Having a vector version of your logo is an absolute must, but what if you only have a small, bitmap version? Just run it through Adobe Illustrator’s “image trace” right?
Not really, cause image trace kinda sucks for converting logos to vector art.. Not going to get into the “why you need a vector version of your logo” again. You just do. And if you don’t have one, you’re going to have to get one. Either from the original place that designed your logo (if they still have it on file) or you’re going to need to have one created.
Repairing a logo.
Around here, we refer to that as logo repair, and it can be pretty tricky business, depending on what assets we’re starting with. When clients inquire about those services, they’ll often ask if there’s not a “magic button” that turns a jagged, pixelated mess into pristine vectors.
There’s something that’s marketed as akin to a magic conversion button – Adobe Illustrator‘s “live trace” or “image trace” function, but it’s nowhere approaching magic, iffy at best, awful at worst, and not really a solution if you want really nice art. We’ve done this exercise before with a simple logo, but we’re going to do a step-by-step with a fairly complicated graphic this time.
But first, the back story..
Changing image sizes.
When we redesigned our site late last summer, the pane width on article pages increased from 560 pixels wide to 795 pixels wide. That meant that a mess of old images where too small to sit comfortably in the new format and had to be enlarged. For technical reasons, we had to move our blog to its new location (you’re there now) and we needed to reformat any posts that we were moving over. That meant making those images bigger too. One of the articles I decided to move over was an old piece I had done on my favorite rock band logos. In that feature, I talked about the logo of my favorite night spot (designed by cartoonist Ian Carr) when I was in my early twenties – Toronto’s alternative music night club Nuts & Bolts on Victoria Street.
Obviously, I needed an image of that logo, and managed to find one solitary version in Google image search but it was real small (176 pixels x 189 pixels real small to be precise.) On the older slimmer version it was just okay. On the new wider version, it looked positively ridiculous. It had to be made bigger. Trouble is, as we covered in our guide to resolution and logos feature (and as illustrated above) you can’t just make a bitmap image bigger. That’s one of the main reasons you need a vector in the first place. Unless I’m mistaken, the version I found had been scanned off a matchbook cover, complete with either a burn mark or coffee stain. That would become more apparent too (and adjusting contrast/brightness to blow it out would only make matters worse.) Trouble is, as the club closed down decades ago, it’s pretty safe to say this is as good as it gets.
Quick and dirty.
As this was only for a blog post there’s a couple of quick and dirty solutions to SLIGHTLY increase the size of a bitmap image. That’s to make it bigger in a pixel-based program (I use Adobe Fireworks) and by carefully (and slightly) sharpening the image as you go. It’ll do in a pinch, but is not recommended for any use past “hey, look at this logo” placement on a nostalgia post.
I took the original up to 150% before it became unusable (even for a blog post) but pixels are noticeable pretty much right away. We still need a vector version to do anything it with at all. So let’s have a go with live trace (or image trace,) Adobe Illustrator’s bitmap to vector conversion function.
Illustrator live trace.
As much as we’d all love image trace to be a magic bullet, it simply isn’t. In fact, it’s probably worse at vector conversion than it’s really old predecessor Streamline. The function boasts a wide range of slidy bars and options that you can tinker with, depending on what you’re working with, and what you want to end up with. On this project, I used every permutation imaginable in an attempt to come up with a decent result. Here’s what Illustrator hacked up:
Yeah, those are no good at all. Worse, here’s what the best version (lower row, second from the left) looks like in wire frame mode:
It tried to vectorize individual pixels. I realize I’m pushing image trace real hard (it does have its uses, and has a better time with larger images that have perpendicular shapes) but we don’t have anything else to work with. Alas, the vector conversion magic bullet it ain’t.
An infinitely better solution for auto-acked vector conversion is online-based Vector Magic (they have a desktop version too IIRC) and it does a pretty decent job, even on a small low-resolution bitmap that we’re playing with. Let’s let it have a go at the original image from above left.
That’s certainly not awful. It would require a bit of hand-editing mind you, probably as much time required as doing by hand, but it’s a surprisingly decent result considering the poor-quality source file we’re working with. I also didn’t tinker too much with the settings and could probably improve the result with little effort. I’ve written about this website before, and with decent images, it blows live trace all to hell. Vector Magic struggles a little with typography, but it chews through images with remarkable precision. Recommended.
Vectorizing by hand.
Alas, when it comes to converting rubbish images to usable vectors, there’s only one tired-and-true method: hand-tracing the logo by eyeball, using bezier curves and points. For that task, I turned this assignment over to Leah at the shop – she’s our resident logo cleanup expert – and after a couple of hours of tinkering with vectors and what-not, here’s what she came up with:
Sweet. If this were an actual repair gig, we could colorize the logo, split it into its various bits and pieces and generally use it like you’re supposed to use a logo. In terms of what’s going on under the hood, here’s what the initial version looked like, beside the edited, production quality logo.I’ve often said that the true test of any logo setup is how well it would play with a digital plotter – overlapping vectors split the vinyl and the blade can’t understand vector shapes that aren’t closed. This artwork would pass that test with flying colors.
This exercise was done out of love and respect for Jody Colero and Ed Jandrisits, founders of Nuts & Bolts way back when. It’s also a homage to the original logo designer Ian Carr in hope that if anyone wants to write about their memories of the 80s music scene in Toronto, they’ll at least have a decent version of his logo to use when they talk about my fave club.