By Steve Bain
In the publishing world, it happens all too often. Someone sends you a low-qualitly logo image at the last minute, when what you really need is a digital vector file — preferably in the proper colors. If you’ve run into this scenario before, you may already know how time-consuming the manual-conversion process can be. In this tutorial, I’ll build on my previous PowerTRACE installment by showing you how easily PowerTRACE can convert pixels to vector shapes.
We’ll tackle a bitmap-tracing project that will enable you to quickly produce an accurate two-color vector version of a logo design. Along the way, you’ll learn how to use many of the powerful new features engineered into PowerTRACE that make the process fast and efficient.
Adapting images from the physical world into the digital vector realm often requires hours of work and a mastery of drawing tools. If you own a recent version of CorelDRAW (X3 and later), consider the hard labor largely a thing of the past.
Somewhere down the line you will end up with a pixel-based image to work with. Although pixel-based bitmap images have revolutionized digital communications in no small way, they remain incompatible with more than a few output technologies.
A Primer on PowerTRACE
If this is your first tracing experience using PowerTRACE, some advance orientation may help demystify the tools involved. With a bitmap selected in CorelDRAW, PowerTRACE becomes available through the Trace Bitmap command.
There are six PowerTRACE modes you can choose from depending on your tracing requirements. The window (shown below) is divided into two basic areas. The left side of the PowerTRACE window displays a preview of your trace results while the right side features two tabbed option areas.
Across the top of the window are viewing and zoom tools while across the bottom are progress and Undo, Redo, and Reset command buttons (as shown below).
If you have previous experience applying bitmap filter effects in CorelDRAW or PHOTO-PAINT, the PowerTRACE tools will seem like familiar territory. The Options tab is divided into several key areas including the trace controls, color mode, and trace options. The Trace Result Details area (shown below) plays a key role in providing critical information as you adjust the tracing options.
The Color tab includes resources to manipulate the color space of the traced results. Follow the tutorial steps below to explore how easily these tools can be applied and modified to produce exactly the tracing results you need. In this particular exercise, I’m using CorelDRAW X3, but similar results will apply to more recent versions of the program.
Before You Begin
The bitmap image you may be tracing in PowerTRACE will very likely come from one of two sources: either prepared or exported in a one of the many available bitmap formats from any drawing or bitmap-editing application, or via an image-capturing device such as a scanner or digital camera.
The source of your bitmap image can significantly influence the inherent quality of the image and each has its own characteristics. Software-sourced bitmaps are the best to work with, while scanned images often require some refinement before they can be accurately traced. In the tutorial steps that follow, we’ll look at both scenarios.
Download and extract these sample logos saved in Corel PHOTO-PAINT format to get started. As you’ll see, both are CMYK bitmaps that include an image resolution of 200 dpi and depict the same logo. The first version we’ll trace was exported from a drawing program (CorelDRAW) while the second was scanned using a consumer brand flatbed scanner. Our goal will be to produce a useable vector version of the logo prepared using two specific Pantone spot ink colors.
Tracing an Exported Bitmap
- In a new CorelDRAW document, import the sample_logo_1.cptbitmap (shown below) onto your blank page.
- By default, the imported bitmap is currently selected with the Pick Tool. Click the Trace Bitmap button in the Property Bar, and choose Logofrom the drop-down menu that opens (as shown below).
- Notice PowerTRACE immediately launches and produces a preliminary trace of the bitmap. Notice the Smoothing and Detail sliders at the top of the Options tab are automatically set to their optimum settings. The preview currently shows a split screen preview of the Before and After results (as shown below) and the Trace Result Detailsarea indicates there are 10 curves comprised of a total of 169 nodes and 3 colors.
- Since the background of our logo sample is white, PowerTRACE automatically detects and eliminates the surrounding background color. To remove the white area in the interior of the bitmap, choose the Remove Color From Entire Image option (shown below). Notice the trace preview now indicates the white background in these areas and the Trace Result Detailsarea now indicates only 7 curves are detected.
- To explore the tracing accuracy, choose Preview > Wireframe Overlay and use single left-button clicks to zoom in and single right-button clicks to zoom out to examine the accuracy of the traced paths. If needed, use the Transparency slider to adjust the visibility of the original bitmap. A close look at the upper-left corner (shown below) reveals the bitmap edges have been accurately traced.
- Click the Color tab to examine the color results of the trace. Notice three CMYK colors are listed at the top (as shown next). Our next step will be to specify these colors as Pantone spot ink colors.
- Click the turquoise color in the list and click the Edit button to open the Select Color dialog (shown below). Click the Palettes tab and choose Pantone Solid Coated from the Palette menu. Notice the Pantone ink color equivalent of the CMYK value is automatically selected – in this case Pantone 319 C.
- Enter 318 in the Name field and click OK to close the dialog and apply Pantone 318 Cas the new color. Notice the color list (shown below) and the trace preview is updated to indicate the ink color you applied.
- Click the dark blue color in the list and repeat the previous steps to change this color to Pantone 274 C. You are now ready to accept the trace results.
- Click the OK button in the PowerTRACE window to return to your CorelDRAW page. By default, PowerTRACE places the tracing objects as a group directly on top of your traced bitmap. Drag the group to one side to see both the original bitmap and the trace objects (as shown next). The vector version of your two-color logo is now complete. If you wish, delete the bitmap version from your CorelDRAW page.
Tracing a Scanned Bitmap
In the previous steps, you traced a bitmap that originated from a drawing or bitmap-editing application. Next, we’ll examine how to work with the same logo image scanned from a color hard copy and saved in the same bitmap format.
- To begin the process, import sample_logo_2.cpt into your CorelDRAW document and choose Detailed Logo from the Trace Bitmap menu in the Property Bar. PowerTRACE launches and a preliminary trace is immediately produced. Here we see the Trace Result Details area displays 113 curves, 7707 nodes, and 15 are detected (as shown below). At this point we could adjust the Smoothing and Detailsliders to adjust the trace results and likely produce excellent results, but here’s a chance for you to learn an alternate strategy.
- To refine our scanned image and improve our trace results, we’re going to apply a bitmap filter. Open sample_logo_2.cptin Corel PHOTO-PAINT. As you can see, this version includes hard copy and scanning imperfections (see below). Eliminating these anomalies will drastically improve the tracing results.
- Choose Effects > Blur > Smart Blur to open the Smart Blur filter dialog (shown below). Set the slider to 60 and click OK to apply the effect. This operation will eliminate most – but not all – of the image’s imperfections.
- Choose Effects > Noise > Remove Noise to open the Remove Noise filter dialog (shown below). Leave the Autooption selected, and click the OK button to apply the filter. This will eliminate virtually all of the remaining imperfections. Save the image and return to CorelDRAW.
- In CorelDRAW, import the newly adjusted version of your scanned sample logo onto a blank page. With the image selected, this time we will choose Detailed Logo from the Trace Bitmapmenu in the Property Bar (as shown below) to demonstrate other key PowerTRACE features.
- PowerTRACE opens and the trace results are displayed and once again the Smoothing and Detail sliders settings are optimized. With Detailed Logo selected, notice the Trace Result Detailsarea now shows 11 curves, 236 nodes, and 9 colors detected (as shown below).
- Choose the Remove Color From Entire Image option to eliminate the interior background shapes and notice the curve count is reduced.
- Click the Color tab to view the colors detected in the trace. Hold your Ctrl key and click on each of the turquoise colors in the list to select all three colors. Click the Merge button located below the list to combine these colors into a single color (as shown below). With the single color still selected, click the Edit button to open the Select Color dialog and change this color to Pantone 318 Cas you did in the previous steps.
- Repeat the previous step for the navy blue colors in the list changing them to a single color. Edit the leftover color and change it to Pantone 274 C. Merge the remaining white colors in the list. You are now ready to accept the trace results.
- Click OK to close the PowerTRACE and return to your CorelDRAW document. Drag the grouped trace objects from in front of the original bitmap and examine the results (shown below). Your tracing operation is complete. If you wish, delete the bitmap version from your CorelDRAW page.
Although each bitmap candidate may require its own special handing requirements, you can see how powerful and easy to use these new PowerTRACE features are. In only a few short steps, you’ve learned how to use PowerTRACE to produce an accurately traced version of a complex logo using only a low-resolution bitmap as the source.
Steve Bain is an award-winning illustrator and designer, and an author of nearly a dozen books, including CorelDRAW®: The Official Guide.