Toy Tech: Live Image Trace & Live Paint Step-By-Step Tutorial


Main ShotLucasfilm, LTD/The Walt Disney Company, Copyright © 2016

For those of you who, like me, prefer to sketch toy ideation using Adobe Photoshop or Corel Painter because pixel based programs are arguably freer flowing, you may be missing out using some of the really amazing, cost saving features in Adobe Illustrator.

Sometimes, job specifications change and you will need to re-size your line art but find yourself confined to a low pixel count, which forces you to redo all of your hard work at a higher resolution. Other times, it’s just easier to do certain tasks in a raster program instead of a pixel-based program. Wouldn't it be great to combine Photoshop and Illustrator together? Well, maybe, just maybe, oil and water can mix after all—if you know the trick.

Yes, my friend, you can have your cake and eat it too! This post details the relatively simple process of using Photoshop and Illustrator seamlessly, moving from one set of design tools to another based on specific project needs and your individually unique creative vision.


CombinedClick image to enlarge.


Here are seven steps to importing a line art sketch (pixels) from Photoshop and converting it into editable (raster) paths in Illustrator:

  1. Copy and paste raster line art from Photoshop into Illustrator. You can also make a selection of your line work in Photoshop and paste that into Illustrator as well.
  2. Open the Image Trace window and open the advanced options for detailed controls. Window/Image Trace.
  3. As you adjust the controls, toggle the Preview on to see the results. The basic formula that works best for me is using a Custom Preset with the View set to Tracing Result. Choose Black And White or Color as your Mode, adjust the Setting Paths and Corners closer to 100% depending on the detail and thickness of your line work, and bring Noise down to 2px for starters. For this particular image, I set the Threshold to 128 but that setting will vary depending on your image. These settings should get you into the ballpark, but you will need to refine each control slider based on your unique line weight and style, all of which, will make the line weight of the raster paths thicker or thinner as you see fit.
  4. When everything looks right in the preview mode, deselect Preview and make sure Ignore White is checked then click the Trace button. You now have raster line art with no white background or fills.
  5. To be able to actually see and edit points on your line art, go to the top pull-down menu and select Object/Image Trace/Expand. Viola! Editable outline paths will now appear just as magically as dead people voting in a Chicago election!
  6. Ok, you’re doing great so let’s go to the next step. Make sure the paths are selected and choose the Live Paint Bucket in the Tool Box, which changes your cursor into a paint bucket with a color box and an arrow. The color box shows the hue currently selected from the color picker and the arrow is the actual selection tool. I recommend you hit the Caps Lock on your keyboard to turn the arrow into a more precise crosshair, which will make the paint bucket disappear.
  7. Select the specific hue you want via the color picker, color swatches, Pantone colors, etc. and click into the areas you wish to fill. You can now color the space in between the outlines and also color the actual outlines themselves. With Live Paint, the outlines don’t even have to be completely connected!

Well, well, my young Padawan learner, you have just entered into a much larger world. You now have the powerful Jedi ability to intuitively sketch using Photoshop and then import those pixels into Illustrator, easily converting them into editable raster outlines that can be resized with no pixel degradation. In other words—they will be sharp at any size you enlarge the file to.

Don’t be the design team who had to re-do weeks worth of billable hours just because they created image files set far too low for high-resolution printing requirements, all because they didn’t know any better.

Many try to pass on such losses from one client to another, by taking billable hours from an over budget project and padding them into another project with deeper pockets. This, of course, is highly dishonest to say the least, and when the duped client eventually figures out they are paying the bill for other clients in addition to their own projects, well, there's a pretty good chance they'll burn your house down. Just say'n.

That’s why it is so important to stay up to date with your design programs, especially if you are supervising people and projects. Your honesty and commitment to excellence is everything in this business and something you just can't hide for very long.

As radical as this may sound in this current day and age—knowing what you are doing is by far the best course of action to get work done with excellence on time and within budget.

So, let's wrap this up. Moving from Photoshop to Illustrator allows you just the right tools to apply patterns, resize delicate line work for larger print specifications and even continue to draw and edit as you see fit. So, give it a try and customize the process to fit your own style and image requirements as you gain more experience. 

Oh yes, reversing this process is just as easy if you want to import your Illustrator line work into Photoshop, by simply copying the selected paths and pasting them into Photoshop as Smart Objects, Pixels, Paths or even Shape Layers.


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