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A collection of insightful tips and guides to help you become a great designer.

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How to Vectorize an Image in Illustrator

How to Vectorize an Image in Illustrator

In this tutorial, we'll show you how to vectorize an image in Adobe Illustrator by going through the following steps.

What's the Difference Between a Raster Image and a Vector File?

Raster graphics are images that have been saved as a bitmap, which is made up of pixels. Vector graphics on the other hand are composed of shapes and lines. This means they're much easier to scale without losing quality.

File types like .JPG (or .JPEG), .GIF, and .PNG are raster files, while file types like .SVG are made from vectors. You can also choose to save your files in .EPS format, which saves an additional bitmap image of your file, which is useful for some websites and programs that show a preview of your image.

Adobe has their own file types related to their raster and vector editing platforms:

  • .PSD files are raster-based, and are for Adobe Photoshop
  • .AI files are vector-based, and are for Adobe Illustrator. (Spoiler for later - Illustrator isn't the only program that can open .AI files.)

As a computer-generated image, an SVG file is a vector graphic that can be infinitely enlarged without any loss of quality and still remain sharp and crisp. It's perfect for website mockups or print designs where you need an image with no physical dimensions but rather just a scalable shape with few colors. You might have some raster graphics (like PNGs) that you want to turn into vectors in Adobe Illustrator so they are high fidelity and easier to work with.

Different programs need to be used for raster graphics versus vector graphics. For instance, if you need to work on or alter raster images, you'll need to use a program like Adobe Photoshop or Procreate. Programs like these can easily work with the colored pixels that make up a raster image.

However, for a vector image, you'll need to use a graphic design program that is designed to work with files that are in a vector format.

Creating a New Document

First, you'll need to create a new document in Illustrator. To do this, go to File > New. Ideally, you should create a new document with an artboard that is the same dimensions as the image you intend to vectorize, but this isn't necessary.

Importing your Image into Illustrator

Next, import your image file into Illustrator by going to File > Place. Then, you'll need to use the anchor point controls to resize your image to the size that you want. You can also do this by creating an empty frame that is the correct size, and then placing the image into that frame.

Vectorizing your Image with Image Trace

The next step is vectorizing your image. To do this, select your image, then open the "Object" menu. Click on "Image Trace", and then "Make". Alternatively, depending on which version of Illustrator you have, the "Image Trace" option might appear at the top or right-hand side of the screen when you have your image selected.

Next, decide which preset option you want to use to create your image. There are many options related to the number of colors you want in your final image, including 3-color, 16-color, and high- and low-fidelity photo. There is also the grayscale option, which will use only shades of gray for your image, as well as the silhouette option, which creates a black and white image. The colors of your image will depend on the option you pick. Click on the option you want to use. The image trace will begin immediately but might take a few seconds to complete.

Fine-tune your Image

The next step is to fine-tune your vectorized image. There are several options to do this. First, open the Image Trace panel from the Window drop-down menu. From here, you can access a variety of tracing options, which will allow you to alter the colors of your image trace, as well as the level of detail. Once you're happy with how the preview looks, click on "Expand". This will finalize the image trace and transform your raster image into vectored shapes.

Ungroup the Colors

Next, you'll want to select your image. It will appear as a collection of different vector shapes in lots of different colors. These shapes will initially be grouped. If you want to make individual changes to these shapes, you'll need to ungroup them first. This will allow you to move and change each shape on its own. You can add or delete anchor points from the shape, choose a new fill color, or even apply a gradient. You can also use your pen tool to alter its shape if it doesn't look quite right.

Save your Vector File

Once you've adjusted your vectorized image to your satisfaction using the presets, tracing options, and Pen Tool, it's time to save your new vector project. Use the File drop-down menu to save your project. Then you can use the Export feature to save your vector image in the file type that you want.

How to Vectorize your Image Faster Next Time

Adobe Illustrator is good at transforming raster images into vector images, but there are some issues with it. First, it's an expensive platform, which puts it out of reach for a lot of people. Second, it's very complicated, and figuring out how to navigate all the ins and outs of its image tracing process can be very difficult, even with a guide like this!

Thankfully, there's another option: Vectornator!

Vectornator is a vector graphic design platform for Mac, iPad, and iOS. It has a powerful Auto Trace tool that can transform images from raster pixels into vectored shapes, just like Illustrator! But with Vectornator, the process is much simpler.

Just open your image as a new document in Vectornator, or import it onto an existing Artboard. Make sure that the image layer is unlocked by using the Layers Tab. Then, just select your image. The Auto Trace panel will appear at the top of the Style Tab instantly.

From there, you can adjust the two sliders to change how detailed your new vector image will be. Then, just tap the Auto Trace button, and BOOM! Your image will be transformed into vector shapes.

©️ Disney Micky Mouse – Vectorized with the Vectornator's Auto Trace feature.

For a more detailed explanation, visit our Learning Hub ➞ Happy Vectornating!

Download the PDF version here.