Input:Bitmap Output:Vector
July 23, 2009 7:28 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for a program which accepts a raster image as input, and which outputs an engraving-like black and white vector image.

The output is the primary thing. It has to use some kind of engraving-like technique (for example, line displacement or crosshatching) to create the final image.

Does such a thing exist?
posted by fake to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You want Engraver II for Photoshop.
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 7:55 AM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

On review, not so much.

Engraver II outputs a raster image. You'd have to convert it to vector using Illustrator.
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 7:57 AM on July 23, 2009

I don't know if it's an all-in-one solution, but it'd be fairly trivial to create a Photoshop action that converts an image to grayscale, does some sort of crosshatch filtering, and then converts it to a high-DPI B/W image, which could be LiveTraced in Illustrator.

Any engraving software will figure out the proper paths from a B/W image (and others), though. If I knew what final result you were looking for, or its purpose, I could probably help you a lot more.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:59 AM on July 23, 2009

Wikipedia: Comparison of raster to vector conversion software, which has both free and pay solutions.

Regarding output, it may dependable heavily on what the original raster image looks like.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:02 AM on July 23, 2009

Not speaking as a professional illustrator, it may be easier to "engrave" the raster first before converting it to a vector, like the plug-in ScarletP mentioned, then turn that image into a vector using Illustrator, Vector Magic, etc.
posted by spoons at 8:04 AM on July 23, 2009

The question is a broad one, and the answer is a bit nuanced. In short; yes, such a program exists. The unfortunate caveat is that there is not a program that will work well for all images, and there is not one that will produce quality results without a fairly experienced human operator tweaking and refining settings on an image-by-image basis. The learning curve for such a transformation (done well) is fairly steep, but can be picked up by a dedicated learner by trial-and-error. Familiarity with graphics packages will help this out quite a bit, but if the learner is dedicated enough, I suppose it's not a requirement.

Many programs will do this... I've been quite happy with Adobe Illustrator's "Live Trace" (since about Illustrator CS2 or so... earlier implementations are crap). There are presets on Live Trace that can emulate what you'd like (I'm remembering Etching, Black and White Illustration, Product Logo, and several others), but you'll want to use these presets as a base, and refine your settings from there for good results.

Some designers whose opinions I greatly respect still sing the praises of a product called Adobe Streamline, which was discontinued forever ago. I've not been seen the point of it over Live Trace; but like I said... it's supporters are numerous and vocal, and may be on to something that's escaped me.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 8:06 AM on July 23, 2009

Actually, Engraver II + LiveTrace might be the ticket.

I want output like the engraving on a dollar bill, where line thickness remains relatively constant and shading is achieved by crosshatching or line displacement. I realize that neat contour following is probably not possible, so I'd be satisfied with line displacement based on pixel values.

The final result will be a laser-engraved image. I recently won a laser cutter, and though it can use raster graphics like a printer, generally it takes forEVER. When fed raster graphics, it operates in a purely raster mode, scanning from line to line dropping pixels according to some interpolation scheme.

What I would like to do is use the laser like an engraver's burr, drawing images quickly with vector lines. Ideally these vector lines wouldn't look like shit. I played with Scriptographer and some other raster/vector utilities, but didn't get anything that looked like the output of Engraver II, which is basically what I want, but in vector.

What a mess that is. Does it help?
posted by fake at 8:08 AM on July 23, 2009

Wikipedia: Comparison of raster to vector conversion software, which has both free and pay solutions.

Believe me, I read the Wiki before coming here.

I didn't know LiveTrace had those presets -- I'll have to check them out. I'm fine with massaging the hell out of the input to get a good output result.
posted by fake at 8:10 AM on July 23, 2009

What sorta resolutions can you get your original bitmaps in? Just looking for a ballpark, as the answer will greatly affect what the most productive advice will be.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 8:13 AM on July 23, 2009

I didn't know LiveTrace had those presets

I'm on CS3, not CS4, but AFAIK none of the presets are appropriate to what you want to do. I would definitely give Engraver II a try. I think your biggest stumbling block with EII + LT will be that you'll need a pretty large source image to get nice output through that process. I'd definitely like to see what you come up with, though.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:15 AM on July 23, 2009

I'll post the results here for sure.
posted by fake at 8:17 AM on July 23, 2009

What sorta resolutions can you get your original bitmaps in?

In the most interesting case, I can get them up to a few thousand pixels on a side.

In the worst case (only a few) I can get them at 640x480.
posted by fake at 8:18 AM on July 23, 2009

I just downloaded, installed, and tested EII + LiveTrace with a high-res image. It should be exactly what you're looking for. It's sweet as hell.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:21 AM on July 23, 2009

Awesome!!! Too bad I'm at work where I can't install anything. I'll give it a go tonight!
posted by fake at 8:22 AM on July 23, 2009

Your application reminds me a lot of the process of learning to play nice with my vinyl cutting plotter. Some of the workflow challenges and frustrations are likely to be identical.

Based on some lessons I've learned from that--but tailored, a bit, to your situation--I'd start off with a chain that looked something like this, and then add or modify or omit steps as you see fit:


1.Alien Skin Blow Up plug-in: Blow it up to what might seem like overkill on size. Try to tweak settings to get the quality right, but it doesn't have to look pristine, since we're going to run an etching... emulator. Start with 4000px and scale up or down as your tastes and hardware dictates.
2.Etching Plug-In: I've not used the one mentioned earlier, but it looks like something you should definitely check out. I'm sure there are others, as a fall-back.
3.Threshold, and save as TIFF with transparent background


1.Livetrace (starting with "technical drawing" or somesuch) settings, and tweaking from there.
2.Save in format your cutter prefers.

I'm sure you knew this... but at every step of this project be prepared to tweak settings and tweak some more. I have a high tolerance for such things, but it understandably drives some people mad. Automation may be possible for images that are similar, but may not be... lotta variables.

Keep us updated. Sounds fun and cool.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 8:35 AM on July 23, 2009

Thank you so much for the detailed process explanation. I'll post more in this thread as I work on the project tonight.

You're right about the plotter being similar. I have a pen plotter, a home-made CNC mill, and now this laser, and each one has required a hell of a lot of learning to get them going.

I used to do 3D modeling for educational games, and I went to art school, so tedium/persistence in tweaking results are no problem for me. ;)
posted by fake at 8:44 AM on July 23, 2009

While searching around in Russian I also found these two programs:

Strokes Maker 1

posted by fake at 9:46 AM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

One more nota bene regarding Photoshop optimization pre-etching-plugin.

Tremendous differences in the output of the etching (or any similar) plugin will be made by corrections/optimizations pre-plugin. This might seem obvious to some, but the results are quite shocking and I don't want to assume. For your "trial balloon" image (pick something representative and middle-of-the-pack) test out half-a-dozen variants of boosted or reduced contrast... all the way up/down to "cartoonish"/"unrecognizable haze". That image might look silly as all hell, but plugins don't factor in aesthetics, and I've seen it a million times where one particular plugin using one specific set of settings just really "popped" when I ramped all the way up/down contrast.

Might also try desaturating or sharpening/blurring (and any number of other things) pre-etching, to see if the plugin likes it. Might come up with something better this way--or, even more likely, you'll make amazingly cool-looking crazy mistakes that result in a completely unrelated project or aesthetic. (I love it when that happens).
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 10:01 AM on July 23, 2009

Potrace is what I use and get spectacular results each time. Samples.
posted by Brian Puccio at 10:16 AM on July 23, 2009

Nevermind, re-read your post.
posted by Brian Puccio at 10:17 AM on July 23, 2009

Looks like you've got plenty of options already, but if you're on a Mac, Vectoraster does this sort of thing too and is nice and adjustable. Not free though.
posted by lucidium at 10:50 AM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nobody mentioned it yet: VectorMagic. Stanford Universities online service or desktop app. Bitmap to Vector. FPP on the blue.
posted by mnology at 12:23 PM on July 23, 2009

It doesn't do any kind of hatching, which was the crux of my question. However, it is a great raster-vector utility, generally.
posted by fake at 12:49 PM on July 23, 2009

Ah crud. My evening has been hijacked by lab work. I'll post results here as I get things done...
posted by fake at 3:15 PM on July 23, 2009

CorelDraw has a bitmap vectorizer but I can't get it to do what you want. Older CorelDraws used to come bundled with tracing program that would happily do artistic style tracings but the new built in one appears to be focused on just looking crappy.
posted by chairface at 11:01 AM on July 24, 2009

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