Skip to main content

Tracing Raster Images in Adobe Illustrator

Lesson 44 from: Adobe Illustrator Creative Cloud: Essentials for Creating Projects

Brian Wood

Tracing Raster Images in Adobe Illustrator

Lesson 44 from: Adobe Illustrator Creative Cloud: Essentials for Creating Projects

Brian Wood

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

44. Tracing Raster Images in Adobe Illustrator


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


What is Adobe Illustrator?


Explore the Interface


Create and Save New Documents


Zoom and Navigate


Working with Artboards


Introduction to Layers


Rulers and Guides


Shapes and Drawing


Aligning and Combining Shapes


Pen Tool


Manipulating Stroke and Fill


Creating and Editing with Color


Painting with Gradients


Getting Started with Patterns


Adding Text To Your Document


Formatting Text


Strokes and Variable Strokes in Adobe Illustrator


Rotating Objects in Adobe Illustrator


Effects and the Appearance Panel in Adobe Illustrator


Adding Photo Images in Adobe Illustrator


Working with Linked Content in Adobe Illustrator


Packaging your Project for Handoff in Adobe Illustrator


Best Formats to Save Your Files


Select Like a Pro: Layers, Groups, & Other Unique Tools


Edit Paths Like a Pro in Adobe Illustrator


Editing Paths: Pen Tool in Adobe Illustrator


Creating & Applying Brushes to Artwork in Adobe Illustrator


Editing Paths: Knife & Scissor Tool in Adobe Illustrator


Editing Paths: Join Tool in Adobe Illustrator


Editing Paths: Isolation Mode in Adobe® Illustrator®


Pen Tool Shortcuts in Adobe Illustrator


Other Drawing Tools & Methods in Adobe Illustrator


Transforming Techniques in Adobe Illustrator


Shortcut to Reflecting Artwork in Adobe Illustrator


Get to Know Your Appearance Panel in Adobe Illustrator


Exploring Effects in Adobe Illustrator


Work Smarter with Graphic Styles in Adobe Illustrator


Color Inspiration in Adobe Illustrator


Type Effects in Adobe Illustrator


Masking Your Artwork in Adobe Illustrator


Using Creative® Cloud® Libraries in Adobe® Illustrator®


Capture Artwork with Creative Cloud Apps & Adobe Illustrator


Tracing Raster Images in Adobe Illustrator


Blending Artwork in Adobe Illustrator


Using Symbols in Adobe Illustrator


Using a Perspective Grid in Adobe Illustrator


Crash Recovery in Adobe Illustrator


GPU Performance in Adobe Illustrator


Curvature Tool in Adobe Illustrator


App Integration in Adobe Illustrator


Creative Cloud Libraries in Adobe Illustrator App


Shaper Tool in Adobe Illustrator


Smart Guides in Adobe Illustrator


Text Enhancements in Adobe Illustrator


SVG Export in Adobe Illustrator


Lesson Info

Tracing Raster Images in Adobe Illustrator

Alright, the next thing we're gonna do, we went through and showed you how to capture. We can also capture things and actually convert the vector by using the tracing in here. So we can take a picture that we have, a raster image for instance, bring it in, then actually have it do the tracing for us. So what I'd like to do, let's see. Let's move over to the art board on the right-hand side. Bunch of ways to do that. You can click on the next art board button down here if you want, way down at the bottom. It'll go to the next one. And what I wanna do is I wanna place a picture, an apple, that we're gonna go in and we're gonna trace. And I'll describe and talk about it as we go. Why don't you you come to file, and let's go to place, and let's choose... Go to images. What would you rather do? The drawn apple, or the real apple, picture apple? Alright. Democracy in action, I'm gonna pick the picture, whatever. That way, just because it'll give you the feel for it. So why don't you choose, ...

I put two different apples in here, because I wanted to give you an idea of this. We are now gonna trace this thing. Illustrator's gonna trace it, rather. If you have an image, look at apple2.jpeg. It's a little bit softer, and it's harder to distinguish the edges from the apple itself. That's gonna be harder to trace, I gotta be honest. So what I tend to do with images that I wanna trace or turn to vector in here, I'll bring them into, well you can do it in here, but I bring it into Photoshop, for instance, or any program, and I'll increase the levels. I'll increase the contrast a bit, just so you can kinda get a sharper edge and do a little bit better tracing. Why don't you go ahead and place the apple, and just click to place it right out here somewhere in the art board, it doesn't really matter, that's fine. Go ahead and select the selection tool. Alright, now all we're gonna do is we're gonna go trace this thing. If you place raster artwork, it doesn't have to be a picture you take. It can be something that was rasterized, in Illustrator even. It could be something captured off your device. I actually, that other apple I was showing you, the hand drawn one, I drew it in my sketchbook, and I just took a picture of it using my iPad, and just brought it over here. So we can trace a lot of things, as long as it's raster. To trace something, just simply select it and come up top, and you can see on the control panel, we have image traits. Just click image traits. Now, there is a panel we're gonna open that you can also have open all the time, if you want, if you do a lot of tracing. You don't have to do it this way. But you're gonna look at that and say, that's pretty good, isn't it? I'm kidding, that's horrible. Okay, so by default what it does is a black-white tracing, and it just kinda, it ruins everything, and that's fine. So we're gonna go fix it, obviously. Now if you look up there, you will see that we have a series of presets up there. Click on the default preset, and you're gonna see some different things in here. Now, some of these are gonna work better for different types of artwork, obviously. If you were to take, okay, I've had to do this I don't know how many times. But a company has a logo, and it's a JPEG or a GIF, and they don't have the original logo anymore, so I've gotta recreate it in Illustrator. So sometimes I'll try to trace it to get back the original part of it. You're gonna see that there are things in here like sketched art, logo, line art, technical drawing, different ways you can work with this. Why don't you try three colors? Just choose that. Essentially what's it's gonna do is trace it and only use three color in the whole apple. There you go. So you can kind of give it a look, if you want. Now, I like to use the presets. You can mess with them all you want, try different ones. Know that if it's a big picture, this is gonna take a few minutes. Here's the way I typically work with this. Why don't you click right here? There's a button that opens what's called the image trace panel, right there. You can also go under Window and choose trace, or whatever it is. Image trace, there we go. So that's gonna open the same thing. Once we get this panel open, you'll see that we have the same presets in here. You also have a series of images or buttons right here which are kind of the more widely used. Why don't you try clicking on some of these buttons just to see what they do, like auto color. It's gonna try and match the coloring somewhat. It's gonna limit the number of colors we use in here. If you really want it to be photo quality, and some of this tracing can be awesome, click on high color, the little camera, looks like a camera right there at the top. Now if you have a big picture, this is gonna take a while, but in this one, it's pretty small, pretty fast. And if you take a look at it, it's gonna be vector once it's all done. Now it's not quite vector yet, but look at that. Isn't that crazy? It's actually vector now, so those are all paths, and you don't wanna see the paths, by the way. I'll show you, hold on. Don't do what I'm doing. I'm gonna click on expand for a second. There it is. Imagine if you drew that. Isn't that crazy? I'm gonna zoom in just a little bit. So everything out here is a little path. Isn't that nuts? Alright, let me undo that. So it'll go back, and I'm gonna show you that in just a second, don't worry. What you're doing right now is, as we trace this thing, this is actually called a trace object, or an image tracing object. If you look up in the left corner, you'll see image tracing. We cannot, right now, go and edit the paths or edit the shapes it's making. It's just, right now it's like you're still trying things. What I wanna do is this. We're gonna monkey with it a little bit. Come to the image trace panel, and what I'd like to do, is why don't you start with auto-color. This one right here, click on auto-color. And we're gonna kinda work a little bit with some of these things here. If you come to colors, this is the one thing I do a lot. A lot of times I wanna limit the number of colors that are in this, 'cause the fewer colors, a lot of times, the fewer shapes are in there. Why don't you take the colors down a little bit to maybe like 15. You can drag that little slider. The more colors, in a lot of cases, the more realistic it's gonna look. If you want a stylized look on something, you can use fewer colors, that's fine. Come down here, and you're gonna see that we have the number of, look at this, look at how many anchor points are there, 3620, yours is probably different than mine, and paths. Click on the arrow to the left of advanced right there, and it's gonna pop open a whole bunch of options here. I'll zoom back out. When image tracing first came into Illustrator, you actually had to answer all these questions. You had to go through most of these. You were presented with this stuff, and what they did in later versions of Illustrator, is they hid some of it. They call it advanced, because a lot of people are clicking on the buttons and trying things. If you really wanna fine tune, you can come to advanced, and you can kind of start to work with some of these. The paths thing, I like a little bit looser path fitting. Why don't you drag the paths to the left a little bit, and then let's take a look at it. It's not really gonna change very much. In some artwork, it's gonna be awesome. The path fitting, when you drag to the left, low fitting, it's gonna kinda smooth things out a little bit. It's gonna be a little less rough. The path fitting is not gonna be as exact. Corners, if you want more corners, drag to the right, if you want less corners, drag to the left. I dunno what that means, other than that, but you know, keep doing that. And noise, I believe that this actually says 15 pixels is the radius of the object to the size of the object. I think it's actually just the diameter. It's the diameter of the smallest object that will get captured. So actually, if you have a lot of dust and things in your picture, if you set this higher, it won't capture that stuff. It'll actually say ah, ignore it. That's essentially what noise means. Don't trace noise. So we're done, I don't wanna go crazy. The only other thing that I would suggest doing, this is what I use in here, ignore white. If you ever trace something that's on a white background, it's going to trace that white part of the picture, and be a shape. If you select ignore white, it will drop it. It will not trace it, and you'll just have the object. So that's what I do all the time with a white background. We don't need to do it now, that's fine. Hide advanced if you don't mind. And I think that looks fine. You can do whatever you want, monkey around with it. Let's go ahead and close the image trace panel. Now the other thing we can do here is we'll still looking at an image tracing object, which means we can't edit it yet. If we really wanna edit this thing and start to work with it as vector, you're gonna see right up here there's a button called expand. This, once again, should be something like commit. Why don't you go ahead and click on expand. There we go. It is now vector artwork. So we can start to work with this, do whatever we need to do. Now, I don't want the stuff around the outside, the brown part of the picture. So we're gonna kind of get rid of that. This is where it can get a little bit tricky, 'cause we're gonna try to delete that. This is a group of objects, you can tell because it says group right up here. Why don't you double click on it. By double clicking on the group, we're gonna enter isolation mode, which means we can now edit each shape and each path independently. And we are gonna try and select and remove. There is very little art to this. It's just blunt force, let's remove. The only thing I could suggest possibly is if we click on a shape, like click on the brown on the outside, I wanna delete it, don't do it yet. We can select everything that has that brown. You remember the select similar in a previous segment we did. So we can do select similar fill color, and if we're lucky, it might, we're not lucky. It might pick other browns around the outside that we can delete at the same time, but it's not. So you guys just hit delete. We're gonna go on and just delete these. Sometimes it's easier than others to get rid of some of this stuff. Honestly, the hardest part is when you start it encroaching, let me zoom in here to the apple. You're gonna start to see that some of the shadowing and different things encroaches on the apple right there, like this. Is anybody seeing anything like that? Yeah, it's kind of digging into the apple. And I'll see that there are brown around the outside that I didn't get rid of. Here's what I wind up doing a lot of times. I pull out my friend, the eraser tool. I'm gonna undo a couple deletes I did. Edit undo, edit undo. And what we can now do if we wanna just start to work with this a little bit, if you come over here, you should hopefully still see the eraser tool in the tools panel along the left over there. If you click on that and select it, we can start to erase some of the brown on the outside. And it takes a little bit of a fine tune here, but you can get, and I can look at my own screen, but you can start to kind of fine tune this a little bit and work on it. But this is one way to get it done. I was wondering if you could remind us what the shortcut was for expanding and contracting the eraser tool? Oh yes, I should have said that, sorry. So the shortcut to make the eraser bigger or smaller is gonna be the bracket keys, left and right, next to the P key usually. They're also the braces or whatever you call them. So left, right. And you can just hold it down if you want to make it bigger or smaller. Gotta work on it a little bit. There's a million ways, if you're doing really precise precision work here, the eraser tool's probably not gonna work for ya. You're gonna go in and start editing paths, working with the shapes and the anchors, all these different things to get it to work the way you want it to. But for right now, I'm just gonna go in and kind of do this. So I'm gonna kinda attack this thing a little bit. I will dig into it a little bit. It's almost like masking in the old days of Photoshop, where you just pull in a little bit and it gets rid of some of the edges. There we go. Not looking great, but not looking horrible. And there it is, fine, that's good. For the sake of the class, we'll leave it there. Once you're done, go back to the selection tool if you don't mind. I know I'm not giving you a lot of time to practice and work on this, I know. It kills me. Double click away or press the escape key to get out of the isolation mode, and we're gonna take that apple and bring it over to the backpack. So there are a couple ways you can do this. If you wanna try to drag it over there, you can drag it directly, it's your call. You can also cut it and then paste it, so you can go to edit cut, edit paste, if you have it selected, rather. Edit cut, edit paste. Do you guys see mine up here? It still looks like there are some things hanging out up here. Let me show you another little trick. Some of you probably figured this out. If you go into outline mode, we can see all those little weird things hanging out. So if I go to view outline, a lot of times, right up here, it'll, there we go, some of this stuff is hanging out up there, I can see it. So I can go out and just delete that stuff, too. Alright, there we go. I wanna be careful. Not too much. Okay, so let's move the apple over to the backpack. I'm gonna drag it over there. Hopefully it'll let me drag that part, there we go. Use the hand tool. And since it's vector artwork, we can scale it. So go to one of the corners to make it a little bit smaller. It's kind of big for my backpack. Use the Shift key, drag, make it a little bit smaller. We're thinking human proportions here, so think about the backpack. Is it the right size? It looks pretty good.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Project Files Part 1
Project Files Part 2

Ratings and Reviews


I am a pretty computer literate person but an Ai beginner i.e. I am completely new to the Creative Cloud/Adobe Illustrator. (This is also the first time I've used CreativeLive.) I think this course it is fantastic. The pace is good as is the content which progressed logically and covers all the basics you'd hope it would. The course is 2 full days' worth of material but it is broken down into segments so you can revisit or skip through as you need to. The presenter is really personable and easy to watch (even for me, a Londoner!). I would also say I think it is pretty good value for money -- I am currently enrolled on a part time course, basically doing the same sort of stuff, and I have to say this is better and a bit cheaper! I definitely recommend it to you!


A brilliantly designed course. it's almost magic. It's everything you hope for in a follow-along software class. Brian Wood has engineered it so that you start on a project that just needs basics, and then you move on to more & more complicated projects, and almost without realizing it you've learned Illustrator. This doesn't just happen -- Wood has clearly put a LOT of effort into creating this course. Here's one trivial example: he doesn't overload you with a lot of keyboard shortcuts right at the beginning -- you start with the actions themselves, using the (admittedly tedious but easy) pulldown menus, and then after you're comfortable with what you're doing, he'll throw in the shortcut. It may seem obvious, but so many instructors feel they have to give you an extensive foundation of definitions, shortcuts, interfaces, etc., before you ever do anything. Good stuff to know, but you'll never remember it. Wood has you up and working almost immediately. And he's a joy to listen to, at a perfect pace. Highly recommended.

Philippe LIENARD

Top course. Very well explained, clear, good examples, pleasant teacher. I like it and recommend it. One suggestion, it would be nice to have a detailed table of content of the course in the material. For instance, it took me quite a while to find back the part of the course where how to make a gear was explained.

Student Work