How to Use Image Trace in Adobe Illustrator

You can find the Image Trace option in several places in Adobe Illustrator. In the Object menu, find Image Trace > Make. You can also find the Image Trace option in the Control or Properties panel, and the Image Trace panel. Once you find it, you can adjust the image trace settings to get the result that you want.

The image trace feature in Adobe Illustrator allows you to edit JPEG and PNG files while preserving image details.

My name is April, and I’ve been working in the graphic design field for 14+ years now. In this tutorial, I will be going over the basics of how to use Image Trace and some scenarios where you may use some of the other settings.

In this tutorial, I will show how to use Adobe Illustrator Image Trace like a pro. Let’s get started.

Key Takeaways 

  • Image Trace can be accessed through the Object menu, the Control panel, or the Image Trace panel. The default trace is the Black & White option.
  • The best pixel-based images to convert to vectors are images with few colors and strong lines. Choosing this kind of image makes your work easy.
  • There are different settings options in the Image Trace panel. You can quickly edit an image using them.
  • Select your image to prevent grayed-out image trace settings.
  • The higher the resolution, the longer the trace may take, but the better the trace will be.
  • Adjusting the threshold up will darken the result (more black than white), and adjusting it down will lighten it (more white than black).

How to Use Image Trace in Adobe Illustrator: Step-by-Step

Designers commonly use the Adobe Illustrator image trace feature in two situations: to create a logo or edit a picture. You can use the Image trace to add personality to an existing image. Or you can use it to resize the image without compromising on quality.

Let’s trace an image and try out some settings. 

Note: All screenshots used in this tutorial are taken from Adobe Illustrator CC Windows Version. Mac and other Versions may appear different. The process is almost the same. 

Step 1: Select the image you wish to trace. Go to Windows > Image Trace.

Step 2: Adjust the settings from the Image Trace panel. Go back to select the image if it’s grayed out.

Press V on your keyboard to activate the selection tool. Go back to select your image. 

There are a couple of settings and options to choose from. I will work you through the different settings to help you understand the meaning. You can play around with it to achieve your preferred appearance.

You will notice six image trace presets when the image trace panel opens.

Auto color, high color, low color, Grayscale, black and white, and outline. We will not go over all the settings and options. We will look at the ones we need to trace our image.

Step 3: Select the best color for your design from the mode option drop-down.

The mode you select will affect your slider option. Let’s look at what the three mode options mean. 

  • Colors: This means the minimum and maximum number of colors used for tracing (we will set ours to 30).
  • Grays: The grayscale accuracy is from 0 to 100.
  • Threshold: Pixels darker than the threshold value are converted to black. The lower ones are converted to white.

Selecting the Color option means the number of colors you want to work with. The more color, the heavier the file. In the case of our sample image, I want to retain the existing colors as much as possible.

Step 5: Click on the Trace button to trace the image. You can toggle the preview icon to be sure you like how your image appears.

The custom/default settings will be just fine. Setting my color at 30 is enough to trace the image since it has just four colors. 

Note: Your preferred settings and the size of your image will determine the time you spend and the results you get. 

Step 6: Click the Expand button to edit the image as a vector. 

You will see the outline of the tracing result after clicking on Expand

Can you see the blue lines around the image?

Step 7: Ungroup the image to make changes on the path. Expanding it makes it editable. Ungrouping helps you to edit elements you don’t want.

Right-click on the image and select ungroup. 

Ungrouping the image gives you the flexibility to change whatever you want on the image. See what we have done with this image.

How to Trace Line Art in Adobe Illustrator

If you want to get the lines from a raster image, this is the go-to method.

Step 1: Place the image in Adobe Illustrator.

Step 2: Select the image, and click on the Image Trace option either from the Control panel, the Object menu > Image Trace > Make, or the Image Trace panel. 

Object Menu
Control Panel
Image Trace Panel

Step 3: Choose one of the Image Trace options. For this example, let’s use the Black and White Logo option.

Note: If you get a notice saying your image is high resolution, no worries. But I will warn you that if the file is very large, it could crash your Illustrator, so make sure you have things saved before you proceed.

I like to keep my view on the Tracing Result. So after the image loads, this is your image trace. Often I will stare at the small details as the trace loads to see how it changes.

For this particular graphic, the initial trace may be good enough, but let me show you some important things to know from the Image Trace panel.

Open the Image Trace panel from the overhead menu Window > Image Trace.

For example, the Threshold will lighten or darken your image. A higher threshold makes it darker/increases the size of the black lines, while a lower threshold makes it brighter/decreases the size of black lines.

Higher Threshold:

Lower Threshold:

To get a really good trace, you want to open up the Advanced settings section by clicking the arrow next to Advanced.

The first setting I usually start with is the Noise. If you have smaller details in the image, you want to make the noise lower. So if I make the setting 2 px, the trace will add in details as small as 2 px. Also, be sure to keep Preview checked so you can see the changes in your trace image.

Step 9: The corners setting is the next one I usually change. The more corners, the sharper any corners in your artwork will be. For this example graphic, we don’t have any straight corners so I am going to leave that setting alone.

The last main setting I use is the Paths. Increasing this setting will either make your art great and crisp, or it will add more paths and look terrible. 

Step 4: When you are happy with the trace, click the Expand button in the Control panel.

With the image expanded, we now have vector artwork. You can work with and manipulate it how you would any other vector artwork.

More Examples

The examples I showed you above are graphics, so it’s easier to get a better tracing result. However, depending on the complexity of an actual photograph, the results can vary a lot. Here are some examples.

Original Image: 

16 Colors: 

5 Colors: 

3 Colors: 

Black and White Logo: 

Shades of Grey: 

Low Fidelity Photograph: 

High Fidelity Photograph: 

Each of these variations is usable in the right situation. Playing around with the Image Trace panel is a great way to see what fun things you can do for different stylized graphics.


Here are more questions about using the Image Trace Tool in Adobe Illustrator. See if you can find your answers below.

Why is Image Trace in Illustrator not working?

Image trace in Illustrator will not work when no image is selected. 

Can I trace a PNG image in Illustrator?

Yes, you can. You can trace any pixel-based image in Illustrator.

Can you make changes after you expand?

You can make vector changes after you expand, but you will no longer be able to make changes in the Image Trace panel.

How to trace an image without the white Background in Illustrator?

After expanding your image, ungroup, select, and delete the white background. Alternatively, you can delete the white background from the image trace panel by clicking on Ignore White from the Advanced settings.

What happens if I have wording and it still isn’t clear after the image trace?

Image Trace can only do so much magic with an image. If the original image is low resolution and the text is small, there is a good chance it will not trace well at all. Your best bet is to choose a similar font or use the Pen Tool to trace the outline.


Image Trace:

Final Thoughts

Image Trace is a fantastic tool to create vector artwork quickly from a raster image. It takes some learning which settings create a better trace, but it is well worth your time. Ultimately you will be able to guess what will trace well and then recreate small vectors and text within the image to aid your workflow.

Have you used Image Trace in Illustrator before? Which type of trace did you use and did you like the outcome? Let me know in the comments below.

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