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Dec 22

Illustrator Live Trace

2005 at 02.27 am posted by Veerle Pieters

A reader raised the question why I don’t use the Live Trace instead of tracing the sketch with the Pen tool. It’s simply because the lines of my sketch aren’t ‘clean’ enough to make it work with Live Trace. The outcome depends a lot on your orignal, as you can see here in these experiments. Not that you can’t do magic tricks with this tool, of course you can.

If I traced my pencil drawing first with a thin black marker and scanned this version of the image, it might have been perfect to use Live Trace instead. I simply wanted to show how the Pen tool works and how I draw most of my illustrations, that was the point of the movie.

If you are in the mood for some experimenting with the Live Trace tool then I could give you some info that might help you. In some case (most cases?) you'll get a pretty result already without tweaking too much on the settings. Take for example the picture below. I've just used the 'Photo High Fidelity' Live Trace option which gave this result (in a blink of the eye).

Illustrator Live Trace - example

However if you're after more advanced control on how Live Trace will trace your image then this info can come in handy. After selecting your image you go to Object > Live Trace > Tracing Options. This will popup the Tracing Options windows which gives you the possibility to tweak with the settings. When you click the Preview checkbox you'll see the immediate effect on your image, unchecking it brings back the original image. So you'll need this while experimenting.

Tracing Options

  • The lower the number you set in the 'Path Fitting' option the tighter the image will be traced. But make sure it's not too low otherwise you could get a jaggy effect. The higher the number the smoother the effect but you might loose detail in the process. So experiment with this setting.
  • The 'Minimum Area' option defines the minimum area that will be traced, which will help to avoid little specs of being traced. For example if you use 12px as minimum area, a 11px or smaller area won't be traced.
  • The 'Corner Angle' option sets the sharpness of corner angles. The lower the number, the sharper the corners.

If you go to Object > Live Trace > Expand the image shows the paths and you can still tweak and edit whatever you like, but don't forget to ungroup the object.

A very extended white paper(PDF) about live tracing can be found on the Adobe website: Creating Vector Content Using Live Trace




permalink this comment Brian Mayzure Thu Dec 22, 2005 at 05.56 am

Wow. The settings are almost identical to Adobe Streamline, which I still have and sometimes use.



permalink this comment Blair Thu Dec 22, 2005 at 08.06 am

@ Veerle
“which gave this result (in a blink of the eye)”

... It’s only a blink of an eye to you and your beautiful Dual PMG5. For those of use stuck on a PMG4, it takes at least two shakes of a lambs tail.



permalink this comment Stijn Thu Dec 22, 2005 at 08.47 am

Ok, here is the light.
You should try the live paint tool, it’s even more fun.



permalink this comment Joan M. Mas Fri Dec 23, 2005 at 12.53 am

There are other interesting alternatives to trace vectors. <as href=“”>Inkscape</a>, for example (an open source vector illustration program).
I have tried the tracing engine included with Inkscape and it gives excellent results; you can tweak the settings with great detail. It uses a module called POTrace.



permalink this comment Bryan Tue Dec 27, 2005 at 08.50 am

Just a tip for some people using live trace at my work I have to recreate logos sometimes and once in awhile I will have to use livetrace. Sometimes if you have a really bad quality logo to start with you can use the resample at 300px, it will give it more of an exact look.



permalink this comment designdog Wed Jan 4, 2006 at 09.57 am

Veerle - really like your stuff. I always check your blog.

One helpful tip on the pen tool is to use the Command/Alt key (after first slecting the Direct Selection tool) while drawing, to adjust the segments. Also, Xtreme Path ( is an awesome plug-in. Just the ability to “round out” segments is time saving.

Too bad that Illustrator does’nt have the “preview” feature that the pen tool in Photoshop has…




permalink this comment Crimsonjade Tue May 9, 2006 at 04.05 pm

Just wondering, after having used LiveTrace to ink my drawings, is it possible to make control areas to control colour flooding? As with your examples (of your own drawing), there are no definite block areas to flood colour and there are often gaps in the lines due to it being hand drawn.  Let me just put it this way, how would you get from this:

to this:


The first image was an inked drawing that was live traced, the second one is one I paintined in Photoshop…Just to make things clearer.



permalink this comment Veerle Wed May 10, 2006 at 05.49 am

@Crimsonjade: I don’t know of any gap closing method. I just edit the path by hand using the pen tool. In general . I don’t often use the Live Trace or Live Paint tool, I just trace/draw my images by hand using the pen tool.

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