There are many tools reserved for the lucky few who have the luxury to afford and use Adobe's Creative Suite. One of them is the livetrace tool in Illustrator. Using livetrace a photograph does not always work out quite that well, it also eats up all of your system resources to perform traces on highly detailed images. To that point, when I first saw Vector Magic, a project from Stanford University, I didn't think much of it at first. But after using it I can't help but highly recommend it!
- It's completely free.
- The software is web based so there is no installation and more importantly the processing is done remotely from my machine.
- It's incredibly easy, the process is straightforward and the UI guides you through every step clearly.
- Most importantly it works GREAT! I think it can trace photos better than illustrator's livetrace.
You can even share your images if you'd like. I tried it on one of my photos. You can see the results of a photo I took last week at Harvard Square.
One last thing.. why does one want to vectorize an image?
Traditionally, your photos are in a bitmap format: jpg, png, gif, bmp, etc. These formats store images as a big grid of dots. If you zoom in they become pixelated, which means you can see the individual dots (us computer folk call them pixels) that make up the photo.
A vector image is made up of little drawings. A vector image format (eps or svg files in most cases) stores a bunch of lines and points that make up these little scribbles (us computer folk call them vectors) that collectively make up the picture.
The difference between the two is that when you scale a bitmap, the computer has to essentially invent new dots on the fly, the problem is it doesn't know what those dots should be. The result is a blurry or blocky looking picture. With vectors however, you can scale the image and the computer simply knows to redraw the vector bigger. So you can make the image ten times it's original size it stays just as sharp as the original size. And that's the primary benefit to using Vector Magic. Go ahead, give it a try.