Introduction: FlowJet Series Part 3: Converting Image to Vector

About: Part man, part machine -- all awesome!

Purpose: An alternative from drafting from scratch, this guide shows how to convert a company logo or complex image to vector.  The final application is to run a job on the FlowJet.

Tools: Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw, AutoDesk AutoCAD 2012

Step 1: Cleaning Your File

Sometimes people approach me wanting to cut out their company logo on the FlowJet, and the starting point is only a picture.  For demonstration purposes, I'm going to use a fairly clean and simple image – the Instructables robot!

In Photoshop, I want to isolate the black line work, which can be done through “Select” > “Color Range” and clicking on the color I want.  If the file is messy you might need to adjust the Fuzziness so that it is less specific and select a wider range of pixels from the one you clicked.  Depending on a wide range of variables (too many to cover here) you might need to adjust your levels (Ctrl+L) or desaturate the image into grayscale (Ctrl+Shift+U).  These can also be found under “Image” > “Adjustments”.  Play around with the sliders, and remember that the final result is essentially a black and white stencil – the part you keep and the part you cut away.

The black portion selected is actually what I want to keep, so I could either copy and paste a new layer, then delete the old, OR right-click and “Select Inverse”, then delete.  Note: you must have either the Marquee (M), Lasso (L), or Wand (W) tool selected for the “Select Inverse” option to appear in the right-click menu.  The image is now only black and white.

Step 2: Vectors in Photoshop

There are a few options when converting an image to vectors, and since we are already in Photoshop we'll start with that.  “Select” > “Color Range” and click on the black, then go to the “Path” tab on the right, and click the button at the bottom.  Another way is to right-click and “Make Work Path”.   Note: you must have either the Marquee (M), Lasso (L), or Wand (W) tool selected for the option to appear in the right-click menu.

Personally, I don't like this method as it simplifies the curvature too much, but it depends on the image and the desired results/precision.

Step 3: Vectors in Illustrator

This method is quick, dirty and super easy.  Copy/paste your image over from Photoshop, and make sure everything is selected (Ctrl+A).  At the top click “Live Trace”, then (the options in the top menu will change) “Expand”.  You now have vectors.

Personally, I don't like this option much because while quick, it doesn't give me quite the control I'm looking for.

Step 4: Vectors in CorelDraw

For basic use, Corel is as easy as Illustrator, but it has the added benefit of more control over your results.  Because of that, I use Corel as my go to program for vector conversion and recommend it for people just getting started.  Otherwise, use what you are comfortable with as long as the results meet your expectations.

Bring your image into CorelDraw either by importing or copy/paste.  Sometimes a PNG file works better than a JPEG, but don't worry about that for now.  Make sure your image is selected and then (at the top) click “Bitmaps” > “Outline Trace”.  There are a few options and after tinkering around a little I haven't found major distinctions, or more importantly a way to make a 'wrong' decision.  Defaulting with “Line art” or “Logo” have worked well enough for me.

Stopping here would net you similar results to Illustrator, but in the new window you have the option to adjust a few variables.  Play with the “Smoothing” and “Corner smoothness” sliders until you achieve your desired results.  A few things to note: check the boxes “Delete original image” and “Remove background”; in the Colors tab set to two colors if your file is a JPEG (black and white), but one color if your file is a PNG (black only since the background should be removed already), and afterward don't adjust the “Detail” slider of the Settings tab because that will override your setting.  Finally, if you are working with hyper detail conversions, wait for the green progress bar to finish before making more adjustments to the sliders.  I have managed to crash Corel this way, but again these were exceptionally detailed files (and I like stress testing!).

One last part is to simplify the file.  Illustrator and Corel will both create a vector of the black shape and the white shape which can result in double lines, and double the cutting time.  This can be avoided by using a PNG file (no white background), otherwise click “Window” > “Dockers” > “Object Manager”.  A layer property menu should appear on the right side, right-click your object and “Ungroup”.  Go through and delete all of the white layers based on the icon's color.

Step 5: Vectors in AutoCAD

While you can export to DXF from CorelDraw, there are some precise adjustments that need to be made with this file before cutting and AutoCAD is going to get the best results.  Having gone through Parts 1 and 2 already, AutoCAD shouldn't be intimidating anymore, so bring your DXF file in and get to it!  The main aspects to consider with this file is the final cut size and resulting scaling of components, and then the positive/negative space that will be created.  Remember, the final part is essentially a stencil.  This is the point when an abstract picture on the computer needs to become real.  How big will the part be?  What are the machines' limitations?

Without going into excruciating detail, I made sure there were no solid shapes contained in a void by either removing them, or creating a stencil effect.  Look at the eyes and buttons in both pictures for examples of each method.  I also checked to make sure the thinnest parts were at least 1/16” (0.0625) and adjusted shapes as needed.  The vast majority of commands used were Move, Trim, Offset, Scale, and Distance.  Re-save the DXF file.

The project continues with part 4!

For more resources, tools, and training, head over to TechShop!

FlowJet Series Part 1: AutoCAD Basics
FlowJet Series Part 2: Applying AutoCAD
FlowJet Series Part 4: Cleaning Vectors for FlowPath
FlowJet Series Part 5: Manual Pathing in FlowPath
FlowJet Series Part 6: Using FlowNest

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