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Illustrator CS2 - Live Trace and Live Paint

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Live Trace is one of the hottest new features to hit Illustrator in a long time. Now in Illustrator CS2, you can quickly and accurately convert photos, scans, or other bitmap images to editable and scalable vector paths with the Live Trace feature. It's huge! And to top it off—it's fast.


Tutorial Author: Matt Kloskowski

mattMatt is an instructor for DesignMentor Training where he instructs an online class in advanced Adobe Photoshop. Author of Extreme Photoshop and Illustrator Most Wanted, Matt is certified as an Adobe Certified Expert  and as a Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD). Matt writes weekly columns for the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) and Mac Design magazine's Web site and features for Create Magazine's Studio column. Matt's tutorials have been used in over 15 schools throughout the United States and translated into seven languages.


At a Glance

I used Live Trace to turn this GIF image into a vector object in under five seconds. To do this, open "Before.gif" in Illustrator CS2, select the object, and click the Live Trace button on the Control palette at the top.


© Patrick Shettlesworth (


If you wanted to color this image, it would take a while. You'd have to select each area and color it individually with many small paths and line segments. Another new Illustrator CS2 feature that goes hand-in-hand with Live Trace is Live Paint. This feature allows you to apply color to any area of your artwork and use overlapping paths to create new shapes. It intuitively colors artwork and automatically detects and corrects gaps.


How does it work? After using Live Trace, you expand an object to what's called a Live Paint Group. Then you can select the Live Paint Bucket Tool and move your mouse to view the highlighted "fill areas" you can color. With just a click of the mouse, a path is filled with your chosen color.


Try It Out

1. Once you've used Live Trace on this GIF image, click the Live Paint button in the Control palette at the top to convert the artwork into an object that can be used by Live Paint.

Warning: Once you convert your traced artwork to a Live Paint Group, you won't be able to go back to the tracing options.

2. Set your Fill color to R:94 G:84 B:75, and the Stroke to None. Now select the Live Paint Bucket Tool from the Toolbox. Move your mouse over the figure's left forearm and take note of the outline that appears as you hover over various parts of the traced image. This is a visual cue to inform you that this area is a Live Paint Group and will be filled if you click with the Live Paint Bucket Tool. Click the mouse to fill the forearm with the color you set.


3. Continue painting the rest of the image using the same techniques. When you're done, you should have something similar to this final image.


Keep in mind that Live Paint can work with any paths you draw in Illustrator, not just Live Trace images. With this example below, you see that Live Paint can quickly take the place of using the Pathfinder palette to tediously color each area of this object.

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