image Trace panel there.
Then I'm going to go the File menu and choose Place. Then I'm going to go out and find my line art, and place it in, and I'll place it right there in the middle of my document. I'll kind of zoom out so you can see exactly what's going on. So, it's just this little kind of flower design here, and what we want to do is trace this. And actually, I'll zoom out a little bit more, and resize it, so it fits in my document window; it's a little bit big. There we go. Now I've got it. What we're going to do is make sure we have it selected, and then we're going to open up the Image Trace panel.
The first place I start with the Image Trace panel, when I'm tracing lin eart work like this is I go up. and I choose from the Presets, and I choose Black and White Logo. I choose this because I want to see just how close it can come to recreating the artwork that I see here. I see mostly black and white in this, but there may be shades of gray, so I want to know how much detail I'm going to lose with the Black and White Logo preset. If I can get what I need out of the Black and White Logo preset, I'm pretty much ready to go, and then I can convert it into paths, and continue editing it after the fact. But if it doesn't get close, I know I'm going to have to do some serious work inside of the Image Trace panel.
So, let's go Black and White Logo, it's going to convert it over into a tracing object, and when I do that, it looks okay, but it's not the best. So if I come up here to this little eyeball, and press and hold, you can see sort of the difference between the two. Let's zoom in on some of these little detail area, so we can see exactly what's happening. So here's before, and here's after. So it's okay, it's not the best. I'm getting some gaps, and things like that; I might want to make some adjustments to this. So what I'm going to do, I'm going to leave it on the Black and White preset, because this is Black and White artwork.
If you are dealing with something that is not Black and White art, you might try something like grayscale, or even try one of the other limited color palettes, like maybe three colors, two colors, etcetera. So in this case I'm going to stick with Black and White. I'm going to leave my Threshold alone. You can see here pixels darker than the threshold value are converted to black. Pixels lighter than the threshold value will then be converted to white. In this case, most of this is just black or white, so it's not that big a deal. I can leave it somewhat middle of the road. But I am going to adjust the Noise. When I hover over, the Noise slider, it tells me it reduces the noise by ignoring areas of specified size; higher value means less noise.
So in this case, I'm losing some detail in some area, so that means I need more noise essentially. So I'm going to back this down to something like maybe 10, and let's see if we get some of those areas of detail back. When I do that, you're going to see right here, this little area becomes a little bit more detailed, but I still have some gaps out there. I'm also getting a little bit of extra stuff around the outside, and that's okay. I can always clean that up later. And so what I'm going to do now is just decrease the Noise even further. Let's do something like two pixels. And so once I do that, it's going to re- render again, and I get some of it back, but again, not all of it.
If I click and hold, you can see that I'm still missing that one little piece right there. Let's take it all the way down to 1; see if that helps at all. Helps a little bit in the main areas, but right there, that's one area that I'm probably going to have to fix on my own. And that's okay, because the Image Trace panel is meant to get you only part of the way there. It is not just a one click fix, as I've said many times throughout this course. As you can see, there are several areas here that are going to need some work. There are some areas missing some details, some areas that have some things that I probably don't want; little extra bits and pieces everywhere, but that's okay.
That's why when we expand this out and turn it into paths, it will be easy for me to clean those up, because we have tools built in the Illustrator to help us with that. What I'm more concerned with now is the overall fidelity of the artwork, and how it looks compared to the original. So, let's give a one more glance over here. Here's before; after. So, I think that the fit is a little loose, in this case, so what I'm want to do [00:04:49:66] is I want to kind of increase the path fitting a little bit. So, let's do that; let's take this up to something like maybe 75. Let's see if that helps us at all.
Once it renders out, that's going to tighten up a little bit; still not as close as I want it to be, though, so I'm going to push that up to maybe something like 95. Let's see how that goes. There we go, that's a little bit better, and you can see I actually brought back a little bit more the detail right there in that space where I was having problems. Now, I can also change the corner emphasis here. You can see here that a higher value means more corners; well, I don't necessarily want that. I want that to be sort of middle of the road, so let's back that down to about 50%, and see how that converts over. Not much of a change there, but I think some of the corners did sort of sharpen out, some of the other ones kind of rounded off, that's okay, that's what I was looking for.
And so everything here is pretty much as good as I'm going to get it. I also want to make sure that I have one more checkbox turned on, and that's right here: Ignore White. When I'm working with black and white artwork like this, chances are I don't want the white color. I just want the black, because I'm going to be working with that area as a fill. I don't need the white areas to fill. So let's just Ignore White, and once I do that it's going to render out one more time. You're going to see it gets a little bit darker. That's just because it's removing some of those white paths, and since it was using the Abutting methods, some of those were sort of knocking up against those blacker areas, and making them a little bit lighter, and so now I can also choose to do Overlapping paths, but in this case, most of this is just going to be one single path, so I don't really need to worry about that.
And I'm pretty much good to go in terms of this trace, I think. Let's back up and see here one more time. I'll back up and look at the before, and again, I'm just clicking and holding this little eyeball, and the after, and that is pretty close. It's about as close as I'm going to get with the Image Trace panel. Again, there are some areas that I would want to clean up inside of this trace; some of these little dots, and things like that. And that's of no part of the Image Trace panel; that was actually part of the sketch. These stray pencil marks, or stray pen marks that people have sometimes when they're sketching, we can easily get rid of those inside of Illustrator once we convert it over into paths.
But the Image Trace panel, like I said, it's meant to get us most of the way there, and I think right now I'm probably about 85 to 90% of the way there. I would need to come in and reconnect some of these paths. I might reshape some of these curve lines. I would definitely clean up some of the stray areas around here, and I would also change some of the areas that are a little bit more pointy than they should be; things like that, just to make it a little bit pleasing to the eye. I would also fill in some of the gaps in some of these areas, but overall, I'm pretty happy with the result here. It didn't take me a whole lot of time to do it, and because I used the Black and White preset, it was really fast in the render time.
So, the next time you bring in some piece of line artwork, whether it's a pencil sketch, a pen drawing, a coloring book page, whatever that might be, try using the Black and White preset first. Get as close as you can with it. If you're still not making any headway on it, then try some of the other presets inside of this panel. And once you do that, I think you'll be really happy with the result, and then get yourself as close as you can. Understand that you're not going to make it perfect; it's not going to be a one for one representation of what you saw in the original piece of artwork, but you can get it pretty darn close with this panel, and then once you're finished with it, you can expand it out, turn it into paths, and take it to that next level using the rest of the tools in Illustrator.
- Analyzing the existing artwork
- Developing a tracing plan
- Setting up your artwork
- Exploring the three steps of tracing
- Adjusting the curve fitting
- Combining paths into shapes
- Tracing text by hand
- Applying colors to your artwork