I have a raster image, basically a scanned drawing of the outlines (and some detail) of various objects, and I wish to convert these lines to vectors, using either Illustrator or Inkscape.

My present solution is to have the raster image as a background layer, and in a new layer above it I use the pen to follow the lines as close as possible. Later I tweak these lines to fit the raster image better. That has worked fine for simple drawings. However for some of my extremely complex drawings, this is very tedious to do.

Is there any tool or filter of some sort that is capable of recognizing the lines in line drawings and creating vector paths from them?

  • I use Aspire. Although this program is paid software, it contains many powerful, useful tools that can often shorten the time a process takes. One of these tools is an auto-tracer that can trace raster designs into vectors. You can choose which shades, colors, or types of raster to trace, as well as the trace quality and even the static to delete. Commented May 21, 2018 at 20:33

5 Answers 5


In inkscape, you count on sort of Potrace(an excelent tracer, free) embedded there. Just go to top Path menu, vectorize. I've played quite with its settings, and while you won't get total control you can reduce it to quite an accurate result and few nodes. But you need to play a lot with the settings till you find the right ones for you. It worked for me for producing game line-art from rasters (in a very similar style to comics drawings)

Other ways I used is forcing Illustrator to do a kind of averaging, in stroke settings. And lately, using the free MyPaint, because it has quite a lot of settings(more than in many commercial packages) to control your stroke and does a fix in real time of the trembling stroke (btw, the reason why it takes more time inking with pen tablets is as the electro magnetic system andmaybe the resolution is not as accurate as your hand, pen and paper.Often a low resolution table, like Intuos Small, is not enough, and you need a bigger format for better control. IMHO, is best the biggest formats. (a lot of people think other way, but imho, for inking is just like that.))

  • I agree 100% with you regarding the size of the tablet and resulting resolution. A lot of people just give me blank stares when I try to explain this... +1 for all these neat alternatives to illustrators live trace. I had no idea. Thanks
    – leugim
    Commented Mar 18, 2011 at 14:40
  • Glad that it helped :) ; I also draw, and know the pains when inking with digital tablets... :) One note... When I mentioned Illustrator's averaging, was refering to going to preferences, and setting there how fine/smooth would be that stroke guessing. (As I mentioned, MyPaint, (raster, non vectorial app), has a lot more settings for that)
    – S.gfx
    Commented Mar 20, 2011 at 23:06
  • Thank you for mentioning Potrace. Just brew install'd it. In case anyone is confused by this tool's lack of an interface, it's because it's a command line tool. Here is a sample command to get you going in the right direction: potrace your-raster.bmp --output your-vector.svg -b svg Cheers.
    – gillytech
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 5:36

Illustrator has a feature called live trace. It sounds like it would be perfect for your case.

Place the source image. With the source image selected:

Object > Live Trace > Make.


Object > Live Trace > Tracing Options. Set tracing options, and then click Trace.

You can then convert the tracing to paths.


For Illustrator CS6 or Illustrator CC.....

Open or Place the raster image into Illustrator.

Select the image and click the Image Trace button in the Control Bar across the top of the screen.

To refine the tracing, choose Window > Image Trace and you can adjust the trace options in the Panel which opens.

In previous Illustrator versions there was Live Trace. However, the feature was completely rewritten, from the ground up, for Illustrator CS6. Image Trace performs the same basic functions as Live Trace used to. Although being similar to Live Trace, Image Trace is entirely different, with different logic, features, and options.

  • Not that it's really a problem, but how is your answer different from this one: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/a/1371/8845 Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 15:14
  • 1
    Different versions, Bart. Live Trace died at CS5, it's now Image Trace. True not a drastically different answer, but possibly helpful for those with Illustrator CS6 or CC who've been searching for a "Live Trace" option and not finding it.
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 15:44
  • I see. I just switched from CS5 to CS6 and haven't used Live/Image trace yet. Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 15:47
  • 1
    I clarified the answer a bit :)
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 16:08

I frequently have similar situations where I'm given some drawing -usually graphite pen drawings (sketchy, hairy lines sigh)- where drawing with the pen tool gets really tedious up to annoying.

I found my digital tablet to be very effective for tackling this situations. Even though I end up tracing the original image again, I do tend to have it done in less time than before. It took me usually up to 12-20 hours of work per sketch. Now I´m down to "just" 3-4hours.

I have done a few tries with livetrace in Illustrator but end up spending more time correcting or -in the best cases- using the results only partially.

For technical illustrations there seems to be no easy way around re-tracing the thing manually. At least I know of no automatic one.

Sometimes I'm able to take advantage of Rhinoceros which is a 3D software that allows you to export a view (perspective, parallel) of your model as vector lines (*.AI files). If you have some praxis in modeling you will be able to create the objects in 3D and take advantage of the possibility to export multiple views. Rhino-exported illustrator files still need some touching up. especially since lines tend to get very fragmented but at least you get a manageable amount of nodes (still more messy than tracing manually).

Hope this helps


First, prime your image to make the job of the raster-to-vector conversion utilities/ algorithms easier

  1. Scan your image as Black and White, and then as Grey Scale (sometimes one works better than the other). Scan at the highest resolution you can manage 600dpi or 1200dpi, if your computer can handle it.
  2. Use Image > Adjustments > Levels to correct for paper that is not completely white
    1. Optionally, adjust brightness/ contrast levels as well at this stage. You are trying to maximise the perceivable difference between the lines and the blank parts of your drwaing.
  3. Apply Posterize to accentuate the lines

Now apply the vectorize techniques as mentioned in previous answers. For Illustrator, Live Trace, followed by manual touch-ups works quite well.

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