Bitmap 2 vector – Tracing scanned drawings

I wanted to try to create a smooth digital image by converting a scanned drawing to vector.

This procedure is the first attempt – but certainly not the smartest. I welcome suggestions for smarter methods :-)

Scanned Greyscale Drawing
Fig. 1 Scanned Greyscale Drawing

Fig 1 is a scanned greyscale bitmap drawing size approx. 13 cm x 12,5 cm.
The Drawing was made on partly transparent cookie sheet, which made it possible to make several versions with corrections each time.

I scanned the drawing using Artweaver Free 4. Scanning is done from ImportWAI Support.

Final Img
Fig. 2 Final Img

Fig. 2 is the final Vector drawing converted back from .svg to .png for thee sake of WordPress to accept the upload.

First I tried to use RasterVect Free Edition to get me all the way from Fig 1 to Fig 2 (black/white).
Nope! The free edition haven’t got the smooth tracing enabled. But I got one step on the way.

Converting to 1-bit

I could remove a grey shadow when converting the grayscale image to black/white (BW). So why didn’t I do that with the scanner – well I didn’t see a graphical preview for that using Artweaver – maybe I should have used RasterVect for scanning? Maybe next time. I supports both TWAIN and WAI scanning.

For the BW convertion do:

Recognition – Start (F12)

Convert to BW - 1

This opens a dialogue – press Convert to 1-bit

Convert to BW - 2

Now a graphical window opens – move the slider left from 0 to -55 (in this case). That made the line appear solid, but without a shadow in the right output pane.

Convert to BW - 3
Fig. 3 Convert to BW

Click OK, when you are satisfied.

Tip: RasterVect is also a great image grapper. You can capture Desktop, Windows, Selection and more.

The output image resolution was much too large (3087 x 2971 – 600 dpi) to make good trace to vector.

BW large
Fig. 4 BW large


I re-scaled the image to 500 x 481 – 72 dpi using Gimp. Now you can much better see the pixels.

BW small
Fig. 5 BW small

Tip: Gimp is great for exporting to a large number of bitmap file types.

Repair the bitmap

You could do some preparation on the bitmap with RasterVect still. Try out Recognition – Wizard!

The wizard can turn the page a few degrees if the drawing was tilted a bit.

It can fill 1 bit holes, smooth and more.

I already did some manual editing of pixels on Fig. 5. I added some and removed others.

Convert to Vector

The RasterVect free edition cannot use outlined trace mode – you must give a few $ for that.

Instead you can use a range of other raster-to-vector tools.

PoTrace makes a very nice convertion from low resolution bitmaps as shown here:

PoTrace Example
Fig. 6 PoTrace Example
Installing PoTrace

I extracted and copied the 64 bit Windows version to C:\Program Files\potrace-1.11.win64

For convenience add the path to the environment path:

  • Control Panel\System and Security\System
  • Advanced Sytem Settings
  • Environgment Variables
  • Append to PATH: ;C:\Program Files\potrace-1.11.win64
Using PoTrace

PoTrace is a command line tool.

It accepts only few input formats. I converted to .bmp.

Like RasterVects Wizard it comes with a image scaling and filtering tool called mkbitmap. The output of mkbitmap is .pbm bitmaps. This output can be directly piped to PoTrace as here:

mkbitmap -f 2 -s 1 -t 0.48 myimg.bmp | potrace -t 5

PoTrace outputs to .eps by default.

Since I already did some resizing and manual editing, then I only needed PoTrace, so I could do following to output a .svg vector file:

potrace -b svg -r 300 -t 5 -O 0.4 myimg.bmp

Tip: You can also output to .pdf. Details in the Slides link lower down.

I made a .bat file which enabled me to drag-n-drop a .bmp file onto my potracer.bat

potrace -b svg -r 300 -t 5 -O 0.4 %1

So now I had a smooth .svg file (Fig. 7) that I could edit in InkScape and export as .png for the web.

Smooth SVG output
Fig. 7 Smooth SVG output

I made some closing curves and filled some colours. Result is Fig. 2.

Tip: PoTrace is also included in InkScape. HowTo PoTrace from InkScape:

  • File – Import
  • Select image
  • Path – Trace Bitmap

Tip: InkScape is great for exporting to a large number of vector file types.


The End.


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