Basic Image Tracing in Silhouette Studio

Basic Image Tracing in Silhouette Studio

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This is the second post in my series on basic image tracing. This time I’m covering basic image tracing in Silhouette Studio.

The steps below will cover the kinds of images you can successfully trace as well as how to trace in the basic, free version of Silhouette Studio.

If you upgrade (aka pay $) your version of Silhouette Studio to Designer Edition or above, you will get additional tracing capabilities that will allow you to trace more complex images.

I’m not going to cover those here, but if you’d like me to, please let me know in the comments below.

You may also want to check out my tutorial on Group vs. Weld in Silhouette Studio.

Please check out the video tutorial below or scroll down for instructions with photos:

Types of Images You Can Trace in Free Silhouette Studio

As I mentioned above, the free version of Silhouette Studio offers a basic trace tool that works well, but only on certain kinds of images. Generally, those images need to be fairly simple – not many colors, no shading, etc.

These are the kinds of images that work well with the Trace tool in the free version of Silhouette Studio:

  1. Images with different colors as long as the colors don’t touch each other.
  2. Simple, coloring book style black (or another dark color) and white line drawings.
    Simple Line Drawing
  3. Images that are one color only.
    Single Color Image
  4. Images with multiple colors that touch each other can be traced as solid outlines of the overall shape; you can’t trace the different colored areas.
    Multi Color Image Traces to Solid Outline

Another thing to consider when selecting images to be traced is the resolution or size of the image. Images downloaded from the Internet will almost always be at a low resolution of 72 dpi (dots per inch) but if you can download them at a high pixel size like 800 – 1000+ pixels by 800 – 100+ pixels they should be large enough to trace. You can always try to trace smaller images but be prepared if they don’t race well.

Finally, I want to remind you that downloading copyrighted images from the Internet (eg brand logos, Disney characters, even art from an Etsy store, etc.) and using them to make items you intend to sell, is illegal. Please DO NOT do this! It’s a large problem in the craft industry and effects small artists as well as large corporations.

Step One: Open the Image in Silhouette Studio

To get started, click File>Open to open a navigation window on your computer and navigate to the image file you want to use.

Open an Image to be Traced in Silhouette Studio

Once you’ve found it, click Open and the image will open on the mat.

Image to be Traced in Silhouette Studio

If you want to add additional images to the same mat, click File>Merge to open those. If you use File>Open again, it will put the new image on a new tab.

Use File Merge to Add More Images to Mat

Resize the images as needed so you can see them on screen but they aren’t too small. Place your first image to trace on the mat.

I’d advise you to only trace one image at a time.

Step Two: Open the Trace Panel

On the right-hand toolbar, find the “butterfly” icon. Personally, I think it looks like a piece of toast in a box.

Image Tracing Tool on Silhouette Studio Toolbar

Click on it to open the Trace panel.

Trace Panel in Silhouette Studio

In the free version of Silhouette Studio, you will have one choice at the top of the Trace panel – Trace. If you have Designer edition or higher, you will also see icons for Trace by Color and Magnet Trace. For this tutorial, I will only be using the first icon – Trace.

Trace Options Depending on Edition of Silhouette Studio

Check that the Tab under Trace Preview is set to Solid Fill (it’s the default). This is the only setting I use with the free version Trace tool; Outline never works correctly for me with the free version.

Solid Fill vs. Outline on Trace Panel in Silhouette Studio

Step Three: Draw a Trace Area Box Over the Image

Click on Select Trace Area and your cursor will change to a crosshairs

Select Trace Area on Trace Panel in Silhouette Studio

Click and drag over the image you want to trace

Trace Area Drawn in Silhouette Studio

After a moment, a yellow trace will appear in the trace area.

Yellow Indicates What is Traced in Silhouette Studio

Step Four: Adjust the Tracing Threshold As Needed

If your image is shown in yellow exactly as you wanted it, then you should proceed to Step Five.

If your image is missing some parts or tracing too much, you should adjust the Threshold slider on the Trace panel

Adjust the Threshold Slider on Trace Panel

The Threshold Slider is basically telling the software program where the contrast threshold needs to be between the background and the items on top of it. So, a low threshold (left side of slider) means the software will only look for items with the highest amount of contrast with the background. A higher threshold (right side of slider) means the less contrast there needs to be between the background and the items on top of it.

You can slide it left (lower) to trace less of the image.

Threshold Slider Too Low in Silhouette Studio

Slide it right (higher) to trace more of the image.

Threshold Slider Set Just Right in Silhouette Studio

Don’t slide it too high or it may just trace everything and turn your image into a background shape.

Threshold Slider Too High in Silhouette Studio

Once you find the right slider position to get your image traced the way you want it, proceed to Step Five.

Quick Note About Despeckle Threshold, High Pass & Scale Settings

Normally with a basic trace, you won’t do anything with the Despeckle Threshold slider, the High Pass filter or the Scale setting. Those are for more advanced traces.

Despeckle Threshold, High Pass Filter and Scale on Trace Panel in Silhouette Studio

You may need to adjust the Despeckle Threshold if the yellow trace is showing a lot of random dots (aka speckles) around your image. This can happen with lower resolution/smaller size images. If you get this with your trace, move the Despeckle Threshold slider to the right to increase the threshold and hopefully, all of the random dots will disappear.

You only need to adjust the Scale up if the image you want to trace is small/low quality and the first trace looks bad and adjusting the normal Threshold slider doesn’t really help. Sometimes increasing the scale can help the program get a clearer trace of these kinds of images.

Step Five: Decide Which Type of Trace to Use

The Trace panel gives you three options for the actual Trace.

The first one is just a simple Trace. This will Trace your image exactly as you see it in yellow.

Image Traced Using Simple Trace in Silhouette Studio

The second choice is Trace Outer Edge. This will Trace the outline of the yellow shape but not any of the inside openings; eg no loops in letters (see image below).

REsults of Trace Outer Edge in Silhouette Studio

The last choice is Trace and Detach. Use this when you have an image file with multiple different images that you want to separate from each other. Trace and Detach works really well for Print Then Cut images because it keeps the fills/colors on the original image elements when you want to separate them to make stickers for example.

Trace and Detach in Silhouette Studio

For my project, I will use the simple Trace option.

Step Six: Trace the Image

Click on Trace and the program will trace the yellow image. It may take a moment or two but then the yellow will disappear and a red line will appear around the edges of the image file (zoom in to see if necessary).

Red Trace Lines After Image Trace in Silhouette Studio

Drag the original image file off the mat to see the completed trace. The trace will be an outline of the image (no fill).

Completed Image Tracing in Silhouette Studio

If you click on it, you’ll notice that the entire image is selected. The entire image is now on one cutting layer. This works if you only need one layer and plan to use the image with only one color of material, but to create separate layers for the different elements in the image proceed to Step Seven.

After Trace, Everrything is on One Layer in Silhouette Studio

Step Seven: Release Compound Path

To separate the elements in the traced image into separate layers, right click on the trace and choose Release Compound Path. You can also do this by selecting the traced image, going up to the very top toolbar and selecting Object>Release Compound Path.

Ways to Release Compound Path in Silhouette Studio

The mat will change and now show gray boxes around all of the different elements in the Trace. Sometimes you may need to zoom in to see the boxes.

Light Gray Boxes Show All Cut Paths After Compound Path is Released in Silhouette Studio

Each gray box represents a separate, new layer. This can be great if you want every single item cut from different elements. But often there are parts that you want to keep together, like the inside loops in letters with the word.

But before grouping items together, let’s add some fill color to the different layers. It’s easier to do before grouping.

Step Eight: Add Fill Colors to Layers As Needed

Select the first main element you want to add fill to. Navigate to the upper left corner of the top toolbar to the Fill Color box. It will show a gray and white checkboard pattern (aka transparent), since the element doesn’t have any fill.

Fill Color Tool on Toolbar in Silhouette Studio

Click on the checkerboard pattern to open the fill color palette. A window will appear with various squares of color. Choose the one you want to fill the element with to fill it.

Fill Color Color Choices in Silhouette Studio

The selected element on the mat will now be filled with that color.

One Layer of Traced Image with Fill Color in Silhouette Studio

Continue this same process for all of the different elements you want to add fill colors to.

Step Nine: Group Layers/Elements Together If Needed

In my project, I have a bunch of layers for each inside loop in the letters in the word “Love”.  Knowing me, I will probably accidentally move one of those out of place at some point. It will be tough to get it back in position if I’ve made other changes in the meantime and don’t want to hit Undo until it’s back in place.

To prevent this, I need to Group the outline of the word and the inside loop cut outs all together. That way all of those separate layers will move as one and be cut out as one item.

To Group elements/layers together, carefully click on the first element you want to group, hold down the Shift key and click the next one. Continue holding down Shift and clicking items until all of the ones you want to group together have been selected. Then go up to the upper toolbar and click on the Group icon.

Use Group Toll to Keep Layers Together in Silhouette Studio

Now you can arrange the different layers (or groups) as you like on the mat, switch to the Send tab and and make something fun with it. That’s all there is to completing a basic image trace in the free version of Silhouette Studio.

I used my traced image to create these cards:

Love Card with Glitter

If you’d like the image I created for this tutorial in order to practice, download it by clicking here (it’s an automatic download so if it seems like nothing happened, please check the Downloads folder on your computer or mobile device).

I hope this helps you start tracing images and making your own fun multi-layered, multi-colored projects with them.

If you’re interested in learning about the more advanced Trace options found in Designer Edition or higher, please let me know in the comments below.

Questions or Comments?

If you have any questions, please leave me a comment below and I will get back to you soon. Want to just tell me how much you loved this tutorial? Please leave me a comment below – lol!


I also welcome any ideas you may have for topics related to the software for Cricut (Design Space), Silhouette (Studio) or Brother ScanNCut machines (Canvas Workspace) and any suggestions you may have on projects to create with the Cricut Maker, Cricut Joy, Silhouette Cameo 4 or the Brother Scan N Cut DX. Please leave any requests you have in the comments. I really appreciate you taking the time to visit and read my blog. Thanks!

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