Taking PowerTRACE for a Test Drive

By Steve Bain

The applications and features described in this tutorial require CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X3 or newer to be installed.

Someone hands you a printed logo, when what you really need is a digital vector file-preferably in CorelDRAW® (CDR) format. If you've run into this scenario before, you may already know how time consuming the manual conversion process can be. Adapting images from the physical world into the digital vector realm often requires hours of work and a mastery of drawing tools. If you own CorelDRAW® Graphics Suite, you've got a powerful tool to help with the heavy lifting! In this tutorial, you'll discover how easy it is to convert pixels to vector shapes with PowerTRACE™. We'll tackle a bitmap-tracing project that will enable you to quickly produce an accurate two-color vector version of a logo design. Along the way, you'll learn how to use many of the powerful new features engineered into PowerTRACE that make the process fast and efficient.

A Primer on PowerTRACE

If this is your first tracing experience using PowerTRACE, some advance orientation may help demystify the tools involved. With a bitmap selected in CorelDRAW, PowerTRACE becomes available through the Trace Bitmap command on the property bar.

You can instantly trace a selected bitmap using default settings by choosing Quick Trace from the Trace Bitmap selector, which applies the trace without opening the PowerTRACE window. There are also six modes that you can choose from depending on your tracing requirements. The window (shown below) is divided into two basic areas. The left side of the window displays a preview of your trace results while the right side features two option areas.

Across the top of the window are viewing and zoom tools, and across the bottom below the progress bar are Undo, Redoand Reset buttons (as shown below).

If you have previous experience applying bitmap filter effects in CorelDRAW or Corel PHOTO-PAINT®, the PowerTRACE tools will seem like familiar territory. The Options tab is divided into several key areas including the trace controls, color mode and trace options. The Trace result details area (shown below) plays a key role in providing critical information as you adjust the tracing options. The Colors tab includes controls that let you manipulate the color space of the traced results. Follow the tutorial steps below to explore how easily these tools can be applied and modified to produce exactly the tracing results you need.

Before You Begin

The bitmap image you are tracing in PowerTRACE will very likely come from one of two sources: a file that is either prepared in a drawing or bitmap-editing application and exported to one of the many available bitmap formats from such an application, or; a file acquired via an image-capturing device such as a scanner or digital camera.

The source of your bitmap image can significantly influence its inherent quality. Software-sourced bitmaps are the best to work with, while scanned images often require some refinement before they can be accurately traced. In the steps that follow, we'll look at both scenarios.

Download and extract these sample logos saved in Corel PHOTO-PAINT file format to get started. Both are CMYK bitmaps that have an image resolution of 200 dpi and depict the same logo. The first version we'll trace was exported from a drawing program (CorelDRAW) while the second one was scanned by using a consumer-brand flatbed scanner. Our goal will be to produce a useable vector version of the logo prepared in two PANTONE® spot ink colors.

Tracing an Exported Bitmap

  1. In a new CorelDRAW document, import the sample_logo_1.cpt bitmap (shown below) onto your blank page.
  1. By default, the imported bitmap is selected with the Pick tool. Click the Trace Bitmap flyout on the property bar, and choose Logo (as shown below).
  1. Notice that PowerTRACE immediately launches and produces a preliminary trace of the bitmap. The Smoothing and Detail sliders at the top of the Options tab are automatically set. The preview window currently displays a split-screen preview of the Before and After results (as shown below), and the Trace result details area indicates that there are 10 curves comprised of 169 nodes and 3 colors.
  1. Since the background of our logo sample is white, PowerTRACE automatically detects and eliminates the surrounding background color. To remove the white area in the interior of the bitmap, enable the Remove color from entire image check box (shown below). Notice the Trace result details area now indicates that only 7 curves are detected.
  1. To check the tracing accuracy, choose Wireframe Overlay from the Preview list box. Use single left-button clicks to zoom in and single right-button clicks to zoom out to examine the accuracy of the traced paths. If needed, use the Transparency slider to adjust the visibility of the original bitmap. A close look at the upper-left corner (shown below) reveals the bitmap edges have been accurately traced.
  1. Click the Colors tab to examine the color results of the trace. Notice that three CMYK colors are listed at the top (as shown next). Our next step will be to specify these colors as PANTONE spot ink colors.
  1. Click the turquoise color in the list, and click the Edit button to open the Select Color dialog box (shown below). Click the Palettes tab, and choose PANTONE(R) solid coated from the Palette menu. Notice the PANTONE ink color equivalent of the CMYK value is automatically selected - in this case PANTONE 318 C.
  1. Enter 318 in the Name field, and click OK to close the dialog box and apply PANTONE 318 C as the new color. Notice the color list (shown below) and the trace preview is updated to indicate the ink color you applied.
  1. Click the dark blue color in the list, and repeat the previous steps to change this color to PANTONE 274 C. You are now ready to accept the trace results.
  1. Click the OK button in the PowerTRACE window to return to your CorelDRAW page. By default, PowerTRACE places the tracing objects as a group directly on top of your original bitmap. Drag the group to one side to see both the original bitmap and the trace objects (as shown next). The vector version of your two-color logo is now complete. If you wish, delete the bitmap version from your CorelDRAW page.

Tracing a Scanned Bitmap

In the previous steps, you traced a bitmap that originated from a drawing or bitmap-editing application. Next, we'll examine how to work with the same logo image scanned from a color hard copy and saved in the same bitmap format.

  1. To begin the process, import sample_logo_2.cpt into your CorelDRAW document, and choose Detailed logo from the Trace Bitmap flyout on the property bar. PowerTRACE launches and a preliminary trace is immediately produced. Now the Trace result details area shows that 113 curves, 7707 nodes, and 15 colors are detected (as shown below). At this point we could move the Smoothing and Detail sliders to adjust the trace results and likely produce an excellent trace, but here's a chance for you to learn an alternate strategy.
  1. To refine our scanned image and improve our trace results, we're going to apply a bitmap filter. Open sample_logo_2.cpt in Corel PHOTO-PAINT. As you can see, this version includes hard copy and scanning imperfections (see below). Eliminating these anomalies will drastically improve the tracing results.
  1. Choose Effects > Blur > Smart Blur to open the Smart Blur dialog box (shown below). Set the slider to 60, and click OK to apply the effect. This operation will eliminate most - but not all - of the image's imperfections.
  1. Choose Effects > Noise > Remove Noise to open the Remove Noise dialog box (shown below). Leave the Auto check box enabled, and click the OK button to apply the filter. This will eliminate virtually all of the remaining imperfections. Save the image, and return to CorelDRAW.
  1. In CorelDRAW, import the newly adjusted version of your scanned sample logo onto a blank page. With the image selected, choose Detailed logo from the Trace Bitmap flyout on the property bar (as shown below) to demonstrate other key PowerTRACE features.
  1. PowerTRACE opens and displays the trace results. Once again the Smoothing and Detail sliders settings are optimized. With Detailed logo selected, notice the Trace result details area now displays 11 curves, 236 nodes, and 9 colors detected (as shown below).
  1. Click the Colors tab to view the colors detected in the trace. Hold down your Ctrl key, and click on each of the turquoise colors in the list to select all three colors. Click the Merge button located below the list to combine these colors into a single color (as shown below). With the single color still selected, click the Edit button to open the Select Color dialog box, and change this color to PANTONE 318 C as you did in the previous steps.
  1. Repeat the previous step for the navy blue colors in the list changing them to a single color. Edit the leftover color by changing it to PANTONE 274 C. Merge the remaining white colors in the list.

  2. Return to the Options tab and click to enable the Remove color from entire image check box to eliminate the interior background shapes. Notice the curve count is reduced. You are now ready to accept the trace results.

  3. Click OK to close PowerTRACE and return to your CorelDRAW document. Drag the grouped trace objects to the right of the original bitmap and examine the results (shown below). Your tracing task is complete. If you wish, delete the bitmap version from your CorelDRAW page.

Although each bitmap may require its own special treatments, you can see how powerful and easy-to-use the PowerTRACE features are. In only a few short steps, you've learned how to use PowerTRACE to produce an accurately traced version of a complex logo using only a low-resolution bitmap as the source.

Steve Bain is an award-winning illustrator and designer, and an author of nearly a dozen books, including CorelDRAW®: The Official Guide.