Welcome back! If you haven’t started with Lesson 1 of this series on tracing, you’ll find it here. So far we’ve covered when you need to trace, selecting images, what’s in the trace panel and how to trace simple, solid shapes of 1 color. Today, we’re moving on to some more simple shapes, but we’ll progress to working with images that have multiple colors. I’ll also show you how to separate a traced image into pieces, understand compound paths, use Trace by Color and clean up a trace with 1 click.
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The images I’m using
As before, I’m going to give you links to all the shapes I’m using. That way, you can practice with the same ones.
I’ll also link some within the lesson for extra practice.
Line Art images
Line art images are those that are black and white images with a consistent line thickness. There are few, if any, areas that are filled in and if they are it’s with black. The easiest way to think of them is like a coloring book page. These are very easy to trace and use, and it will give me a chance to teach you about breaking traced images into pieces. The camper image is an example of line art — it’s all black, the lines are the same width, there are large empty areas, etc.
We’ll follow the same steps as with the solid black images we did in the previous lesson — draw the trace box and just click Trace. Move the original out of the way and select a light fill color.
We could cut the design just like this. It would be great for something like a coloring shirt for kids or a stencil. But what if we want to cut it from several colors and have solid pieces? We need to separate it into different pieces. Your first thought would probably be to ungroup it. However, there isn’t an option for ungroup — it’s grayed out.
That’s because tracing creates a single compound path, not a grouping of pieces.
Just what are compound paths?
There are 2 ways of tying pieces together in Silhouette Studio.
- Grouping — This one is more familiar. It ties pieces together temporarily so that you can move and resize them together. However, they are still separate pieces. Think of this like a stack of 2 pancakes — a small one sitting on top of a larger one. They are separate, solid things sitting on top of one another. If you look at them from above, you see 2 circles but they are both solid pieces. When you look at them from the side, you see a stack of 2.
- Compound Paths — This is the one that’s harder to understand. A compound path is where you take several different pieces and combine them into a single level as 1 design. Even if the pieces don’t touch or the lines are far apart, they are still considered a single piece. Think of this one like a donut. If you look at it from the top, you’ll see 2 circles just like you would if you look at the stack of pancakes from the top. But they aren’t separate, solid pieces. They are 2 edges of the same thing. The inner circle is a hole, not a separate piece. If you look at it from the side, it’s only 1 donut tall.
I covered groupings vs. compound paths in detail in this post. What you need to know for tracing is that when you trace an image, the resulting design is a compound path. To separate it into pieces, you need to release the compound path. You can do that in various ways–
- Object drop down menu
- Right click menu
- Keyboard shortcut CTRL+SHIFT+E (Windows) or CMD+SHIFT+E (Mac)
- In the Modify panel
Back to the camper
Now that we’ve got a basic understanding of that, release the compound path on your camper. You’ll notice that now instead of empty areas (holes) in the design, every thing is a solid filled piece. You took a donut and turned it into pancakes.
If I begin moving the pieces one at a time, you can see them all.
There are a few different ways to use these pieces.
- Use the largest piece as a background and lay the other pieces on top of it. This works well for something like cardstock.
- Get rid of the background piece and just use the pieces as is, cutting from the various colors. This works well for something like vinyl or HTV where you don’t want to mess with getting things aligned perfectly or having more than 1 level.
- Ged rid of the background piece and use the offset feature to create slightly larger pieces. Make each offset cover half the distance between one piece and its neighbor. Here I’ve done several pieces and am working on the offset of the wheel cover.
This works well when you want the pieces to all touch/nestle into one another without a background piece. Normally, you would need to do a bit of tweaking with point editing or the Modify options to get a perfect fit. You can see in places like the left edge of the wheel well that don’t fit precisely.
We didn’t do a color trace per se, but we still got pieces we can cut from various colors.
For more practice with this type of design, try these.
Multi-color designs with separated colors
Let’s move on to tracing some designs of more than 1 color. The easiest images to trace are those where the different colors don’t touch each other — they are separated by blank space. The image on the left would be much easier to trace than the one on the right.
The rose with stem
Let’s start with that rose (the one with the stem). If I draw the trace box, you’ll see that not all the parts are covered in yellow.
We discussed in previous lessons that Silhouette Studio doesn’t really read colors — it reads light values. We adjust the Threshold filter to tell the software which light values we want to pick up. As you raise the Threshold, the software picks up lighter and lighter colors. So on this design, I’m going to take the Threshold up to around 80 so that it gets all the areas.
I can then just do my regular trace and I get all my pieces. I could then release the compound path to separate the pieces and cut them from different colors of material. To keep things straight, I always like to fill my pieces with the colors I’m going to use. That’s also what you’d use for cutting by fill color.
HINT: Sometimes it’s hard to tell which pieces you need to make which colors. Use the Threshold filter to help. Pay attention as you take it up to see which parts turn yellow at the same time because those are the ones with the same color and/or light value.
But let’s say that you don’t really want all those pieces. Pretend you only want the rosebud, not the stem and leaves. What do you do then?
Trace by color
In previous versions of the software, you had to trace everything and then delete what you didn’t want. That’s because you could only raise the Threshold and pick up lighter and lighter colors, but you’d still have all the darker values as well.
Version 4 added a new feature called Trace by Color. This is in Designer Edition and up. What you can do here is tell the software, “I want to trace only the pieces of this particular light value.” That means you don’t HAVE to get all the darker values in order to pick up a lighter value.
The 4 flowers
Let’s learn how it works with the set of modern flowers.
- Start by drawing your normal trace box. That’s all you need to do in the first tab.
- Move to the second tab and click on the eyedropper (color picker).
- The mouse cursor changes to look like a pencil. Move that over the color you want to trace. I’m doing the stem on the last flower.
- If you want only that piece, leave it set to Single Area as I did. Alternately, you can choose All Areas, which tells the software to find all pieces with that light value that are inside the trace box. Notice the difference here — I get all the stems and leaves.
The Tolerance filter tells the software how much of a difference there has to be in light values before it’s considered a different color. The higher you take it, the less difference there has to be. You’d use this if some areas of the image you are tracing are almost the same color, but not quite, or if low resolution is causing the fuzzies.
You CAN start in the second tab right off the bat. You click the color picker, move your mouse directly over the color you want and the software adds the trace box. I don’t recommend it as there’s an issue with it. The trace box it creates is right at the edge of the image. So, when you trace it sometimes adds as box around the outer edge. It can depend on your image or your software version. But just start by drawing the trace box to avoid that as a potential issue. You can also enlarge the trace box after you select the color but before you trace if you prefer.
Tracing only a portion of an image
Let’s say I only want to trace the flower at the left. I can draw my trace box around that one only. I don’t have to trace the whole image.
This is especially useful on a complex image or photograph (we’ll do more of those later). You may still have editing to do, but not as much.
For extra practice, do the same process with these image of the tulips and apple. Do it in both the first and, if you have Designer Edition, the second tab. In other words, practice tracing the full image and tracing only parts. Then practice releasing the compound path and filling the pieces with different colors.
Multi-color images with a separating color
We know already that it’s very easy to trace an image that’s just black. It’s also very easy to trace one that has a solid, dark color separating all the pieces.
The black background rose
Look look at the other rose.
If I draw the trace box around it and adjust my threshold to 31, look at the yellow on the leaves.
See how it’s fuzzy? No matter how I adjust the filters, I can’t get a crisp edge. Why? Look closely and you’ll see the red and green colors are slightly shaded (have a gradient).
One way to get around that would be to trace by color and raise the tolerance to get the all the green or red. But on some designs the shaded color could make that difficult. There’s a simpler way that works with any level of the software (remembering that trace by color is in Designer Edition and up).
On some of the previous examples, we raised the threshold to pick up more colors. This time we’ll do the opposite. Since it’s black that separates all the pieces, we can take the threshold down instead so that we get only the black.
I can then do a normal trace and get all the pieces. How? By releasing the compound path. I can use the pieces with or without that background piece.
(I did need to make the areas of white between the leaves into a compound path with the black background piece).
The bulldog is similar. It has a black outline around every piece. You’ll find this in many school, sports or business logos. I can do the same thing — adjust the threshold down so that it’s only picking up the black and then do a regular trace. Once I’ve got that, I can fill it with color and release the compound path. It’s quicker than tracing each color individually. I then begin filling in all the pieces with their correct colors so I know which is which.
There’s an additional step I would do with this image. Notice that in some cases, there’s a black piece that’s completely surrounded by (on top of) a piece of another color. They’re the parts that are still colored green on the far right bulldog above. There’s no reason to cut those as separate pieces as long as I’m using the black background piece. By creating some compound paths with the pieces that surround them, I can make holes in the colored pieces so that you can see through them to the black background. I put a blue background behind it and moved the black background so you can see the pieces more clearly.
That means I save material and have fewer levels (layers) on the project.
Figuring out multiple pieces like this takes some practice. So find some more images with a background color like this and practice tracing, filling and making helpful compound paths. Here are some good ones.
The separating color doesn’t have to be black. This one has several different colors, but I could still get the pieces fairly easily. (I wouldn’t be looking to get the colored portions within the flowers or leaves that are not outlined — just the petals and leaves themselves).
Here the outlines are orange and green. It’s a bit more challenging because the color of the pieces gets almost as dark as the outlines, but see if you can do it.
Here’s another with brown outlines this time.
Multi-color images with strong contrast
Sometimes you have colored images that don’t have that black background but are still easy to trace because the colors are solid (not shaded) and have strong contrast. By that, I mean that the light values are very different so it’s easy to get the different pieces you need in a trace. They are similar to images with a separating color.
Let’s look at the tiger. He’s got just 2 colors — black and orange — but they aren’t separated by space or a background and instead are all touching one another. But since they are so contrasting, it’s not hard to get them. It takes 2 steps instead of 1.
- Do a regular trace with the default 45 threshold. That will get the black areas.
- Do a second trace where you raise the threshold enough to grab the orange. Since it’s still picking up the black, you’ll be getting the full outline of the image.
You can then either layer the black material on top of the orange, or select them both and use Subtract All to create pieces that fit into one another like a puzzle.
Note: because a trace is not precise, you may have to do some tweaking after using Subtract All in order to get the pieces to fit correctly together. Notice the tail and claws here.
One trick is to make a small offset of the top piece instead of the original piece. That helps cover any gaps. This varies depending on your original image so you just have to play around with it to get what you want.
For more practice, look for more images with 2 strongly contrasting colors that have strong edges and are not separated by space or a background color. Then progress to ones with 3 or 4. The more colors there are, the more traces you need to do. Here are few I found that you can try.
As you begin to progress to harder and harder traces, there’s another option you should know about to get a cleaner trace.
When you trace an image, the software usually creates quite a few points. That’s because it’s attempting to get the correct amount of detail and because of the variations of fill color, even if it appears to be solid. Sometimes you’ll need all those points to get the detail you need. But if you don’t, it can slow down the cutting or even make unnecessary bumps along the cut line.
To eliminate some of them, you can use the point editing option Simplify. The software looks at the contours and determines where it could eliminate some or smooth out others. In a regular trace, most of the points are smooth ones, which means you don’t always get sharp turns. When you simplify, the software will create more corner points for you. It smooths out curved line segments by getting rid of points that only change the curve by tiny amounts.
Let’s look at the black portion of that tiger. Here’s my original trace and the number of points in it compared with the points after I simplify.
Here’s a closeup of a few areas to show you the smoothing. The original trace is on the left, and the simplified on on the right.
One thing to note is that the larger your image is when you simplify, the fewer points the software removes. Oddly enough, it can actually ADD points when you simplify. This is a quirk of the software. If you find that happening, try simplifying at the original size and various larger and smaller sizes to see what works best. Sometimes when it’s too small, it will distort your shape.
For more about using Simplify to clean up a trace, see this lesson.
Well, we added a LOT of new techniques today! Next time, we’ll have a shorter lesson where learn about a few things to watch out for when you trace and what to do when you absolutely need to trace text. Following that, we’ll start to do simple photos and then progress to working with more difficult raster images.
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