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In this post we will take a drawn design, scan it and clean it up in Photoshop, then trace it using the Live Trace feature in Adobe Illustrator. Live Trace was introduced in Adobe Illustrator CS2 but is still a powerful tool available in Illustrator CS5. This process really gives an artist the freedom to digitally experiment with drawings of any kind. The vector art it produces can be used in numerous ways and is easily customized. My motivation for trying this was originally to make a “growing vine”-type animation in Adobe After Effects. I will show a link to the resulting animation at the end of this tutorial, but for now, let’s get started.
Scan your sketch and bring the image into Adobe Photoshop. Make sure that the image is Grayscale (Image -> Mode -> Grayscale). Begin by adjusting the image using Image -> Adjust -> Brightness/Contrast -> Levels (Cmd/Ctrl + L) and/or Curves (Cmd/Ctrl + M) to improve upon the sharpness and contrast if needed. Clean the image using the Eraser Tool (E), trying to get the white areas as clean as possible. Paint the black areas, and alter or redesign any shapes so you are happy with the overall design.
Cleaning up the image is important for getting a good trace in Illustrator. There are a number of techniques that help get rid of unwanted specks and imperfections, here’s the method I used:
Go to Select -> Color Range:
Sample Colors: Select from drop-down.
Localized Color Clusters: Leave this deselected in the beginning.
Fuzziness: Play with this setting to get the edges less, or more, sharp.
Selection Preview: Select None.
Invert: Choose this if you would rather preview selected pixels as black instead of white.
Sharon Hart is a freelance web/graphic designer and chocolate connoisseur. She worked many production and design jobs in Los Angeles for a number of years before returning to her roots on the East Coast (Massachusetts) where she now happily runs Elastic Color. When she's not designing she enjoys cooking, painting, reading, tea, hiking and the company of her cat Pixel. You can also find her on twitter chatting about the newest design trends.