Illustrator: Turn Silhouettes into Vectors


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As a Graphic Designer, the biggest asset that you can have is efficiency. Over the years, I have learned little tips and tricks that allow me to cut corners and get to the final product in less time.

The great thing about programs like Photoshop and Illustrator is there is no one set way to do things. Another designer and myself could quite possibly get to the same destination and the steps we took to get there be completely different. So this is how I do it. You might find a way that works better for you.

1. Google Images

If you have an account through a stock image website, you can search silhouettes there as well. If you’re the stereotypical struggling artist and don’t have the money for that, you can use Google Images.

Alright, so I just searched “silhouettes”. You can easily be more specific in your search. Just type in what you’re looking for plus the word silhouette and you should be good.

Pick an image, save it, and open up Illustrator.


2. Live Trace – Make and Expand

1. Click File, Place… (Select your silhouette image.)
2. Click Select Tool (Black Arrow) and select the image.
3. Click Object, Live Trace, Make and Expand.

3. Direct Select Tool (White Arrow)

This is where it gets interesting. Let’s say you find an image with multiple silhouettes, but you only want to use one. Or in this case, you have a white background around your silhouette and you want the white gone. Use the Direct Select Tool (White Arrow) and select the black that you want. If there’s multiple parts that you want, Hold Shift and select those silhouettes. Then press CTRL+C or Click Edit-Copy. Then press CTRL+V or Click Edit-Paste.
Now I can delete the one on the left and the silhouette on the right will be mine to use. So to summarize what we did, we took a rasterized image and now we have it as a vector file. We can resize it, change the color, add an outline, and whatever else you can think of.

This saves a huge amount of time compared to someone trying to use the Pen Tool and create the silhouette by hand. I use this all time on designs. I also use it to make logos into vector files. I simply take a black and white version of the image and use the Live Trace – Make and Expand.

8 thoughts on “Illustrator: Turn Silhouettes into Vectors

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