How to Vectorize for a Vinyl Cutter

Updated July 20, 2017

Digital images come in two different types: bitmap and vector. Bitmap images are pixel based and are used for many illustrations because they easily accommodate complicated colour gradients. However, if a bitmap image is enlarged, it quickly loses resolution. This is where vector images come in. Vector art programs create their images based on a mathematical framework. This means that vector graphics may be enlarged indefinitely without losing any resolution. Because of their flexible size, vector images are ideal for vinyl cutting projects. If all you have is a bitmap design, you can convert it into a vector image using CorelDRAW or Illustrator, which are industry standards, or download a freeware program called Inkscape.

Download the freeware vector art program called Inkscape from the Internet (see Resources).

Open your digital design into Inkscape. Click "OK" when Inkscape prompts you to embed the image into the document. Inkscape will then load your design.

Click on the design to select it. Go up to the "Path" menu and click on it. Select the "Trace Bitmap" option. A pop-up window will now appear.

Adjust the "Brightness Cutoff" option to your satisfaction. This option determines what degree of darkness Inkscape will consider to be part of the design --- lighter areas will be omitted, whereas darker ones will be scanned. Click on the "Update" button in the right of the pop-up menu to see how your image will appear.

Click on the "OK" button. Inkscape may slow down for a moment as it works to convert your image. When it is finished, you might detect a difference in the image. Close the pop-up window.

Click and drag your image to one side. This will reveal that there are two overlapping images --- one of your original bitmap image and another of a new, crisp vector image.

Click on the bitmap image to select it. Press the "Backspace" button to delete it. Click on the vector image to select it.

Go to the "File" menu and select "Save As." Save your new vector image as an .eps file. You now have a vector image to use with your vinyl cutter.

Open your bitmap image in Illustrator by going to the "File" menu and selecting the "Place" option. Find your file on your hard drive and double-click on it.

Click on the image to select it. Then go to the "Object" menu and select the "Live Trace" option. Then select "Tracing Options."

Adjust the options in this window to suit your needs. The adjustments will be different for each image, so this will take some experimentation on your part. Adjust the colour settings of the image by manipulating the "Preset" option in the upper left corner of the window. Click on the "Trace" button.

Click on the "Object" menu again and select "Life Trace." Then select "Expand." Illustrator will convert your image into a vector image.

Save your file. Illustrator has its own format, .ai, but you can also save your image as an .eps or other vector file type.

Import your bitmap image into CorelDRAW. It should appear on your work space. Click on the image to select it.

Go to the "Bitmaps" tab in the main menu and click on it. Select "Trace Bitmap" from the drop-down menu. A new window will appear. On one side is your original image, and the other is a preview of your traced image.

Click on the "Trace" menu and select "By Advanced Outline." The program will then convert your image.

Save your new vector image. Corel's vector format is .cdr, but it can also save the file in other formats.

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About the Author

Jennifer Meyer received her B.A. in anthropology, specializing in archeology, in 2004 from Beloit College. She then earned her master's degree in museum studies at Indiana University in 2007 after being awarded a university fellowship. She started writing in 2005, contributing podcast scripts, procedural guides and exhibit copy to museums in the Indianapolis metro area.