Illustrators and cartoonists looking for an easy way to convert their raster images to vector should definitely get their hands on Cocoapotrace. (Tip o’ the hat to Ray Frenden for the heads-up on this application!)
Cocoapotrace supports JPEG, TIFF, PNG, GIF, JP1, PICT, BMP, QTIF, and PSD files and will output the resultant vectorized file as an EPS.
Before I take a closer look at the program, let’s step back and look at raster vs. vector.
Below is an image I drew using Corel Painter X:
It doesn’t look half bad until I zoom into the drawing, whereupon you can start to see “jaggies”. This is a function of raster-based images, which are based on pixels.
Here is the same image, after using Cocoapotrace to convert it into a vector-based file.
When I zoom in, notice how sharp the line quality looks. There’s nary a jagged pixel to be found, and that’s because the file uses curves instead of points to display the line. We call these curve-based images vectorized.
The advantage of a vectorized file over its raster counterpart is simple. Since the vectorized image is based on curves, the image can be scaled up and down with no affect on quality while maintaining the same file size. So an 11″ x 17″ vectorized image would be no more heavier than a 300 x 300 sized vector image.
Now that we’ve covered the basics between raster and vector, let’s look at Cocoapotrace. Below is a screen capture of the main Cocoapotrace window. To convert an image to vector, you simply drag your bitmap image to the left box (labeled bitmap). You can fiddle with the settings, but I kept the default values and hit the Update button.
Within seconds your file is converted to a vector format. You can now save it out as an EPS (Encapsulated PostScript) file and take it into Illustrator.
Documentation for Cocoapotrace is non-existent. I suspect that trial-and-error is the only way to determine how the various settings will affect the vectorized drawing. But, on the plus side, it’s free.
Cocoapotrace is built for MacOS X, but its Windows counterpart, dubbed Potrace, is also available. From what I’ve seen, this program is light years ahead of using Illustrator’s “Live Trace” option.
In summary, while the documentation leaves a lot to be desired, Cocoapotrace does a superb job of converting raster-based images to vector ones.
Check it out!