I am trying to convert a PDF map into SVG to then send it out to the laser cutter. I have been using the Image Trace tool with the "technical drawing" presets (and a bit of tweaking), which give more or less the result I want. None the less, there is a lot of cleaning required after this step: there are lines overlapping each other, breaks in the lines, etc. (see pictures below) So I was wondering if there is another tool, or set of procedures than can cleanly convert a PDF or JPEG or other pixel based map into SVG.

The goal is to then automate these steps so that virtually any map can be processed.

Here are pictures of 1) the original file, 2) how it looks after Image Trace, 3) how it looks after manually cleaning it, and how it should be more or less for laser cutting:

EDIT: I think the key in this project is really to have good files to start with. The US Census site has a bunch of maps (including Congressional District) in various formats. Mike Bostock provides a very useful tutorial for converting shapefiles (.shp) to SVG, and even more. Just Google "Command-Line Cartography".


3 Answers 3


Given the simplicity of the areas required for your map i would suggest drawing them in a vector based application such as Adobe Illustrator using the .

Another but by no means efficient method would be to open the Image in photoshop and using the Hue/Saturation tool to greyscale the image, then use Image Levels to improve the contrast and the areas color. You could then use Image Trace in Illustrator.. but this method while appears like a quick fix from simple Google Search Results, won't give you great results.

Assuming your PDF isn't already vector shapes (in which case you can just open it in Illustrator) i would highly suggest just drawing these shapes.

  • Thanks for the suggestion, but drawing the outlines of the map is not scalable, as I am trying to find a set of procedures I can then automate and apply to any map... Maybe you know of specific settings in Image Trace or other tools that could work well?
    – samzmann
    Nov 28, 2016 at 16:27
  • @LaVielle good luck with that if its not vector then it may or may not work out at all.
    – joojaa
    Nov 28, 2016 at 17:53

Did you grab a congressional district map just as an example, or will this project be using this type of map?

If you are making CD maps, then you should be able to find vector versions at a state or federal level -- don't use raster and convert with image trace! If vectors are unavailable you should certainly be able to find map shapefiles which can be converted to vector. Census.gov in the geography section has these for sure. They may be available on state government sites as well.

I'm not a map expert but check out quantumGIS (or search 'shapefiles to ai' or shapefiles to vector, there may be other tools for this).

  • I have looked for vector maps and have found good ones but I was still wondering if there was an easy way for converting PDFs and such. I will definitely check out those sites, thanks!
    – samzmann
    Nov 30, 2016 at 18:42

One option is to isolate each color and trace color shape, not the already drawn outline, because it will be broken.

Option two, buy an already vectorized map.

Not "every" map can be vectorized. depends on the quality of the source material.

A lot of work done on this kind of projects is done by hand. And that is option three, which is the most viable. It requires an initial effort but if you want top profit from it it can worth it.

Lasser cutting also needs some minimal dimensions, so a hand vectorized map will give you flexibility in making some shapes less detailed, for example, to make an more abscract map.

See if the user licence accept this kind of usage.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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