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Vector Magic


 

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  • I'm going to talk a little about vector art and bitmaps and how they relate to each other.

  • A bitmap is a regular image, like a JPG from your camera, or a PNG on a website. Bitmaps are described by a grid of tiny colored squares called pixels. If you want to increase the size of a bitmap, you have to come up with new pixels to fill in the gaps between the original ones. This process is called "interpolation" and it leads to the blurriness or pixelation that you see when you zoom into a bitmap or scale it up to a larger size.

  • Vector art, in contrast, is described by the mathematical formulas of the shapes that make it up. As a result, the vector art can be viewed at any size without any blurriness or pixelation. It also means that you can change the image in more useful ways. For example, if your vector image contains a circle, you can easily just change the size of that circle, or even transform it into an ellipse (a type of oval). That would not be possible in a bitmap image.

  • Converting from vector art to a bitmap is easy as pie. In fact, any program that displays vector art has to convert it to a bitmap just to display it on the screen. The technical word for that process is "rasterization." The opposite process, that of converting from a bitmap to vector art is not so easy. In fact, it is a somewhat ill-posed problem in that there are lots of vector images that "match" any given bitmap, so it is impossible to say which one is correct.

  • The "standard" way to convert from a bitmap to a vector representation is for a human designer to just redraw the art in a vector editor. This is time consuming and frustrating, but it leads to consistently good results, and it is what people are used to.

  • There are also a number of software packages for doing this - Adobe has a tool called LiveTrace that is built into Illustrator and Corel has one called PowerTrace that comes with CorelDraw. But these and the other tools on the market just don't deliver the level of quality that is needed, so automatic vectorization has gotten a bad name. And deservedly so. Those tools suck so much that it is often faster to just redraw the art than to clean up the mess that LiveTrace et al. are able to produce.

  • The good news is that some new research out of Stanford University has recently changed that for a large group of images. It is called Vector Magic (VM) and they've taken it commercial at:

    http://vectormagic.com/

  • It is not a miracle worker, so don't think you'll get a great vectorized result of your scan of a cocktail napkin, but the new tool does work remarkably well on medium- and high-resolution bitmaps that were originally vector art at some point.

  • Anyway, you don't have to take my word for it. For some comparisons, check out:

    http://vectormagic.com/home/comparisons

 

Original Vector Magic Adobe Corel
371_newcastle_clean_great_pal_seg_con_bb10_36_morph_b_v_v_v-fp-d37756f9e1b4f3bc7bac1892f85231fd
351_hurricane_noise2_great_seg_con_bb8_36_morph_b_v_v_v-fp-14ad40279e1dfd3e65d3fc682f89b0bb
371_newcastle_clean_great_pal_seg_con_bb11_36_morph_b_v_v_v-fp-e3e8d4b8255485ebf8b0923ac4d9a552
Bitmap Vector Vector Vector
  • And you can try it yourself for free. Just upload an image to their website and it will guide you through a wizard, leading to your vectorized result.
    The online tool is really slick, but you can also download a desktop version of the software that is free to try (you need to buy if you want to save the resulting files, but you can inspect them in detail with the trial)
Trace your bitmaps with Vector Magic
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