How to Trace and Vectorize a Raster Image File in Adobe Illustrator


Tracing and vectorizing raster images in Adobe Illustrator allows you to convert pixel-based images like JPEGs and PNGs into scalable vector graphics. This makes the images easier to edit and resize without losing quality.

I’ll walk you through the full process step-by-step, including:

  • The difference between raster and vector images
  • Using the Image Trace tool
  • Optimizing Image Trace settings
  • Expanding the tracing
  • Manually tracing images
  • Finalizing the vector image

Follow along to learn how to effectively trace and vectorize images for your design projects.

Raster vs Vector Images

Before we get into the tracing process, it’s important to understand the difference between raster and vector images:

Raster images are made up of a grid of pixels. When you resize a raster image, it can become pixelated or lose quality. Common raster formats:

  • JPEG
  • PNG
  • GIF

Vector images are created using paths and mathematical points. You can scale vector images infinitely without losing quality. Common vector formats:

  • SVG
  • EPS
  • AI

Using the Image Trace Tool

The easiest way to vectorize a raster image is with Illustrator’s Image Trace tool. Here’s how to use it:

Step 1: Open Image

Place or open your raster image in Illustrator. For best results, use a simple, high-contrast image without too much fine detail.

Place image

Step 2: Image Trace

With the image selected, click Image Trace in the Control panel or under Object > Image Trace.

Step 3: Adjust Settings

In the Image Trace panel, adjust the settings:

  • Preset – Choose a preset like High Fidelity Photo.
  • Mode – Color, Grayscale, Black and White.
  • Threshold – Increase contrast.
  • Paths – Complexity of paths.

Image Trace panel

Keep preview enabled to see your changes. Tweak settings until you’re happy with the tracing.

Expanding the Tracing

When ready, click the Expand button in the Image Trace panel. This converts the tracing into editable vector paths and shapes while removing the original raster image.

You can now edit the vector image like any other vector artwork in Illustrator.

Manually Tracing Images

For more complex images or if you want greater control, you can manually trace over the raster image instead of using Image Trace:

Step 1: Lock Image

Lock the raster image layer so you don’t accidentally move it while tracing:

Object > Lock > Selection

Step 2: Create New Layer

Create a new layer above the image layer for your vector tracing.

Step 3: Trace Image

Using the Pen Tool, trace over the key outlines of the image. Use as few anchor points as possible.

If needed, use additional shape tools like the Line Segment tool.

Manual tracing

Take your time to simplify and get clean lines. Don’t worry about color for now, just focus on main shapes.

Finalizing the Vector Image

Once your vector trace is complete, finalize the image:

  • Add and adjust colors
  • Clean up stray paths
  • Simplify shapes where possible
  • Unlock/delete original image layer

Final vector

The end result is a scalable vector graphic you can reuse at any size!

Tips for Better Tracing

Here are some additional tips:

Use high-contrast images – Tracing works best on simple images with solid blacks and whites.

Adjust thresholds – Play with the Threshold setting to reduce noise and simplify.

Reduce points – Delete unnecessary points to prevent jagged paths.

Watch for gaps – Check for gaps in paths after expanding from a tracing.

Simplify – Merge and reduce paths to clean up the vector image.


Tracing raster images takes some practice but is an essential Illustrator skill. Start by leveraging the automatic Image Trace tool first.

For more advanced tracings, create them manually with vector drawing tools for full control over the end result.

Use these best practices next time you need to convert a client’s raster logo into an editable vector file!