Learn to Use Live Trace and Boost Your Designs

By Freepik 1 year ago

We know that working with Live Trace isn’t always an easy task, it requires being extremely careful with details and that’s a lot of work. At Freepik, we want you to give your best and create amazing designs, that’s why we’ve prepared this tutorial where we show you how to use Live Trace feature in Illustrator. Get ready to learn!

Before tracing, there are two important steps you need to follow:

1. Scanning: mind the resolution 

Fine-tuning the file before tracing is essential to get a quality-traced artwork. First of all, turn your image into a digital file. If you are working with watercolor illustrations or stains, use the scanner. It’s essential you scan it at a high resolution, around 600 ppi. 

However, when it comes to textures and charcoal sketches, the best option is to take quality photos to avoid losing details after scanning.

In this post, we will be live-tracing the following image:

watercolor raster image

2. Photoshop: prepare your image for tracing

Once you scan or photograph your artwork, bring it to Photoshop. Clean the image well and use the image settings to adjust it (levels, saturation, contrast, brightness, sharpness,…). Cleaning up the image is important for getting a properly traced work in Illustrator.

  • Brightness and contrast

To get a much whiter background, increase the brightness parameter (pick a value between 0 and 20) and reduce the contrast (between 0 and -30) to give more details to the watercolor.

brightness/contrast adjustment

Brightness/Contrast settings

  • Hue and saturation

You can skip this step if your image’s quality is good. However, it’s possible that the scan affects hues, resulting in muted colors. If that happens, we recommend you to improve the quality with some saturation adjustments.

Important info: avoid oversaturating your image, otherwise, hues will overlap and color nuances will disappear.

hue and saturation adjustment

Hue/Saturation settings

  • Levels

In this last step, we will modify the levels to make the background as white and clean as possible and get the highest level of detail in the image. Make sure the black and white sliders fit the data in the histogram; otherwise, you will lose information in your image.

levels adjustment

levels settings

This is the ideal time to make any color adjustments in Photoshop. Changing color in Illustrator is tiresome and complicated, so get your file ready before moving on to the next step.

When saving the image, make sure you set quality to 8 (high quality) or 10 (maximum quality) depending on the device you are working with, as your computer may run slow when working with large files.

Illustrator: time to live-trace your image

Once the image is clean and properly adjusted, export it to Illustrator. Bring it to a new artboard and select a suitable size for the tracing process (you can also choose a canvas with a minimum size of A4). Then, go to Object > Image Trace > Make.

We just converted our raster image into vector artwork. At this point, you need to modify different parameters to get an optimal result. We recommend you to choose High Fidelity Photo from the Preset drop-down menu to get a quality composition. Also, make sure you reduce the Noise parameter to its minimum and focus on increasing the Colors value (between 70%-80%) to avoid white spots and infinite anchor points. Be careful not to set Colors to 100% because the more color, the larger your file will become.

image trace settings

When you finish adjusting the Image Trace settings, convert the tracing result into paths. You can do this by clicking on Expand directly from the Control panel or by choosing Object > Live Trace > Expand. After that, right-click and select Ungroup to work with the components of the traced artwork individually.


Make sure to clean up the resulting image properly. To remove the white background without leaving unwanted spots, insert an additional layer below, and use a neutral and contrasting color. This way, you will be able to identify these undesired areas quickly.

cleaned-up image

Use the Eraser tool to delete edges and irregular paths, or the Pencil tool to smooth edges and imperfections.

traced image no imperfections

Remember that, after tracing your image, you cannot scale it up. If your composition is a stains collection, don’t forget to group each of them separately.

Choose a light background or a texture simulating watercolor paper to make the watercolors stand out and look great.

watercolor stain collection

Things to remember:

Tip 1: Make sure your initial file is suitable for tracing, meaning that it has quality, proper resolution, and adequate size

Tip 2: Too many adjustments in Photoshop will cause the image to lose detail, so, keep it simple

Tip 3: When working in Illustrator, try to use the recommended values and clean up the image properly

We really hope that you found it useful and that you apply it to your personal designs. We’re looking forward to seeing what you can do! Create unique traced images, share them on Freepik and start making money! If you aren’t a Freepik Contributor yet and want to join us, click on the button below and begin your creative journey with us!

Become a contributor now!

By Freepik



Reply to imrohit


1 year ago


Reply to Renata


1 year ago

Hello! i do the same with my watercolour illustrations or separate elements but editors always rejecting this uploads (traced) with the reason: Auto traced vector file.
This is not clear, not honest, not decent.

very sad(((

Reply to Mai


1 year ago


Reply to Mustafa


11 months ago

I have use this Way, but My Watercolor Vector Rejected wit Reason " Live Trace". So, im not clear about it...

Reply to Medadvicees


5 months ago

Is it a raster image? First, make sure the image is actually vector data. To do that, select the image (with the Selection tool

Reply to Mamun Hossain

Mamun Hossain

2 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Reply to zeropixel


2 months ago


Reply to pdstock


1 day ago

very helpful thank you