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How to edit drawings in Illustrator with Image Trace

Artist Anna Wray shows you how to retain the hand-drawn, linear quality of your artwork in Adobe Illustrator.

At any mention of Adobe Illustrator, images spring to mind of smooth lines, flat colour and vector style illustrations. Which is nice, of course... but a bit limiting.

Artwork that is edited or created in Illustrator does not always have to have the same 'vector look'.

Adobe's software is also a powerful tool for artists who draw by hand, preferring sketchbooks, ink and pencil to a screen but who still like the flexibility, unlimited undos, and labour-saving benefits of using Adobe Illustrator.

The Image Trace tool is an excellent tool for illustrators who want to retain the integral hand-drawn linear quality of their artwork, in this tutorial I will run you through the steps of how to do just that...

01. Create the artwork

Create the artwork in your usual hand-drawn way. This image is drawn in my sketchbook in pencil and then painted with ink using a fine brush - it's a drawing for the cover of my new book, 'This belongs to me'. Scan the image in hi-res JPG or TIFF at 300dps, drag and drop into an open Illustrator page or go to Image>Place.

02. Add any extra artwork

I have purposely left the central area of the rucksack blank as I want to add hand-drawn type. I have drawn the type separately as I want to be able to edit, tweak and recompose the type in Illustrator. Open a separate document and do exactly the same with the hand-drawn type.

03. Convert to vector

Click on your image using the black selection tool, go to Object>Image Trace>Make. What you are doing here is converting a pixel-based image into a vector. This will give you the freedom of not being restricted by resolution, you can make your image or elements of the image dramatically larger without the pixelation that occurs in Photoshop. As with any vector the more contrast and less tone in your original image the better, Illustrator can't deal with subtle tonal values so line drawing and ink are perfect here.

04. Choose level

At the top toolbar under Preset you have different levels, I have chosen the Technical Drawing setting as I find it the most accurate but you can experiment with all settings and just undo (Edit>Undo).

05. Unlock the vector

Once you are happy go to Object>Image Trace>Expand. This unlocks the vector but you will find that Illustrator will always group all the elements together, so you will need to highlight the entire image and ungroup - I find I need to ungroup several times to ungroup the image. Then are now ready to edit.

06. Merge the images

I now want to add the words to my rucksack, I do this by selecting the word and simply dragging and dropping (or copy and pasting) onto my rucksack image. To make life easier for myself I have grouped all the words so I can pick them up without having to select every individual word.

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07. Experiment until happy

Using the selection tool and holding down Shift and dragging the corner of the selected work you can now make the work larger or smaller whilst keeping the proportions the same. I use these commands to completely rearrange and experiment with my type until I am happy with the composition, which is so much easier than doing all this by hand where I get one chance alone!

08. Tidy up

After showing my book editor the draft she suggests getting rid of the stripes and making the buckles smaller (this would have been a total pain if it was an original drawing but easy to change digitally). Using the Eraser tool I rub the stripes out; make sure you zoom in close in order to be the most accurate.

Step 9

Next I need to make the buckles smaller. When you click on them the buckles are an integral part of the rest of the image so I need to separate them using the knife tool to be able to pick them up and decrease them in size, click on the Eraser tool and the Knife option will pop up, the drag the knife over the part of the image you want to cut out.

10. Finish

You can now select the cut-out image and make it smaller by using the Selection tool and pressing shift, you can also hover the mouse over the corner until you get a curved icon to change the angle.  You will find that you need to tidy up where there are now gaps, do this easily using the Paintbrush tool and the Eraser tool. With just a few simple skills using the Image Trace tool you can make your life so much easier as an illustrator working with hand drawings.

The beauty is that the image still has no trace of the digital look and retains your hand-drawn style completely. Now you need not redo hand drawings again and again to correct mistakes or make adjustments. Result!

Words: Anna Wray

Anna Wray is an illustrator/author and a visiting lecturer on the Ba(Hons) Illustration at Cambridge school of art. Check out her work and writing on her website.

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