Your clients give you raster (bitmap or jpg) images, but for vinyl plotters and digital printers you need vector images. No problem. You just need software to convert them. It sounds straightforward, right? There are standalone tools like Imagaro Z or Smart Vector Pro, or integrated tools such as color tracing in Flexisign Pro, Live Trace in Adobe Illustrator or PowerTRACE in CorelDRAW Graphics Suite. All are excellent choices. With so many tracing applications available, how do you know what to look for? Here are some questions to keep in mind while evaluating tracing software:
Are the results accurate? Can I preview my work as I go?
You want vector graphics that are accurate representations of the original content. Therefore, the ability to adjust the level of detail in the resulting vectors is needed. Also beneficial is seeing an accurate preview of your results as adjustments are made.
Can I edit the results?
Occasionally, an original image will be so poor that the vectored results will require additional work. Avoid the time and cost involved in redrawing an image from scratch by choosing an easy to edit tracing software that allows you to generate a vector graphic with fewer objects and nodes.
Are the tracing software options and combinations intuitive? Every software has its learning curve. However, when running a business, there's a limit to how much time is available to spend on a single project; especially with small jobs such as putting a simple, one-color logo on a banner for example. The software needs to be flexible without offering confusing options that will slow you down.
Is there a lot of cleanup work afterward?
Tracing software should provide optimized results with minimal cleanup. When considering software, look at how it handles curves and colors. Can the number of nodes on a curve be minimized? Too many nodes can lead to difficult editing with potential output issues. Can the number of individual objects be controlled and/or minimized? What about the colors?
How much does it cost?
A good tracing tool doesn't have to come with a big price tag. More importantly, you need something that fits into your work flow. Choose software that's designed with sign makers in mind and integrates well with other tools you are already using. Be sure to consider how easy it is to learn. You could end up spending more money during the education process.
CorelDRAW: an example
When the designers at Corel were working on CorelDRAW Graphics Suite they spent time with sign makers seeing first-hand how they worked with customer artwork. The sign makers needed easy-to-use software that quickly delivered accurate, usable vector images. These factors were especially important when starting with low-quality images. Customers wanted results that were similar to what they could do manually, but in much less time.
With these requirements in mind, Corel PowerTRACE was created and included with CorelDRAW Graphics Suite at no extra cost. Most sign makers are familiar with CorelDRAW and can easily work in the program: a more desirable solution over adding something completely new into their routine. Plus, with an integrated tool the user can work in a single program instead of switching between two or more applications.
This new tracing tool is designed to deliver accurate, usable results. Edges and colors are preserved while results require minimal editing. Users can also choose to eliminate backgrounds so they are left with only the customer's graphic. Further, users can map colors to a color model or palette of their choice (such as PANTONE) allowing them to convert jpg or gif files back to two colors again.
If you're looking for tracing software that offers ease of use, accuracy and good results, without an unreasonable number of objects or nodes, Corel PowerTRACE is worth considering. The real-time feedback in the Preview window keeps you in control of the process and the software's ability to handle objects and nodes ensure that results are easy to edit.
A little research goes a long way
It is possible to get great vector graphics from transformed raster files. The right tracing software is an investment that can really pay off. Consider some of the questions herein and how they relate to your workflow. You can find an affordable solution that gives you yet another tool to help your customers and increase your business.