Tutorial: Converting pixel images into vector graphics with Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign

from December 9th, 2015 Know-how 5 comments

Most graphics and images are created in a pixelated form. However, for certain purposes it makes sense to use vector graphics, or can even be essential. Two examples are for the application of special colours or for printing and stitching textiles. In the production of individually-designed T-shirts, jackets or blouses, paths are needed around which the printing or embroidery machine can orientate. If you have pixel graphics that you want to use on clothing, these need to be converted into vector graphics. The best program to use for this is Adobe Illustrator, although it is also possible in Photoshop and InDesign.

For the tutorial, the Adobe Creative Cloud versions have been used.



  • Select the object with the selection tool.
  • Select an option from the dropdown menu next to “Image trace”. In the example we have selected “High Photo Fidelity”. (Alternatively: via Object > Image trace > Create)
  • This gives you a preview. By pressing the button ‘Expand’, your object is converted into paths.
  • Now all the components of your graphic can be grouped together and you can scale them as you wish without compromising the quality. If you only want to edit individual elements, you can right click to select the option ‘Ungroup’.
  • Save the file as PDF/X-3:2002.
Pixelbilder umwandeln in Vektorgrafiken mit Illustrator



  • Select the pen tool.
  • Use this to trace the outlines of the graphic step by step. With straight lines, as in our example, this is relatively simple: just mark the corners. Curves are a little more challenging. Hold down the mouse button to trace these.
  • If you use the freeform pen tool, make sure that the ‘Magnetic’ option is activated.
  • Double-click on ‘Work Path’ on the ‘Paths’ tab and rename the path in the window that opens.
  • Click on ‘Clipping path’ in the path menu. Confirm in the window that opens by clicking ‘OK’. There is no need to enter anything into the ‘Flatness’ field.
  • Save the file as PDF/X-3:2002.



  • Insert the motif and select it using the selection tool.
  • Select ‘Detect Edges’ under Object > Clipping path > Options.
  • Set the threshold and tolerance so that your graphic is encompassed by the path as precisely as possible. Make sure you tick the box beside ‘Preview’. In our example, we have input the following settings: threshold 35, tolerance 0.
  • Confirm with ‘OK’.
  • Export the file as PDF/X-3:2002.
If you would like to give the motif new colours:

  • Right click and select ‘Convert clipping path into frame’.
  • Delete the original image.
  • Now you can colour the path.

A general rule: the simpler the graphic, the easier it is to vectorise. Photos, for example, are therefore not suitable for vectorising. They consist of too many pixels, which makes the creation of a path difficult.

Have you converted your graphic into a vector file and are now looking for individualised items of clothing? At flyeralarm.com you will find a large selection of T-shirts, shirts, jackets and accessories for both men and women, which you can design as you wish.


About Raphael

Is most interested in new techniques and applications – all those things that can be printed on, besides paper. He writes according to the motto: What’s better than a funny, witty or completely absurd word game? That's right – two of them.


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