How To Vectorize and Trace Bitmap Images in Adobe Illustrator


Vectorizing and tracing bitmap images in Adobe Illustrator is an essential skill for graphic designers. It allows you to take raster images like JPGs and PNGs and convert them into scalable vector graphics that can be resized without loss of quality.

In this article, we will cover the following topics:

  • The difference between raster and vector images
  • When to vectorize images
  • How to vectorize images using Image Trace
  • How to manually trace images
  • Tips for best results

Raster vs Vector Images

To understand vectorizing images, you first need to understand the difference between raster and vector images:

Raster Images

  • Also known as bitmap images
  • Made up of pixels
  • Common formats: JPG, PNG, GIF
  • Resolution dependent – will lose quality if resized

Vector Images

  • Made up of paths and mathematical formulas
  • Common formats: SVG, EPS, AI
  • Resolution independent – can be resized without quality loss

Raster images are best for photographs and complex scenes. Vector images are best for logos, illustrations, and graphics needing scalability.

When To Vectorize Images

Here are some common reasons you may want to vectorize a bitmap image:

  • To create a logo or graphic identity
  • To resize an image without loss of quality
  • To change the color of an image
  • To edit parts of an image
  • To create cutlines for CNC machines
  • To reduce file size

Generally, any images needing scalability or print reproduction are good candidates for vectorizing.

Vectorizing with Image Trace

The easiest way to vectorize images in Illustrator is using the Image Trace tool. Here is the basic process:

  1. Open or place your raster image in Illustrator
  2. Select the image and go to Object > Image Trace > Make
  3. Choose a preset tracing option like Black and White Logo or High Fidelity Photo
  4. Tweak the settings in the Image Trace panel if needed
  5. Click Expand to convert the tracing into vector paths

The Image Trace panel also has advanced controls to fine-tune your tracing. Some key options:

  • Mode: Color, Grayscale or Black and White
  • Colors/Grays/Threshold: Controls level of detail
  • Paths: More paths means more detail
  • Corners: Controls sharpness of corners
  • Noise: Removes small artifacts

Experiment with these settings to get your desired outcome.

Manually Tracing Images

For ultimate control, you can manually trace over a bitmap image using Illustrator’s drawing tools:

  1. Lock and lower the opacity of the bitmap image
  2. Create shapes and paths with the Pen, Pencil, Line and Shape tools
  3. Use the Direct Selection and Pathfinder tools to edit and combine shapes
  4. Color the vector paths with the Eyedropper and Live Paint Bucket tools

This method takes more effort but allows you to stylize and interpret the image rather than just trace it.

Tips for Best Results

Follow these tips when vectorizing images for the best results:

  • Use high-resolution images
  • Simple images with solid colors work best
  • Avoid images with complex textures and details
  • Remove the background first
  • Expand and ungroup the tracing to edit individual paths
  • Adjust anchor points to smooth curves
  • Reduce paths to simplify
  • Try different Image Trace presets
  • Manually tweak Image Trace settings

With practice, you’ll be able to take any bitmap image and convert it into a scalable vector graphic in Illustrator.


Learning how to properly vectorize images is an essential Illustrator skill for both print and digital graphic designers. Use the Image Trace tool for quick conversions, or manually trace images when you need more stylistic control.

Remember to use high-quality source images, remove backgrounds, expand and edit paths, and adjust settings to get your desired outcome. With the techniques covered in this article, you’ll be a pro at vectorizing in Illustrator in no time!