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Chapter Five

Using the Pen Tool: Tracing and Creating Vectors

Putting the pen tool into practice with this useful technique. This can be built upon to help create unique Logos, interesting artwork and original designs for almost anything you can think of. Then we'll look at how you can export those into vectors, and what vectors are.

Tracing Images

The Pen Tool is fantastic for tracing the outline of shapes such as images, logos and products. Simply import or copy and paste the image (available as a free download from the link above!) onto the art board and use the Pen Tool to trace the shape you want.

Pen Tool Outline Beginning
Pen Tool Outline Middle Adobe Illustrator Free Tutorial
Pen Tool Outline Image Adobe Illustrator Free Tutorial
Pen Tool Outline Closed Shape Adobe Illustrator Free Tutorial

To try this technique yourself, import the “Strawberry” file in the download into a new document and use the Pen Tool to trace around it.

Ideally, you need to keep the number of anchor points you place to a minimum. Anchor points increase file size and they make your final image more “jagged”.

You can then remove the background image by using the layers tab on the floating palette and clicking on the eye next to the image. This will hide the original image. You can see the image again by pressing in the empty box where the eye was. 

You can go into as much detail as you want with this project. Logos often look better if you keep it simple, however, later on when we learn about clipping masks, detail would be preferable for uses in photography.

Have a look at my example to the right, here I have not gone into too much detail around the edges of the strawberry, but I have included the pips. You can also add colour to the shapes if you want.

Layers Palette Adobe Illustrator Free Tutorial
Pen Tool Example Adobe Illustrator Free Tutorial


Using the tutorial above you will have created a Vector Graphic. But what IS a Vector Graphic, and what makes it preferable to a Jpeg, Tiff, BMP or any other "Rasterised" Image? 

A Vector File uses mathematics to plot where lines are, their direction and length. This means that when a vector image is enlarged it will not pixellate or lose quality. They are also easier to edit.

Vector Files can be used in 2D and 3D cad programs such as AutoCAD and Solidworks.

Vector Files are ideal for use in Logos and corporate branding, as they can be resized over and over again with no harmful effects.

Vector Files can also be transferred into rasterised images. Rasterised Images are made up of a certain number of coloured pixels. when you enlarge the image, the size of the pixels also increase, making the image look "blocky" and of poor quality. To get a good quality large image from a raster image the original picture needs to be large.

The most common types of Vector File are .EPS, .AI (Illustrator), and .PDF. PDFs can be rasterized images too, depending upon how the original PDF was created.

The most common rasterised file types are:

JPEG - Most usedful for getting a reasonable quality image with a small file size. Best for use on webpages.

PNG - Excelllent if you need a transparent background, for example if you need to place an image (such as a logo) over a coloured background on a website or presentation.

GIF - With a GIF the best way to achieve a good file size is to have an image with very few colours. GIFs use 256 colours, but for each one you use, the bigger the file size. This is ideal for low colour logos that need to be high quality, but not great for photographs .

TIFF - Tiff files are generally used for printing, as there is no loss of quality or compression of the image. The file sizes are too large to use for web purposes. 

BMP - Bitmaps (or BMPs)  are native to Windows. They are the precursor to the other file types, and do not compress the image. This means the files are larger, but very crisp. 

Illustrator uses predominantly .AI vector files. These files are only editable in Adobe Illustrator, which can prove to be a problem. therefore we are going to look at exporting Vector Files as standard .EPS files, which are editable in other vector programs.

Exporting Vectors

With your vector open, go to the file menu at the top of the screen and click on "Save". When the box pops up, name your file, but before you hit the save button, click on the drop down file type menu.

File>Save As Adobe Illustrator Free Tutorial
Save As Vector File .eps Adobe Illustrator Free Tutorial

Select the "Illustrator EPS option, and hit save.

Next, an options dialogue box will appear. Copy the settings from below and click "Ok".

And now you have exported an EPS file, that is compatible with many other editing softwares.

Vector Options .eps Adobe Illustrator Free Tutorial
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