How to Trace an Image in Illustrator

Turn your sketches into clean line art!
Ash Ash (362)
10 minutes

With Adobe Illustrator, you can trace any image using various drawing tools and layers. Any version of Illustrator will work, but sometimes menus move between different editions.

Adobe IllustratorAdobe Illustrator ×1

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Trace Image Illustrator

Open the image you want to trace in Adobe Illustrator. You can drag and drop the image file on to the workspace or open it using the File > Open menu. You may want to adjust the artboard size before you continue—read more about how to use the artboard in Illustrator here.

Illustrator Line Art Tools

Choose a tool to trace the image with. You can use the Pen Tool to create lines, the Shape Tool for an abstract approach, or even the Brush Tool. Each tool has its own benefit. You may enjoy using a combination of tools to achieve a specific effect.

Trace With Cursor Illustrator

Images can be traced using a cursor. Any accessory will work—a mouse, a trackball, or even a trackpad on a laptop.

  1. Create a new layer just for the traced linework.
  2. Select a tool to trace with.
  3. Set a color for the lines.
  4. Trace the image.
Tablet Trace Illustrator

If you own a graphics tablet, you can use it to trace the image in Illustrator.

  1. Drag the Illustrator window over to the tablet screen.
  2. Create a new layer for your tracing lines.
  3. Select a tool to trace with.
  4. Choose a color for the lines.
  5. Trace the image with the tablet pen.
Delete Layer Illustrator

When the tracing is complete, remove the original image by hiding or deleting the layer.

Illustrator Line Art

With the original image removed, minor mistakes are more visible. This is a good opportunity to clean up your linework and add final details.

Save your tracing with File > Save. You can use other applications, like Photoshop, to apply final touches. Take your finished work a step further by including a transparent background.

Visual perforation.
Ash Ash (362)
5 minutes

Adobe Illustrator makes it easy to create custom dotted lines. Any version of Adobe Illustrator will work for this guide, but I'll be using Illustrator 2020 in the examples.