Remember Adobe Streamline? Adobe stopped upgrading its vector conversion application some time ago. But with the advent of CS2, Illustrator’s old Trace Tool became the new super Live Trace and opened up a new world of possibilities!
As soon as you place or paste a photo into Illustrator a button on the Control Palette offers a Live Trace option. However, I like to see all the options first off by going, Object > Live Trace > Tracing Options…
Here you can choose Color, Greyscale or Black and White from the Mode drop down menu of the Live Trace pop-up box. Marilyn Monroe below was done by colouring up Live Trace with the default, Black and White option.
This is the Illustrator/vector equivalent of Photoshop’s Image > Adjustments > Threshold…
The drop down menu next to Presets: in the Tracing Options dialog box gives you thirteen different tracing presets. However, if you ignore the presets and choose Color from the Mode drop down menu and enter a value in the Max Colors box you will see an identical effect to Posterizing in Photoshop – a finite number of tones within a colour picture. There are only 5 colours in the illustration of a dog below.
Photos are made up of pixels and making them larger makes the pixels larger too and the result can be blurry and jagged or “pixellated”. They are bitmap images and their file formats are .BMPs, .JPGs, and .PSDs. Vector images are composed of mathematical formulas that consist of curves and points. They can be resized without losing quality. Vector’s file formats are usually .EPS (although EPSs can be bitmaps) and .AIs (Adobe Illustrator’s native file format).
You may find the colours chosen by Illustrator are a little dull. Hit the Trace button and go Object > Expand… to turn your pic into Vectors. At this point you cannot go back and edit your trace (only with a Cmd/Ctl-Z). Another advantage of these resulting vectors is the ability to re-colour them as above with Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers.
To re-colour: simply select one of the colours you want to change with the Direct Selection tool (A) and go Select > Same > Fill Color and move those sliders!
Lastly, play around with the blurring option in the Tracing Options panel in order to create more figurative, impressionistic illustrations as with Big Ben below.
Using Adobe Illustrator Live Trace to turn photo into illustration
Overview: Go Object > Live Trace > Tracing Options once you have Placed or pasted your image into your Illustrator document. Make sure you have the Preview check box checked so you can see your chosen options before you hit Trace. Remember you have to go Object > Expand to turn the trace to outlines/vectors.