There are two types of digital images: rasters and vectors.

Raster images are made up of individual pixels and contain tremendous amounts of detail. However, you can't enlarge them without losing quality.

A vector image is made from lines and shapes. They're usually less detailed, but you can make them as big as you like without losing anything.

When you've got a raster graphic that's too small for your needs, the solution is to convert the image to a vector, and you can do this in Adobe Illustrator. It's a quick and simple process and produces excellent results. Here's how to convert an image to a vector using Adobe Illustrator.

What Is a Vector Image?

A vector image is a scalable image made up of values rather than pixels.

Most images found online are raster images. Raster images use square pixels (bits of color) to convey an image. Vector graphics convey color using scalable color polygons. Since vector images use dynamic color sections instead of static squares, they provide perfect lines and crisp colors.

The geometry which comprises vector images is formulaic, making them resolution-independent. That means images don't lose quality when they're scaled up or down, since the color polygons in a vector image will always maintain their shape. The same is not true for raster images, since the color information of these images is stretched when scaled.


You can easily tell the difference between the two types of image through their file format. Raster images are common image types like JPG and GIF, while vector images typically have the SVG, EPS, or AI format.

Once you know how to convert a JPG file to a vector in Adobe Illustrator, you'll be able to scale anything you find to the size you want—without losing image quality. So let's get started on turning an image into a vector.

Step 1: Pick an Image to Convert to Vector

The image you use won't matter when using the following process, except for the fact that larger images will take longer to edit. There are some images, however, that work better as vector images than others.

It's better to edit a single subject than a landscape or the like. Preferably, the image should have a white or transparent background and have a relatively low resolution. It'll need to be in a format like JPG, GIF, or PNG.

how to convert images to vector in illustrator

We'll be using the image of Ryu from the Street Fighter series above. It works as a perfect example for a variety of reasons. For one, it's a single subject. It also lends itself to a vector image format well, as it's a recognizable character. The vector image format is typically used for logos, icons, or recognizable images.

Step 2: Select an Image Trace Preset

Illustrator has a special tool that lets you vectorize images. It's called Image Trace and it comes with a range of presets that do most of the work automatically.

Broadly speaking, you should use the Image Trace preset that most closely resembles the type of image you're converting, as each one produces different results.

Image Gallery (3 Images)

Your options are:

  • High Fidelity Photo and Low Fidelity Photo. These produce very detailed, and slightly less detailed vector images respectively. They're ideal for photos or complex artwork, such as the example image we're using.
  • 3 Colors, 6 Colors, and 16 Colors. These presets output vector images with three, six, or 16 colors. They're perfect for logos or artwork with lots of flat colors.
  • Shades of Grey. This preset produces a detailed grayscale image.
  • Black and White Logo. This creates a simple logo with two colors—black and white.
  • Sketched Art, Silhouettes, Line Art, and Technical Drawing. These are best used for specific types of images, and create black and white, predominantly line-based drawings.

To get started, open your image in Illustrator and select it to activate the image options. These options should be present at the top of your Illustrator window.

how to convert images to vector in illustrator

Click the dropdown arrow next to Image Trace to select your Preset. We'll be using Low Fidelity Photo. Click it to begin tracing.

Step 3: Vectorize the Image With Image Trace

Once you click the button, your image will go through the tracing process automatically. You'll notice several changes to your image, but overall it should remain much the same. For example, the following is a closeup of our image before the tracing process.

A close-up of an image pre-vectorization showing the pixels

Note the pixelation. Here is the image after the process:

A close-up of an image after the vectorization process

While much of the detail has been stripped from the original image, the traced version appears much sharper. You'll note the color shapes do not pixelate no matter how close the image is zoomed.

Zoomed out, the image should look virtually the same. Here is our overall image before editing:

An image before being vectored

Here is our image after editing:

An image after being vectored

While the top image may appear sharper in some instances, the quality of our vectorized image is still pretty impressive.

Step 4: Fine-Tune Your Traced Image

Once you've traced the image, open the Image Trace panel from the Window menu to fine-tune the conversion.

Select Mode to switch between color, grayscale, and black and white. Also, drag the Colors slider left to simplify your vector image, or right to add more detail.

image trace options

If you're happy with your settings and want to reuse them, click the Manage Presets button next to the Presets option. You can now save your settings as a new Preset.

Step 5: Ungroup Colors

Your image has now been ordered into colored shapes fitting the original raster image. In order to finish vectorizing your image, you'll need to separate these color groups to edit them. To do so, select your traced image and click on the Expand button on the top of the window.

Click the Expand button

This will allow you to view the composite shapes which make up the vector image. Each of the shapes is outlined in blue. Next, right-click the image and select Ungroup in the menu. This will allow you to separate your color shapes into individual parts.

Click Ungroup on the right-click menu

In your Layers panel, you'll see that your color groups have been separated into layers.

Step 6: Edit Your Vector Image

After converting a raster image to a vector, you have free range to edit the image.

Begin by deleting whatever color groups you desire. You can select whole color groups by clicking on a shape and heading to Select > Same > Fill Color. This will select all groups with the same color as the one selected using your Direct Selection tool (A).

Directly selecting a vector shape

Then hit Backspace on your keyboard to delete the shapes. If you'd like to modify or expand a particular color group, you can do that as well by selecting a layer using the Direct Selection tool. After you've selected a layer, fill in empty spaces or add additional colors to your design using the Pen or Brush tools.

Step 7: Save Your Image

Here is the original image after deleting the pesky white background and modifying the image slightly using the method presented above.

An image that has been vectorized with a different background color

Now we're ready for the final step in converting an image to a vector in Illustrator: saving the image in a vector format to preserve its quality. There are a variety of vector image formats to choose between: PDF, AI, EPS, SVG, and others. We'll use the SVG format, which has wide support across all design programs and is also supported on the web.

When you're finished with your image, head to File > Export > Export As. In the following window, title your file and select SVG in the dropdown menu beside Save as type.

save vectorized image as svg

That's it. Your scalable vector file should now be saved onto your computer.

It's Easy to Learn How to Vectorize an Image

Now you know how to convert an image to a vector in Illustrator. You can scale your new creation to whatever dimension you wish, without any loss of quality.

Vector image in multiple sizes

Keep in mind that complex vector files can be significantly larger than their raster counterparts. That means they may take longer to load and edit. Nevertheless, your vector image will maintain its quality no matter the scale.

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