Tracing a photograph?

hello everybody…

Here’s my problem, i want to trace a photograph so it becomes a EPS vector… what’s the easy way? and should i use Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia Freehand or Maybe photoshop?

Any comments welcome…


I’d do it with Flash.

Open a new movie

Import the jpg

with the jpg selected on the stage use menu item “Modify/Trace Bitmap”.

You’ll have to play with the settings to get it to the point where you like it. Various settings will make the file size larger or smaller.

When you’re statisfied you can export it as an Adobe Illustrator doc, or an EPS using the File/Export Image menu option.

but what if i’ve got a photograph of a building, and i have to get all the lines inside the the building as well (not only the outline of the building) so pretty much of the detail as well?

upuaut8’s advice to use Flash will work well, and I’d give that a try. Play around with the settings. To do it fast, this is the way. This method gives a result which can be somewhat impressionistic with the looser settings and these also yield a smaller file size. Tighter, more accurate settings start to approach or even exceed the original photo’s file size, but often there is a happy medium.

However, if you need architectural or technical illustration accuracy, and don’t want huge files, then you need to use a vector drawing program and render (trace) your subject manually.

I favor CorelDraw, but Illustrator will work just as well, and there are a couple others like Micrografx (now Corel) Designer,and I think Freehand. For that matter, you could use Flash, but do it by hand with the pen tool.

Photoshop, Photopaint, Paint Shop Pro and others of this stripe are not suitable for this kind of work. You can touch up and manipulate photos with these, but for really accurate tracing, you need vectors.

The general procedure:

  1. Import your reference photo onto a layer which you then lock so you don’t inadvertantly move it. To avoid bogging down your system, I recommed using a JPG rather than a huge tiff. Again, it’s a trade off, and only experimentation and experience will aid you in these decisions.

  2. Create additional layers for the various elements of your drawing. For example, in the case of your building, you might want to put the outline on one layer, and the windows, for example, on another.

It’s good to remember here that once you’ve drawn one element like a window which will repeat, you can simply cut and paste the rest of them. However, you will have to manually position and then adjust the perspective for each one. Again, a little thought and planning will reveal that you’ve got various sets as you go up or across. Making these kinds of adjustments to vectors is relatively simple once you gain some skills with the tools of your chosen application.

Key to getting the best out of this approach is to draw in three-point perspective guidelines on a seperate layer. Remember that you can toggle the visibility of your various layers, and use colors systematically at this stage. Later, you will adjust the various stroke and fill colors to reflect realtiy.

Working with vectors is something like cutting out little pieces of paper which you then stack up to complete an image or image element. So bigger things go in back, details in front. Use heavier lines for bigger things, lighter lines for small ones.

I often use bright colors like lime and yellow when tracing in this fashion so I can see what I’m doing as I click on certain key areas and work my way around back to where I started.

I prefer to work with straight line segments which are continuous and joined, i.e the last anchor point is clicked on top of the origin so that they may be filled with color. Then I go back and turn some or all line segments of the various elements into curves, as necessary.

Working with beziers can be tricky at first, so expect some blood, sweat and tears in learning to handle these critters.

Mastering this technique will open a whole range of new possibilities, so don’t get discouraged if your first efforts look awful - most do. Just keep noodlin’ away at it, bend those beziers, and don’t give up.

Another tip: the less control points or anchors, the better, so it really is critical to learn how to bend and shape bezier curves to follow complex organic shapes - that’s the key, along with layer management, and proceeding in a logical, methodical, determined fashion.

And draw! Learning and practicing freehand drawing is a big aid to any creative process, especially working with vectors. To be an illustrator, you’ve got to know how to draw what you see.


drawing it flat out is good advice too. Often I’m left with no choice but to lay out a pic, make a layer above the one with the picture, and simply draw on top of it, then delete the pic layer once I’m done.

There is no substitute for a wacom and a lot of time.