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Tracing Images in Adobe Illustrator for Custom Clip Art and Research Graphics

An example drawing traced with Adobe Illustrator


Adobe Illustrator is a useful tool for academics, but also rather handy for non-academic purposes as well. In this tutorial I will describe a way of tracing images in Adobe Illustrator to turn the original image into a simplified vector graphic (i.e., the file is saved as a series of formulas rather than an ordering of pixels). While I perform this approach on a photograph of a tea kettle, the same technique can be used on simple icon images, photographs of people or pets or scenery, or nearly any image.

My research presentations for conferences and other venues all include a matching set of clipart using the approach described in the document below. My research posters often borrow clipart from these talks. My research publications also include conceptual and technical diagrams that use some of these methods. In short, drawing a tea kettle may be a silly task, but through the drawing of a simple object we can understand the methods for generating a drawing with a more professional purpose.

This tutorial from Dreevoo looks like it might be an adequate introduction for a similar technique in the GIMP 2 (free image editing software).


Howley, I., (2015, July). How to Trace Images in Adobe Illustrator.

A shallow overview of the results from this experiment

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