How to Convert Images and Doodles Into Vector Graphics With Adobe Illustrator

Nancy Messieh 25-07-2017

Converting clip art, hand-drawn doodles, and photos into vector graphics requires just one feature in Adobe Illustrator: the Image Trace. While it works flawlessly with simple drawings and hand lettering, it’s a much more challenging tool when used with photos.


Why would you want to do this in the first place? Well, image files created in programs like Photoshop and photos taken with cameras are made up of tiny little dots (called pixels). When you scale a pixel-based image, it loses quality and can even become blurry.

A vector graphic, on the other hand, is a scaleable image that you can shrink or enlarge at will without losing any quality.

The Image Trace Feature

To access the feature, go to Window > Image Trace to open panel. In that panel. Before adjusting any of the settings, make sure that the Preview option is checked. This will allow you test the various settings before selecting one and applying it to your image.

There are 11 presets: from high and low fidelity photo to 3-, 6-, or 16-color vectors, to black and white and gray vectors. You can also convert your images to sketched art, silhouettes, line art, or technical drawings.

You can also manually adjust the number of colors and choose between three modes: color, black and white, and grayscale, so you can find the perfect settings for your particular image.


How to Convert Images and Doodles Into Vector Graphics With Adobe Illustrator ImageTrace

The image trace feature’s power really comes through when you use it on PNGs, simple photos with white backgrounds, or simple clip art.

Once you’ve got the setting how you want it, click the Expand button in the menu at the top of the screen. This will convert each part of your image into individual, editable paths. Right-click your image and click Ungroup if you want to edit or change colors of individual sections.

Image Trace Used on Clip Art

To use image trace on clip art, it’s best to use a PNG file without a background or a JPG with a white background. If there is a white background, you can delete it after you’ve finished using the image trace feature — just select the Direct Selection Tool (Keyboard shortcut A) and select the white background and delete it. (If you have Photoshop, you can also use the Magic Eraser tool to delete the white background. Use keyboard shortcut E to access it.)

To see the full process in action, check out the video below:

Hand-Drawn Doodles or Hand Lettering

The Image Trace feature is put to even better use with hand-drawn doodles or hand lettering. Scan your hand-drawn doodles and get them onto your computer, and follow these steps:

  1. The first thing you’ll want to do is darken your blacks and brighten your whites. You can do this in Photoshop using the Levels feature, or you could also take a photo with your phone and edit it with an app like Scanner Pro (which is actually meant for scanning receipts The Best Receipt Apps for Scanning, Tracking, and Managing Bills These receipt scanner apps will help you scan, save, and organize every bill for your personal or business needs. Read More ).
  2. Open the image in Illustrator, and go back to the Image Trace feature and the setting that will probably work best is the Black and White setting. You can adjust the threshold as well if you choose — the higher the threshold, the thicker your lines.
  3. A final optional step is to clean up your hand drawings with the pen tool. If you have a Wacom tablet or iPad Pro loaded with Astro Pad, it will make this process much easier, but the same look can be achieved using a mouse — it just might take a little bit more finesse. Select the Pencil tool (keyboard shortcut N).
  4. Click on an anchor point on the path you want to smooth and drag the line to where you want it to be. The pencil tool will smooth out any imperfections or shakiness that appears in your drawing.

To see a detailed explanation of this process, check out the video below:

What is your preferred method for converting images to vectors? Let us know in the comments.

Related topics: Adobe Illustrator, Image Editing Tips, Vector Graphics.

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