Sign up ×
Graphic Design Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for Graphic Design professionals, students, and enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I would like to convert a scanned signature into a vector file. Specifically, I'd like to obtain a clean, small svg, like Barack Obama's signature on Wikipedia. It consists solely of paths with no fill and a black stroke of width 1.4.

Here is an example scanned signature. I've tried the tracing functionality built into Inkscape 0.48 and Illustrator CS6 but was only able to obtain paths with anchors at the boundaries, plus fill and no stroke. Needless to say, the resulting svg is not clean (path has varying width) and it's size is roughly four times that of the Obama signature.

Do any tools exist that decently can trace a scanned signature/line art as strokes, not as paths? If not, how would I go about creating the strokes manually -- with the illustrator pen tool?

share|improve this question would this help? – Jenna Dec 1 '13 at 14:33
@JennaDesign No, I've followed these steps before. As you can see at, it's a fill not a stroke – Frank Dec 1 '13 at 14:51
My bad, I thought that he mentioned some other options before getting to the fill. Hmm maybe apply the stroke in Photoshop and the make a vector of that. I haven't done this before just saw it and thought of ya. Good luck! – Jenna Dec 1 '13 at 14:57
You'll have to manually draw the strokes with the Pen Tool in Illustrator. For information on how to use the Pen Tool, check the help files. – SOIA Dec 1 '13 at 16:18
FWIW, rarely would a signature make sense as a single stroke. Nearly all signatures will have line variances due to writing style, ink, pen, paper types, etc. – DA01 Dec 2 '13 at 20:08

2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Centerline Tracing

The method you are looking for is "centerline tracing". This converts a bitmap to a vector line rather than object graphic. Only few tracers will be able to do that.

There is a free Open Source tool AutoTrace which is able to do this fairly well but with limitations depending on the source image quality. Tracing the signature you provided as a JPEG-image will lead to lots of artifacts. These are the steps I took to get a single line vector image from your example:

  1. Reduce the image information as far as possible leaving 2 colors (object, background) only:

    enter image description here
    Best and fastest results were obtained by tracing the bitmap to an object vector graphic. This was then exported as PNG bitmap again as shown above

  2. Run AutoTrace with at least the following options:

    autotrace -centerline -color-count 2 -output-file output.svg -output-format SVG input.png 

    enter image description here

  3. Fine tune the strokes and add the desired stroke strenght:

    enter image description here

In case we are not so happy with the command line we may also install the graphical frontend Frontline for AutoTrace.

Binaries for Windows are available from the project's SourceForge page, Linux users may be able to install it from their default repositories. There also is an online version for testing.

share|improve this answer
EXCELLENT. Thank you, +10 If i could. You saved me many hours of work with the autotrace.. – jm666 Sep 4 at 15:25
Note that autotrace is outdated (still in beta, and the last version was released in 2002). – whoKnows Oct 10 at 12:51
@whoKnows: an application being no longer actively developed is not really uncommon for Open Source projects. As long as it works without issues, who cares? – Takkat Oct 10 at 15:46
@Takkat it's homepage ( indicates it is incomplete. But I agree: as long as it works, who cares! – whoKnows Oct 10 at 17:13

This may not be the best of most efficient method; of course it depends on what exact result you wish for. But here is what I do:

I take the file into photoshop, fiddle with the levels and brightness-contrast to get a high contrast image.

enter image description here

Then I make it black and white and maybe fiddle a little more on contrast. Then I remove the background (the white) with the selection tool, and save it as an image with transparency, for example png.

Then, in illustrator I go choose the tracing options; and here you can play around depending on if you want a vector stroke or fill.

Stroke: enter image description here


enter image description here

Hope this helps.

share|improve this answer

protected by Darth_Vader Jun 27 '14 at 14:04

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.