Converting lineart to vector

There are a few software options to converting scanned lineart to vector including Adobe LiveTrace, Streamline, and a few other 3rd party apps. But it is possible to do this right inside Photoshop, and I’m of the opinion that the results of doing it through Photoshop are more accurate and easier to edit.

If you’ve ever tried cleaning up the vectors in a LiveTrace file, you’ll spend more time troubleshooting path problems than you did drawing the art. That ain’t any kind of fun. This method is clean, and will produce a simple black and white vector of your image with no cleanup required. Enjoy, and share.

Note: when you do these steps, make an ACTION if you’d like so you can run it with a single click in the future:

1a. The scan: I scan all my black and white art actual size at 1200 dpi in LINEART mode. Some scanners refer to this as DOCUMENT mode or BITMAPPED mode. Not to be confused with the Bitmap file format, the LINEART, DOCUMENT, and/or BITMAPPED scan modes picks up black and white only, two colors, no grays. Study your scanner documentation to find the proper settings for black and white scanning, then use 1200 dpi or ppi.  That’s the important part.

1b. Convert your file to GRAYSCALE mode with a resolution of 600dpi. This conversion produces the clean smooth edge with solid blacks and solid whites.

2. Open your CHANNEL palette and Command+Click (Control_Click on Windows) directly on the the grayscale channel icon to make a selection. If the white is selected instead of the blacks, then choose SELECT > INVERSE. The goal here is to create a precise selection of only the black area. Do not use the magic wand or any other selection technique, the Channel selection is the best method.

3. Open to your PATHS palette and select “Make Work Path” from the dropdown arrow.

4. Set the tolerance to either 1 or 1.5, you can go a little higher or lower, depending on your needs. If your art is very detailed, you may end up with a massive and complex vector file, so choosing a bigger tolerance like 1.75 or 2 will reduce file size. However, you’ll also lose detail, so the choice is yours.

5. Now that you have a path created, select SAVE using the menu built into the path palette. 

6. Then go to FILE > EXPORT PATHS TO ILLUSTRATOR, and save the file wherever you want. Just be sure you know where it is because you’re going to use that saved file in the next step.

7a. Launch Adobe Illustrator and use the FILE menu to OPEN the path you just saved from Photoshop. If you’re having trouble, check to be sure the extension is at the end of the file name, if there is no extension, add .ai to the end of the file name. If you double click the file, it may launch Photoshop again, so it’s best to open it from inside Illustrator.

7b. Now that your file is open, the paths are clear and you probably can’t see them. So SELECT ALL to reveal the paths.

8. Open Illustrator’s PATHFINDER palette. Click the EXCLUDE button in the PATHFINDER palette. Depending on which version of Illustrator you’re using you may need to hold down the OPTION button (alt on Windows) while clicking EXCLUDE, that will finalize the cutouts and make it more compatible with other software apps. Illustrator has an ‘editable’ mode that’s handy for some things, but not handy for this technique, so use that OPTION (or alt) key to make it permanent.

9. With your paths still selected, fill it with any color you’d like and use it as you would any other vector shape because you’re DONE!

Just for kicks, here’s a comparison I worked up.

First is the original, then my converted version using Kody’s Technique. I also added a third version using LiveTrace with the best settings I could figure out. 

Pay particular attention to the spatter and how Livetrace drops a lot of the detail, or in some areas, it creates shapes that aren’t in the original. Livetrace also creates black and white shapes instead of a single black shape with negative “holes”. So you end up with excessive paths and colors. Simple is better.

Comparison