The Complete Guide to Vector Tracing

What is vector tracing?

Vector tracing is a process of recreating an image within vector software, using an existing image as a guideline. Generally, a designer would do this if they needed a vector image file but only had a raster image file to work with. Vector essentially outlines the image and creates a vector version of it.

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Let’s imagine you were working on a project for a client, creating a printed brochure. You ask the client to send their logo so you can include it in the design. The only logo they have on file is a JPEG and ask if you can work with it. You incorporate it in the design but when you increase the size to fit in the brochure, the logo becomes pixellated. The JPEG is too small and is creating a lossy result.

You can open up a vector software like CorelDRAW and trace the logo, recreating a vector version of it. As the logo is made up of bold lines and blocks of color, it’s a pretty straightforward process. You can then export the newly recreated logo as an EPS and incorporate that in your print design. You can scale it up and down as much as you like without losing quality.

Sounds pretty useful, right? But how is it done?

How to use vector tracing software

Vector software like CorelDRAW Graphics Suite generally comes packaged with the tools needed for vector tracing. There are a couple of ways to do this. Let’s take at one CorelDRAW’s tracing options. If the logo is straightforward enough you might be able to take advantage of the in-built, intelligent vectorization tool.

Open the raster logo file in a new document, and select Bitmaps > Outline Trace. There are a few options to choose from here, and in many cases selecting Logo would be enough.

Corel PowerTRACE will kick in automatically, analyzing the raster logo and suggesting a vector outline for it. The preview window will present a before and after comparison.

How to use vector tracing software

Use the sliders on the right side of the screen to fine-tune the level of detail, corner rounding, and smoothing. The more complex the image the more you’ll have to refine the sliders. This will be the case if there is some small detail around typography or some other subtle detail that PowerTRACE may miss at first look. Essentially, this is your opportunity to refine the results to your looking and make any adjustments needed.

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View the Colors tab to see which colors the automatic trace has identified, and again make any adjustments if needed. Much like the line detail, the more simple the image, the more successful the automatic trace will be initially. But you can refine it to your satisfaction manually afterward.

Raster and Vector files

(Here’s a comparison of raster or bitmap file on the left, and a vector image on the right.)

Once you’re happy with the new image that has been created, simply head to File > Export and export the new image in the file format of your choice. This could be EPS, SVG, CDR, or any other of your favorite vector formats.

With the raster image now vectorized, you will be able to scale it up without losing quality and incorporate it into your projects for print.