How to vectorize an image in Adobe Photoshop.
Learn how to change raster or pixel images into vector graphics.
What are vector graphics?
Vector graphics are digital designs that stay sharp at any size. Two-dimensional digital images are either vectors or rasters. Raster images, also known as bitmap images, are made up of pixels, which stay the same size as you zoom in and out of an image. This means that blowing these images up or zooming in can cause pixelation as the pixels become more visible.
Vector images, however, are made up of geometric polygons and colors, and thanks to the mathematical equations behind them, they adjust to stay crisp and clean at any size. This makes them popular assets in graphic design and digital arts. Logos, fonts, and icons are usually vector graphics.
When to use vector images.
Vectors are a great format for any image that has to change size, like logos and graphics that have to look good in a variety of contexts. The same logo might show up on business cards, t-shirts, coffee mugs, and billboards.
When to use raster images.
Raster images excel at holding detail. Digital photos and paintings are raster graphics. Creating an image out of thousands upon thousands of pixels means you can show off light, shadows, color, and contrasts in a more meticulous way than you can with the equations that make up vector images.
The path to vectors.
Photoshop primarily works with raster images, whereas Adobe Illustrator is the go-to Adobe Creative Cloud app for vector art. In either app, the edges of a vector image can be delineated by a path — that is, a line with anchor points at two ends. Defining paths on an image is an important part of going from raster to vector in Photoshop.
Why go from raster to vector?
If you’d like to create a scalable logo out of an existing photo or illustration in Photoshop, you’ll need to convert it to a vector. This is also a useful task if you’re looking to create simplified image files to use with a laser engraver or cutting machine to create precisely cut pieces of vinyl or other materials.
How to turn a raster image into a vector image in Photoshop.
You can vectorize an image fairly quickly in Illustrator using the Image Trace feature. But if you’d like to work in Photoshop, follow these steps to go from pixels to scalable vectors. You’ll have to simplify your image and add paths that define where the vector begins and ends.
In the end, each shape that makes up your new vector image can only be one color. So in order to convert the thousands of colored pixels in a photograph into a vector, you must first simplify your image into one foreground color and one background color, like black and white. You can choose a new color for each piece of your new vector image after it’s been converted. Multicolored photos are harder (but not impossible) to convert than a single-color illustration or graphic.
Pick an image and give it a try with these steps:
1. Open your image.
Import the image you want to vectorize into Photoshop.
2. Select the part of the image you want to vectorize.
Choose the section you want to vectorize with an appropriate selection tool. If you want to select a rectangular area, use the Rectangular Marquee tool. If you want everything of a particular color, use the Magic Wand tool. If you just want to vectorize the subject of the image, Use the Select Subject command.
3. Add a Threshold layer.
To convert your selection into a single-color image, add a new Threshold layer using the Layers panel, and select Create New Fill or Adjustment layer. You choose the threshold with the slider, and all pixels lighter than that tone become white, while all pixels darker become black.
4. Select Tonal Areas with the Color Range Command.
Use the Color Range command to make a selection that includes all pixels that share a similar color. You’ll want to select all of the white or black in your image depending on which part you’d like to vectorize. Go to Select › Color Range. Use the Eyedropper tool to select either the white or black area.
5. Convert your selection into a path.
Right-click inside your selection and choose Make Work Path to set a tolerance value for your path. A tolerance value determines how much your path should stick to the contours of the selection. The higher the tolerance value, the more precisely the path will match the selection.
6. Create a solid color layer.
Go to the Layers panel and create a new Fill layer or Adjustment layer. Choose Solid Color from the menu. This new layer defines the shape of the vector on top of the Threshold layer. It can be any color you like.
7. Save the Vector Image as an SVG file.
Right-click on the layer, select Export As, and choose SVG file. You now have a vector file.
Vector and raster tutorials.
Get more details on how to use and create vector drawings with these Photoshop tutorials.
Raster and vector facts.
Dive deeper into the difference between raster and vector graphics.
Create with vector graphics.
Explore how to incorporate logos, icons, and other vector assets into your Photoshop projects.
Frequently asked questions.
Photoshop Express doesn’t allow you to vectorize an image at this time. Vectorizing images is currently limited to the desktop version of Photoshop.
You cannot currently vectorize an image in Photoshop on the iPad. Instead, download Illustrator on the iPad (link to: https://www.adobe.com/products/illustrator/ipad.html) as part of your Creative Cloud subscription.
Yes, you can. Select a tracing type that supports transparency from the available options in the Trace Bitmap dialog window. Select “High Color” or “Low Color” to preserve transparency during the vectorization process.
Prepare the image to be vectorized by using the Image Size window (Ctrl + Alt + I) and set the resolution to 300. Separate the image you want to vectorize from the background. Either make a selection and copy it to a new layer or remove the background.
The next step is to make a work oath by clicking the layer icon on the Layers panel while holding down the ctrl or cmd key. This creates a selection of the image. Use the Marquee Tool (M) to move the cursor over to the selection and right-click. Choose Make Work Path from the menu. Keep your Tolerance at 1.0.
Press A to switch to the Direct Selection tool and right-click on the image. Create a vector mask. This will now show up in the Layers panel. Export your file as an .eps file to further edit in Illustrator by going to File > Save As and choosing Photoshop EPS as the format.
As long as the vector image is in .pds format and uses shape layers, you can edit it in Adobe Photoshop. Otherwise, it’s recommended to use Illustrator.
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