Deke’s Techniques 271: Tracing Hand-Drawn Art with Uniform Strokes in Illustrator

I know you think you’ve heard the story before: artistically talented Photoshop guru shares love of drawing bizarre creatures with equally artistically inclined son. Yes, in this week’s free Deke’s Techniques episode, we once again revisit Deke and Sam at the kitchen table, drawing yet another alien come to take over our creative world, play some golf, and metaphorically eat our brains (or at least set up an administrative office there). This time, the McClellands make a pencil drawing which they seek to recreate in Illustrator.

The trick here is to trace the drawing using the Trace feature in Illustrator in such a way that the lines, born as hand-drawn pencil scribblings in the real world, come out as strong uniform digital strokes.

Pencil sketch becomes uniformly traced line drawing in Illustrator

In the movie, you’ll learn three valuable lessons that apply to life as well as tracing in Illustrator:

  • Prepare: In this case, by increasing contrast in the original scan in Photoshop first before starting in Illustrator so that Image Trace takes notice.
  • Be patient: Image Trace in Illustrator is a pretty miraculous way of turning a drawing into paths (that can then be manipulated digitally). But, it takes its sweet time doing so. So take your hands off the keyboard and let it do its thing.
  • Simplify judiciously: In Illustrator traces, like in life, you want to smooth your paths and reduce your anchor points, but not to the point where your life, I mean your drawing, is unrecognizable.

For members of, there’s an exclusive video this week in which Deke uses Live Paint in Illustrator to color the artwork after the strokes are established, resulting in this alien overlord-inspired masterpiece:

Colorful drawing taken from pencil sketch to vector-based line art.

If you’re not a member you can get a free week’s trial to check it out by going to

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  • question

    so glad i found this post, deke—thank you!
    this is exactly what i’ve been trying to learn. 
    quick question:
    what if, even at 100% curve precision, the details of the drawing are still not precise enough?
    at what earlier point should i adjust the values?


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