TUTORIAL: Ink Sketch to Vector With Image Trace

A very quick but very handy tutorial today- I use this all the time for my ink doodles. It's not the most precise method of turning drawings into vectors but it will work for many hand-drawn styles. At the end of this tutorial, your art will be a transparent, editable, resize-able vector object.

TOOLS:

  • Adobe Illustrator CC
  • Whatever you like to use to draw

First, open your image in Illustrator. Make sure you've already done any cleanup or editing you need.

Make sure you have the Image Trace palette open. If it isn't in your sidebar, look under Window > Image Trace. Open the Advanced section in the palette by clicking the carrot/triangle next to it. Now you'll be able to see all your options for adjusting the parameters of the vector. We're only going to be messing with four settings today. Since it's a single-color drawing, we only have to worry about the shape that will be output by the black ink.

There aren't any exact values you need to enter, but I get the best results by leaving Threshold in the center of the slider, dragging Paths almost all the way to the right, dragging Corners almost all the way to the right, and dragging Noise almost all the way to the left.

Here's what they do, according to Adobe's user guide:

Threshold: Specifies a value for generating a black and white tracing result from the original image. All pixels lighter than the Threshold value are converted to white; all pixels darker than the Threshold value are converted to black. (This option is available only when Mode is set to Black and White.)

Paths: Controls the distance between the traced shape and the original pixel shape. Lower values create a tighter path fitting; higher values create a looser path fitting.

Corners: Specifies the emphasis on corners. A higher value results in more corners.

Noise: Specifies an area in pixels that is ignored while tracing. A higher value results in less noise.

Check the Preview box at the bottom of the palette. This will render your results, but still let you tweak the settings before creating a final vector. At this point, sometimes I need to nudge Threshold right or left to make the lines thinner or thicker. Mess with these settings until you have something you like!

At this point, click the Expand button in the top menu bar. The picture will no longer be editable with the Image Trace tool, but now you can manipulate the anchor points.

Right now there's a white background as part of the object, and we want the outlines of the drawing to be cutout and transparent. This is really easy! Select the Magic Wand tool from the toolbar and click on the white. This will select all the white in the image, so you can just hit delete and it will be gone. Presto!

I moved the object off the artboard so you can see the results. Looks just like the drawing, huh?

If you want to further tweak the shape, you can use the Direct Selection tool to select anchor points and move or delete them.

That's about it! Now you can edit your art without having to worry about pesky pixels getting warped or blurry. Blow it up to billboard size, give it a quick color swap, whatever you floats your digital boat.

Ink drawing

Final product!

What are your favorite Illustrator techniques? Do you have any "hacks" you use to get the job done quicker? Let your fellow designer know in the comments!