Tracing Artwork using Adobe Illustrator CS5

You may need to trace an image or a picture to create your own graphic based on it. Adobe Illustrator has a ‘Live Trace’ command that helps you automatically trace the artwork. Live trace converts your bitmap image into a vector illustration. Or you can always manually trace the artwork by using the base artwork as a ‘template’ and then using the pen or brush tool to draw. In this tutorial, we will learn both these methods.

Automatically trace artwork using Live Trace Command

This is the easiest way you can trace any artwork. With ‘Live Trace’ command you can trace your artwork in 3 clicks. You can control the level of detail and fills of tracing with the ‘Tracing Options’. And since you are in Illustrator, you can convert the tracing into vector paths by converting it to a ‘Live Paint object’.

1. Create a new document in Illustrator. Choose a size that is large enough to fit the picture. Then go to File > Place. Browse to your image, uncheck the mark next to Link and click OK.

2. With the placed image selected, go to Object > Live Trace > Tracing Options.


You can begin with browsing the Presets. And along with the Preview option checked you can immediately preview the output on your image. Then you can explore all the other options in the dialog box and when satisfied with the output, click Trace. Save Preset button allows you to save your current options as a preset which you can use again later.


NOTE: You can choose between Fills and Strokes to just get an outlined tracing.

3. Since I would like to trace the image and fill it with my own colors, I am going to convert the tracing into a Live Paint object. Go to Object > Live Trace > Convert To Live Paint.


NOTE: The Trace and Convert to Live Paint option chooses the ‘Default’ Preset to trace (is what I found, correct me if not) and converts the tracing into a Live Paint object.

4. Now ungroup the tracing (Right Click > Ungroup) and using the Swatches Panel, fill it with colors of your choice.

Manually trace artwork using Template (Layers)

1. Create a new document in Illustrator. Choose a size that is large enough to fit the picture. Then go to File > Place. Browse to your image, uncheck the mark next to Link and click OK.

2. Open out the Layers panel. From the drop down menu choose Template. You will notice the image has become less visible (dim). This is because we create this layer as a template for our artwork that we are about to do. You can always change the images’ dim settings. Double click on the layer and change the dim percentage (see below).

Dim image

You can also rename the layer to ‘Template’ or some thing else. I have left it as Layer 1.

3. Create a new layer (using the Create new layer button in the Layers panel). Double click on the new layer to open the Layer Options dialog box. Rename the layer to ‘Outline’ and click OK.


4. To draw outlines of the figs, we would need a brush. Go to the ‘Brushes panel’, from the drop down menu choose ‘Open Brush Library’, under the ‘Artistic’ brushes choose ‘Artistic_Paintbrush’.


Choose the ‘Dry Brush 5’ from the list. We are using this brush for this tutorial, feel free to use any other brush or create your own brush if you like.


5. Now choose the ‘Brush’ tool from the Toolbox and start drawing the outline. If you have a tablet, use your pen to draw else use the mouse. Adjust the stroke weight if required. And using a darker foreground color (we have used black) draw outlines and other details of the fruit. See image below:


6. Turn off the visibility of our ‘Layer 1’ (the template layer). This is how the tracing will look,


You can color this image using the Swatches Panel.

Both these methods trace the images in a different way. Feel free to choose one that you are comfortable with and gives you a desired output.

Filed Under: Adobe Illustrator


About the Author: Minal is a freelance web and graphics designer. She specializes in designing Logos, Stationery, Graphics and Icons as well as website templates using graphical tools like Photoshop, Illustrator and Expression Web. Twitter @saffronstroke

RSSComments (5)

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  1. Alaina says:

    This is a great tutorial; really well written!
    Thank you!

  2. whatthehell91 says:

    great tutorial! =D

  3. Aswathi Venugopal.V says:

    It is really a helpful tutorial for all the age group.
    A big thanks for giving great information.

  4. appoothy says:

    It is a very fine and useful tutorial.
    Thank You!

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