Have you ever tried to use a raster image (JPEG, PNG) in Illustrator and couldn’t use the Pathfinder tools or couldn’t drag your pattern into the Swatches panel? It often happens because some tools don’t work with raster images (JPGs, PNGs) and you will have to vectorize them first.
In today’s tutorial, I want to show you how to vectorize watercolors in Illustrator. This will help you scale your watercolors and you will have an easier time creating watercolor patterns.
Watercolor textures and illustrations can have many details and that means that your vector files can get pretty big. It’s really important to find a balance between the quality of your watercolor vector and file size.
When I use watercolors, I like to work with Photoshop, especially when I make patterns. But it’s a good idea to know how to vectorize watercolors in Illustrator in case you might need larger images.
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How to vectorize watercolors in Illustrator
Open your watercolor illustration in Illustrator.
The watercolor texture I’m going to use was scanned at 300 DPI and cleaned in Photoshop. Then I saved it as a transparent background PNG and opened it using Illustrator.
Select the watercolor and click on the arrow next to Image Trace. Choose High Fidelity Photo from the drop-down menu.
Because most watercolors have so many details, tracing the image might take a lot of time.
After the image is vectorized, open the Image Trace panel by going to Windows > Image Trace or by clicking on the icon. Click on the arrow next to Advanced to view all the options.
When you vectorize watercolors using Illustrator, you have to keep an eye on the number of paths, anchors, and colors you have. You can see that at the bottom of the Image Trace panel. The more paths and colors you have, the larger your file will be.
Since high-resolution watercolors can have many colors and details, your files can go up to hundreds of megabytes.
The watercolor texture I used in this tutorial was scaled in Photoshop and it’s a pretty small files, but I won’t make a lot of changes to it.
One of the changes you can make is to increase the number of colors. Use the Color slider and move it up to 95% or even all the way to 100%.
If you want, you can also increase the number of Paths. If you move up the slider too much, your file might be too big. But if you don’t have enough paths, you might have empty areas in your vector.
I’m going to move the slider up to 60%.
When you are happy with the way your vector looks, close the Image Trace panel and click on Expand.
When you vectorize watercolors, even if they have a transparent background, the vector’s background will turn to white.
Use the Direct Selection (A) tool to click on the white background and then press Delete on your keyboard.
Next, I’m going to use the Rectangle Tool (M) to create a black background. This will help me see if there are any white edges and see the empty areas.
If there are white edges, use the Direct Selection tool to select them and then delete them.
The last thing we have to do is to fill the empty areas with color.
I do this by selecting each object next to the empty areas and then use the Brush tool, Pencil tool, or even the Delete Anchor Point tool to fill the areas.
Some of these areas are very small and it’s up to you if you want to fill them or leave them as they are.
When you are happy with your watercolor vector, save your file as a .ai file or as a .eps file.
My finished vector looks exactly like the original watercolor, but if you vectorize watercolors you will be able to scale them to any size and use them in all your Illustrator projects.
Do you work with watercolors in Illustrator or do you like to use Photoshop?