Step-by-Step Guide: How to Vectorize an Image in Adobe Illustrator
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


Preparing Your Image

Importing Your Image into Adobe Illustrator

Using the Image Trace Tool

Fine-Tuning Your Vector

Exporting Your Vector

Learning how to vectorize an image in Illustrator is a valuable skill for designers and artists alike. In this step-by-step guide, we will walk you through the process of transforming a raster image into a vector using Adobe Illustrator. Let's get started!

Preparing Your Image

Before we dive into Illustrator, it's essential to properly prepare the image you want to vectorize. This includes choosing the right image, resizing, and adjusting the resolution.

Choosing the Right Image

When selecting an image to vectorize, consider the following:

  • Choose an image with simple shapes and clear lines.
  • Avoid images with too much detail or intricate patterns, as these can be challenging to vectorize accurately.
  • If possible, opt for a high-resolution image to ensure better tracing results.

Resizing and Cropping

Before importing your image into Illustrator, you may need to resize or crop it:

  1. Use photo editing software to resize the image to the desired dimensions. Keep in mind that larger images will take longer to process in Illustrator.
  2. Crop your image to remove any unnecessary elements, focusing on the area you want to vectorize.

Adjusting Image Resolution

Higher resolution images typically produce better vectorization results. To adjust the resolution of your image:

  • Open the image in photo editing software, such as Photoshop.
  • Locate the Image Size or Resolution settings.
  • Increase the resolution to 300 DPI (dots per inch) or higher, if possible.
  • Save the updated image as a new file, preserving the original for reference.

Now that your image is prepared, we can move on to importing it into Adobe Illustrator and learning how to vectorize an image in Illustrator.

Importing Your Image into Adobe Illustrator

Once your image is properly prepared, it's time to bring it into Adobe Illustrator and begin the vectorization process. To do this, we'll cover supported file formats, placing the image, and organizing with layers.

Supported File Formats

Adobe Illustrator supports various file formats for importing images. Some of the most common formats include:

  • JPEG (.jpg)
  • PNG (.png)
  • GIF (.gif)
  • TIFF (.tif)
  • Photoshop (.psd)
  • Bitmap (.bmp)

Ensure your image is saved in one of these formats for a smooth import process.

Placing the Image

Now it's time to place your image into Illustrator. Follow these steps:

  1. Open Adobe Illustrator and create a new document with the desired dimensions.
  2. Go to File > Place, then navigate to your image file and click "Place."
  3. Click anywhere on the canvas to place the image, or click and drag to scale it while placing.

Organizing with Layers

Using layers in Illustrator can help keep your workspace organized and make it easier to edit your vector later. To organize your image on a new layer:

  1. In the Layers panel (Window > Layers), click the "Create New Layer" button at the bottom.
  2. Double-click the new layer to rename it, e.g., "Image."
  3. Click and drag your image onto the new layer in the Layers panel.
  4. Lock the layer by clicking the empty space next to the eye icon. This prevents accidental edits while working on your vector.

With your image imported and organized, we can now move on to using the Image Trace tool and learn how to vectorize an image in Illustrator.

Using the Image Trace Tool

Adobe Illustrator's Image Trace tool is a powerful feature that allows you to convert raster images into vector graphics. In this section, we'll walk you through selecting the right preset, adjusting Image Trace settings, and expanding the traced image.

Selecting the Right Preset

Image Trace comes with various presets to help you achieve the best results for different types of images. To select a preset:

  1. Select your image by clicking on it.
  2. Go to Window > Image Trace to open the Image Trace panel.
  3. Choose a preset from the dropdown menu at the top of the panel. For example, "High Fidelity Photo" for detailed images or "3 Colors" for simple, flat illustrations.

Don't worry if the result isn't perfect yet—we'll fine-tune the settings in the next step.

Adjusting Image Trace Settings

To further refine your vector, you can adjust the settings in the Image Trace panel. Here are some key settings to consider:

  • Threshold: Controls the level of detail in the traced image. Higher values create a more detailed trace, while lower values produce a simpler result.
  • Paths: Adjusts the balance between smooth curves and tight corners. Higher values create smoother curves, while lower values preserve sharp corners.
  • Corners: Determines how many corners are created in the traced image. Higher values produce more corners, while lower values create smoother shapes.
  • Noise: Removes small, unwanted details from the traced image. Increase the value to reduce noise and simplify the vector.

Play around with these settings until you're satisfied with the result. Remember, you can always undo changes with Ctrl+Z or Cmd+Z.

Expanding the Traced Image

Once you're happy with your tracing, it's time to expand the traced image. This converts the tracing into editable paths and shapes. To do this:

  1. With your image still selected, click the "Expand" button in the Image Trace panel or go to Object > Image Trace > Expand.
  2. Use the Direct Selection tool (A) to view and select individual paths and anchor points.

Now that your image has been traced and expanded, you can fine-tune the vector to achieve the desired look and learn how to vectorize an image in Illustrator even more effectively.

Fine-Tuning Your Vector

After expanding the traced image, you might notice some imperfections or areas that need adjustments. In this section, we'll cover how to use the Direct Selection tool, clean up anchor points, and adjust stroke and fill to perfect your vector image.

Using the Direct Selection Tool

The Direct Selection tool (A) allows you to select and edit individual anchor points and paths in your vector. Here's how to use it:

  1. Press A to activate the Direct Selection tool, or click on the white arrow icon in the toolbar.
  2. Click on the anchor point or path you want to adjust.
  3. Drag the anchor point or path to a new position, or use the handles to adjust the curves.

Take your time and tweak the vector until you're satisfied with the result.

Cleaning Up Anchor Points

Reducing the number of anchor points can help you create a smoother, cleaner vector. To delete unnecessary anchor points:

  1. Select the Pen tool (P) or click on the pen icon in the toolbar.
  2. Hold down the Ctrl (Windows) or Cmd (Mac) key to temporarily activate the Direct Selection tool.
  3. Click on the anchor point you want to remove and press Delete or Backspace.

Be mindful not to remove too many anchor points, as this can alter the overall shape of your vector.

Adjusting Stroke and Fill

Now that your vector is looking good, you can adjust the stroke and fill properties to add the finishing touches:

  1. Select the Selection tool (V) and click on the shape you want to modify.
  2. Open the Color panel (Window > Color) to adjust the fill and stroke colors.
  3. Open the Stroke panel (Window > Stroke) to adjust the stroke weight, cap, and corner settings.

Experiment with different colors and stroke settings to find the perfect combination for your vectorized image.

With these techniques, you've now learned how to vectorize an image in Illustrator and fine-tune your vector to achieve the desired look. The final step is to export your vector image for use in your projects.

Exporting Your Vector

Once you're satisfied with your vectorized image, it's time to export it for use in your projects. In this section, we'll walk you through choosing the right format, adjusting export settings, and saving for web.

Choosing the Right Format

Depending on your project needs, you may require different file formats for your vector. Here are some common formats and their uses:

  • AI: Native Adobe Illustrator format, ideal for editing or sharing with other Illustrator users.
  • EPS: A widely supported vector format for print and design applications.
  • SVG: Scalable Vector Graphics format, perfect for web and responsive designs.
  • PDF: Portable Document Format, suitable for sharing and printing with a wide range of software.

Consider your project's requirements when choosing the most suitable format.

Export Settings

Once you've chosen a format, follow these steps to export your vector:

  1. Go to File > Export > Export As...
  2. Select the desired format from the "Format" dropdown menu.
  3. Click on the "Export" button to open the export settings dialog for your chosen format.
  4. Adjust the settings as needed, such as resolution, color mode, and compression options.
  5. Click "OK" to export your vector image.

Keep in mind that some formats may have specific settings or options, so take the time to explore and understand them.

Saving for Web

If you're exporting your vector image for use on the web, you can optimize it using the "Save for Web" feature in Illustrator. This ensures the best balance between file size and image quality. Here's how:

  1. Go to File > Export > Save for Web (Legacy)...
  2. Select a suitable web format, such as SVG, JPEG, or PNG.
  3. Adjust the settings for your chosen format, including image size, quality, and optimization options.
  4. Click "Save" to export your optimized vector image.

With these steps, you've successfully exported your vectorized image for use in your projects, whether for print, web, or other design applications.

In conclusion, learning how to vectorize an image in Illustrator is an invaluable skill for designers and artists. With this step-by-step guide, you're well-equipped to create high-quality vector images from your existing raster graphics. Happy vectorizing!

If you're looking to enhance your skills in working with clients as an illustrator, don't miss Grace Helmer's workshop, 'How to Work with Clients: Illustrator Edition'. This comprehensive workshop will guide you through the process of effectively collaborating with clients and help you successfully navigate the challenges that come with being an illustrator.