Learn How to Convert Artwork to Vector Images: Tips for Illustrator and Other Drawing Programs

Learn How to Convert Artwork to Vector Images: Tips for Illustrator and Other Drawing Programs
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Vector images or art are a type of new-age graphic design and digital illustration. It is one of the two forms of art used by computers where the other is bitmap art also known as raster. Bitmap art is what most users know as .gif formats, .jpeg and various other formats. However, vector art is commonly saved as an .eps or .svg format.

The main difference between raster art and vector art is the way they are stored in a computer. Raster or bitmap art uses pixels. Pixels are several dots of color used to create the image and make it visible to users. This means that if the image is stretched beyond its capacity, it will begin to lose quality. Edges of text in raster will become jagged and eventually unreadable.

Vector art, on the other hand, uses mathematical relationships. They are composed of paths that store the relationship between the points on the paths. Should the image be stretched or scaled down, it will not lose quality. This makes it perfect for logo design, because logos can be scaled up or down depending on what they are used for.

There are various methods used to convert artwork to vector images. The most common are with the use of Adobe Illustrator, a program most graphic artists and designers use for logo design. You can convert your own artwork to vector images or convert digital images to vector.

Scanning the Image

The first step to convert artwork to vector is to scan the image and save it on your desktop. This will allow you to open up the image in a vector art program, such as Adobe Illustrator, and convert artwork to vector images. Follow the simple steps to scan the image and save on your computer.

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Step 1: Use a felt-tipped pen or thin permanent marker to trace out your design or artwork. You can draw your artwork in pencil, which is convenient if you must make changes by erasing. Simply trace over the outline of your artwork with a marker or felt-tipped pen.

Step 2: Scan the image using a flatbed scanner. Choose the settings on the scanner to save as a “JPEG Image” and a 300 to 400 pixels per inch resolution. Scan the image and save the image in a desired location. Save the image in a folder on your desktop for better organization. You can later save your vector artwork in the same folder to keep everything organized and together.

Continue on to the next page for more details on converting images to vector format.

Tracing the Image

Many artists enjoy drawing out logotypes or artwork such as mascots for their design. If you have drawn the outline to your artwork and want to color it in and convert it to vector, you can use a software such as Adobe Illustrator to trace out the design and artwork with the following instructions. Tracing the design enables for a more precise path and final artwork.

Step 1: Open your Adobe Illustrator program. Create a new document. The size of your document does not matter as you can scale down your artwork or scale it up to trace it. However, if your image is in portrait format, it can be better to work with a portrait


document. The same goes for an image drawn in landscape format.

Step 2: Bring your JPEG image into Adobe Illustrator by choosing “File” and then “Place” from the file menu. Navigate to the location in which you saved your image and select the image. This will open up the image in Illustrator. If your image is too large for your document, scale it down. Hold the shift key on your keyboard while dragging any corner from the image’s bounding box to scale the image down. This allows you to scale the image proportionally.

Step 3: Open the layer palette by navigating to the Window menu and selecting “Layers” from the menu. You can also use the F7 key on your keyboard to bring up the layers palette.

Step 4: Lock the first layer in your layers palette by clicking in the small box beside the layer name. There should only be one layer in the layer palette at this point. You can rename the layer by double-clicking on the layer name.

Step 5: Create a new layer to begin tracing on. You can create a new layer by clicking the button beside the one that looks like a garbage bin in your layers palette. If you hover your mouse over the buttons, you will see “Create New Layer” show up on the button.

Step 6: Select the pen tool in the tools palette or simply hit “P” on your keyboard. With the artwork layer locked, working on a new layer will prevent the image from moving in the background while you are trying to trace it. Toggle between the fill and stroke by clicking “X” on your keyboard. It can be easier to trace the image in a different color than black to distinguish between the image and the vector outline. Avoid setting a fill color as this will fill the path as you trace and the image below will disappear due to the fill.

Step 7: Choose a starting point on your artwork. Trace the artwork along the lines you have drawn. It can be easier to outline the entire artwork and then work on more detailed areas. Ensure to close all paths when you are tracing.

Step 8: Save the image as an .ai file when you are finished. If you plan on editing the image again, it is always easier to save as an Illustrator file. If you plan on sending the image to someone else or use it in other programs, save the file as an .eps file.

Live Trace

Some artists feel that tracing artwork with the pen tool can be too time consuming. Adobe Illustrator offers an option that allows the user to live trace the artwork to convert artwork to vector. This makes it easier to convert artwork to vector because it is less time consuming; however, live tracing can create multiple unnecessary points. Simple images can be live traced with success but images that are more intricate may be best to be traced with the pen tool. Use the following instructions to learn how to live trace to convert artwork to vector images .

Step 1: Bring in the image into Illustrator by selecting “Place” under the file menu. Navigate through your computer to select the image saved in the desired location and click “Ok” to select the image.

Step 2: Open the layers palette by clicking F7 on your keyboard or navigating to the Window menu and selecting the layers palette.

Step 3: Lock the current layer with the artwork. Create a copy of the layer by dragging the layer to the “Create New Layer” button on the bottom of the layer palette. This is the second button from the right. Hide the first layer and keep the copy unlocked and shown on the screen. Hiding the first layer will allow you to keep a copy of the artwork unharmed.

Step 4: Select your artwork with the selection tool. You can choose the selection tool in the tool palette or simply click “V” on your keyboard to select the tool.

Step 5: Navigate to the Object menu and down to the Live Trace submenu . Select “Tracing Options” from the submenu. Ensure that the “Preview” box is checked to allow you to preview your artwork while you are choosing your settings.

Step 6: Adjust the Preset to “Default”. Ensure that the mode is “Black and White”. Adjust the threshold to the desired amount. A higher threshold will give the artwork more detail while lowering the threshold will have less detail. Experiment with different thresholds to determine which one best suits your needs. Ensure that the Blur is set to “0” and leave the remaining options to default. Click “Trace”.

Step 7: Under the Object menu, select the “Expand” option. Although your artwork has been converted to vector, you must expand in order to be able to color the artwork and make further modifications. Ensure that “Object” and “Stroke” are checked and click “Ok” to finish the conversion process.

Coloring the Image

Illustrator offers many methods to coloring the image; however, these depend on what you have in mind for your artwork. Vector illustrations are not simply cartoon looking, but they can also be very realistic. Many realistic images used in advertisements and in packaging such as sunglasses and electronics are vector images. A good example of vector images is Apple products. If you take notice on the box or even on the Apple website, most of their images are vector images. These are realistic vector images which can then be used on packaging and advertisements.

Another example of vector images is the video game series known as “Grand Theft Auto”. Printed advertisements for this video game often feature cars and people drawn and colored in vector formats.


Although this style is not as realistic and more cartoon-like, it is a style widely used and recognized in illustrations.

You can color the image in many ways, depending on how realistic you want it to be. For a more cartoon look, you can simply fill the areas with different colors by changing the fill and stroke. Other users may want to add gradients to their designs to make them more realistic. The mesh tool can also be used to add shadows and highlights to specific areas of the design.

The most efficient way to color an image is to use all three of the options. Mixing pure fills with gradients and meshes can make your artwork turn in a beautiful three-dimensional piece.

Are Vector Images Limited to Artwork?

Anything can be converted to vector. While you can convert artwork to vector, tracing can be done on pretty much anything. People can be recreated as vector images as well as many electronics. If you are up for a challenge, choose an image of a car or a pair of sunglasses and try to recreate the image in Illustrator following the same steps as converting artwork to vector images. Vector is not only limited to artwork and line art. Recreating a realistic object or person can be a great addition to a portfolio for a graphic artist or designer, as well as desktop publisher.

Image credits:

Wikimedia Commons, Emma E. Goodwin

Wikimedia Commons, Ajgw-nyc

Wikimedia Commons, Oscarhcb


Author’s own experience