In this series (lesson 1 is here), I’m showing you how to take a clip art type image and turn it into a cut file for your Silhouette. This gives you a tremendous amount of designing flexibility. Lesson 2 is about graphic styles and how to choose images for the best trace results.
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The quality of your cut pieces depends on a good trace, and a good trace depends on the quality of the raster image you trace. You don’t always have the option to choose your raster image, such as when you are working with an image you’ve been given. But when YOU choose the image, being smart with your selection means you’re already halfway done. Let’s look at the things to consider.
Before we continue, I do want to restate that you must use images of your own creation (such as a photo you took or a drawing you made) or for which you have a commercial license/permission from the owner for making any products to sell.
When you look at the details of an image in your computer’s file system, you’ll see the size listed usually in kb (kilobytes).
The higher the number, the larger the image. The larger your original image, the easier it is to trace. A smaller image gives you fewer points in the trace so you get less clear detail in the cut image. You can enlarge the image before tracing, but depending on the image it may get blurry. And a blurry image will create jagged lines in the trace. We’ll talk more about why in the next section and later in the series I’ll give you tips on dealing with that.
So sometimes it’s a balancing act — to enlarge or not to enlarge; that is the question. If you have the choice, choose an image of good quality and it will automatically open at a larger size. If it’s small, it’s often better to zoom in rather than to enlarge it. For tiny images, you may need to enlarge only a small amount or edit the image more following the trace.
The term resolution is probably one you’re familiar with these days and it’s related to size. Resolution tells you about clarity and is measured in pixels. (We talked about pixels in Lesson 1, so review that if you need to.) If you take photos on your smart phone, you know you can save them at various sizes. What it’s doing is using more or fewer pixels to create the image.
That affects the resolution — how crisp the image is. A smaller resolution photo takes up less space because there are fewer pixels. Apps such as Facebook usually compress images so that they take up less space. After all, if you are just looking at someone’s photo on the small screen of your phone, it doesn’t need to be as clear as if you were printing it out to hang in a frame on a wall.
What the numbers mean
If you’ve ever looked at the details of an image online or even in your computer file system, you may have seen a set of numbers such as ____ x _____.
That’s telling you the number of pixels — the size of the grid of rows and columns. If I download this image of Notre Dame in 640 pixels by 640 pixels, that means there are 640 rows and 640 columns of little squares filled with color. I could also choose 1280 x 1280, 1920 x 1920 or 5000 x 5000. The higher the numbers, the more rows and columns and therefore pixels there are. The size is incrementally bigger as well, as you can see by the various numbers of kilobytes. The pixels themselves are the same size — it’s just the number of them that changes.
The more pixels there are in an image, the lower the percentage that any given pixel is of the whole. In other words, each pixel has a smaller effect on the clearness of the image. The lower the resolution numbers, the fuzzier the image is, especially when enlarged. That’s because each one is a bigger chunk of the whole. As you make it larger, you are more likely to see the edges of the squares of color. That’s what gives you the stair-step effect, which is called pixelation.
Think of a photo that’s out of focus. When you are looking at it, it’s harder to see the details compared to a photo that’s in focus. That’s similar to low vs. high resolution images.
Here’s a comparison of how that Notre Dame image above would open at the 4 different sizes if I downloaded them all. I didn’t resize any of them — just opened them.
If I make that 640 x 640 one the same length and width as the 5000 x 5000 one, here’s how they compare.
It doesn’t look so bad at that size, but you will see a huge difference when I zoom in.
When I enlarged the one on the left, I made all the pixels bigger. That’s why you’re beginning to see the stair-step effect. I would get a much better trace with smoother lines by using the image on the right. Images with more pixels have better detail and so trace more easily because the pixels are smaller in proportion. The software can create smoother lines from a smoother image.
Different styles of graphic images are easier to trace than others. This is not an exhaustive list, but goes in order from easiest to hardest to trace.
- Solid color silhouette with no inner pieces
- Solid color silhouette with inner pieces
- Single color line art
- Multi-color line art
- Multi-color image where colors are completely separated from one another
- Multi-color image with a strong color (usually black) outlining all pieces
- Multi-color image where colors are directly touching one another
In analyzing images, Silhouette Studio does not recognize color as color. It classifies it based on the relative tone – a brightness range of light to dark. Therefore, images with a higher amount of contrast in the color tones (more variance from light to dark) trace more easily.
This tiger, with its strong contrasts, would be much easier to trace than the dalmatian. That dog has at least 6 different colors, with some very similar to one another.
The red fox just above is the same — several reds that are very close in tones.
An image with a consistent, solid stroke (like a coloring book page) is easier to trace than one with a variable stroke (like a charcoal or pencil sketch). Hand-drawn images fall into the category of variable stroke style. I think it’s pretty obvious which of these horses is easier to trace.
Fill Color Style
Solid colors are easier to trace than shaded or gradient colors. The former has a consistent color tone throughout the image, which allows for easier separation of the colors.
The latter varies in light and dark values, which makes it difficult to adjust the filters to get a clean trace. On this car, we could get many parts to trace easily because of the black outline. But the “shine” parts on the hood and fenders would not be easy because they fade into the background parts.
The same is true on this flatbed.
Here’s a very clear example of a gradient color. Where does one color end and the next begin?
When you combine only slight variations in color with variable stroke style — you can see how much harder it would be.
Before you choose an image, consider your planned project. An image with tiny pieces or with open edges is a better choice for vinyl or HTV than for paper, because you use transfer tape with vinyl or HTV and they already have adhesive on them.
This woman would work if you were cutting out of paper.
This one, with lots of tiny pieces, would be a nightmare to put together. It’s best left to vinyl or HTV.
This dog has breaks in the lines on the outer edges. That means you wouldn’t get a solid piece in the outline of a dog.
On this bus, you could get all the pieces but it wouldn’t be easy to put them together with cardstock.
This one has fewer challenges for use with multiple pieces of material.
Photographs are especially difficult because of the amount and variety of colors, textures and details. Photos of people are animals are the ones we most often want to use, but are the toughest to do. As we go through the series, I will give you tips on how best to do photographs. The #1 tip is something we’ve already talked about — start out with a good quality photo in good resolution.
Words don’t trace well. The corners are not crisp and the lines are not as straight as they are if you straight up type them (assuming you are using a quality font). The best choice is always to find the exact font or one that is similar.
Here’s the typeface for Silhouette America’s logo.
Let’s compare a traced vs. typed version. In the upper one, I traced it. On the lower one, I found a similar font and typed it out.
At first glance, the traced one doesn’t look to bad. But let’s zoom in on some of the letters and check and compare it with the typed letters. The traced ones are on the left, the typed ones on the right.
While that may be fine for something small or only for yourself, it won’t cut it for anything for a customer or in larger format.
Of course, I will give you some tips in the series on how to do it when it’s absolutely necessary. But I just wanted to let you know up front the better option is using a quality font.
So, now that you know how to pick out a good image to start with, we’re ready to jump into the Trace panel in the Silhouette Studio software. We’ll do that in our next lesson, where I’ll give you an overview of what all is in that panel.
Let me see if I am understanding this correctly. If given a choice between a png or jpg or vector image, I would want to choose the vector image?
Cindy Eckhoff says
See reply on second questions.
Let me elaborate on my previous question. This is where I am confused. I guess I assumed a vector image would be the best choice to start with if I had a choice. But in the case of the fox, the png sizes are 38 kb, 124 kb, and 53 kb. The vector image is 40 kb. So, it looks like I would want to choose the one with 124 kb? Also, why does the one with the largest dimension have smaller kb? Is this because the resolution is not as good?
Cindy Eckhoff says
If you have the option of a vector image, then yes, it’s USUALLY better. But it can depend on the designer. If it’s someone who designed it for general visual use, not for cutting, it may not be ideal. They may do something like use a thick line with rounded ends instead of a closed oval shape. That affects how it would cut. For more info on that specifically, see this post — https://smart-silhouette.com/change-fill-color/ and this one https://smart-silhouette.com/open-path-fill/. I will be adding another post soon on working with SVG files specifically.
As for the fox, the 124kb would be the largest and therefore probably the clearest and easiest to trace. You can trace it without needing to make it larger. It’s confusing, because the labels are actually mixed up on the Pixabay website on that one. I downloaded all 3 and got sizes of 18 kb, 31 kb and 36 kb (order from top to bottom of their list). I looked through them and some of the others are like that as well. The best way to compare them is to actually download them and then look at the file size. Sorry for the confusion — great question!
Thank you. This helps a lot.
Cindy Eckhoff says
You are very welcome 🙂