How to Use Image Trace in Adobe Illustrator

Photographic images are raster, or bitmap files. The Image Trace Panel in Illustrator allows you to convert those images into vector graphics, which are then resolution-independent and compatible for large-format output. There are a various options for controlling how realistic the illustration will appear.

Image Trace is found in Illustrator CS6 and CC versions.

  1. Open the panel by going to Window > Image Trace.
    Window Menu
  2. The Image Trace Panel includes the following preset buttons:
    1. Auto-Color
    2. High Color
    3. Low Color
    4. Grayscale
    5. Black and White
    6. Outline
  3. When the image is selected, click on a present and it will preview live on the artboard.
    Image Trace Panel
  4. There's also a Preset menu with 11 types of tracing presets. High Fidelity has been applied to this image.
    Image Trace Panel
  5. Next to the View menu there's a button you can press and hold to compare the tracing result to the original image.
    Image Trace Panel
  6. Palette and Colors let you specify the number of colors allowed.
    Image Trace Panel
  7. Expand the Advanced settings.
    • Paths: Controls how closely traced paths will follow the pixels of the original image. Lower values equal a tighter fit of path.
    • Corners: Defines the minimum angle that can be traced as a sharp angle, as opposed to a smooth curve. More corners can be created by using higher values.
    • Noise: Controls the smallest color area that can be outlined with a path.

    Image Trace Panel
  8. Method provides two options:
    • Abutting: Creates cutout paths.
    • Overlapping: Creates stacked paths.
    Here are two identical images that have been traced limiting the colors to two, and using different methods. To manipulate the images after tracing, go to the Options Bar and click Expand.
    Options Bar
  9. Using the Group Selection Tool, here the paths of the two traced results have been pulled apart.
    Traced Results
Author: Kate Cahill

Kate Cahill is a graphic designer, writer, and creative director who has developed content for print and web. As creative director, she has produced award-winning work for agencies focused on the pharmaceutical and health and beauty aid industries. She has also served as production manager, with responsibility for the successful fulfillment of long-run print contracts. Kate has been delivering training for Webucator clients since 2010. Her enthusiasm for cutting-edge technology, combined with hands-on practical experience, brings an added benefit to her classes. Kate teaches real-world techniques and integration of Adobe software, as well as Microsoft PowerPoint, to produce a fully developed and cohesive brand identity.

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