How to Trace Over a Photo in Artboard

Tracing over photographs and scanned pictures is a time-tested technique to create vector art work, such as logos and icons. In this tutorial we show you step-by-step how to add a photo to your drawing canvas and trace over it with the Bezier Path tool.

Tutorial Details

Program : Artboard 2.0+ for Mac OSX
Difficulty: Beginner
Topics Covered: Image Browser, Bezier Path tool
Estimated Completion Time: ~20 minutes

Step 1

Open new drawing. Click the Image Browser icon on the toolbar to open the browser. You may need to navigate to your image. Drag-and-drop a photo from the browser onto your drawing canvas. We’re using a public domain photo of duckpin bowling available on Wikipedia.

Use the Select [s] tool to reposition your image on the drawing canvas. To resize the image, hold the SHIFT-key (to maintain the aspect ratio) and drag the object handles. With the image still selected, adjust the opacity in the Geometry pane (located at the bottom of the Layers panel) to make it easier to see your vector tracings. We’ve made our image about 70% opacity.

Step 2

Add a new layer by clicking the “+” at the lower left of the layers list. Make sure the new layer is above the layer  with your photo (click and drag the layer names to re-order as needed). Drawing on a new layer helps prevent accidentally selecting your background object.

It’s easiest to start your drawing with simple outlines. Bezier curves offer some of the greatest control and flexibility when tracing over a photo. However, it may be the least familiar tool to some users. If you aren’t used to working with Bezier paths, it can take a bit of getting used to – but ultimately you may find it becomes your favorite tool! In this step, we focus on how to use the Bezier Path [b] tool.


Learn the Bezier tool by following the hands-on exercise.

Choose File > New From Template… in the Artboard main menu.

Start with the Bezier Path [b] tool and use the Format bar to change the style. To make it easier to see, we’ve made a 3-pt red stroke and turned off the fill.

Press your cursor and drag to place your first point and curve handle. For smoothest curves, place points along the inside of curves (not on the top of the curves) dragging the handles outward in the direction of the line. The longer the handle, the steeper the curve. For corners, click once (without dragging) to place a point. You may need to go back after and adjust some of the points and curve handles – that’s okay!

Path and Curve Shortcuts and Modifier Keys

To draw a Bezier path:

  • To place a point with a curve, press-and-drag out its curve handles then release
  • To place a point with its curve handles retracted (for example, a corner), click once and release
  • To remove the last placed point while you draw a path, use the Delete-key with step backwards each point
  • To finish a path and close it automatically, click onto the first placed point to end the path; otherwise, use the ESC-key or double-click to end the path

To modify a path after it has been drawn, use the Select [s] tool and select the path, then:

  • To move a point along a path, select and move it with the cursor or nudge it with the keyboard arrow keys
  • To drag a handle away from its point, or to adjust curve handles independently of each other, including length and direction, hold the CMND-(Apple) key while adjusting the curve handles
  • To keep the length of the curve handles symmetrical to each other when making adjustments, hold the ALT/OPTION-key while adjusting the curve handles
  • To temporarily toggle snapping to grid or guides while adjusting curve handles, hold the CTRL-key after clicking on the handle
  • To constrain curve handles’ angle to 15-degree increments, hold the SHIFT-key while adjusting a curve handle
  • To expand hidden curve handles, right-click a point and choose “Expand Handles” from the contextual menu (or hold the CMND-key and drag the handle away from its point)
  • To collapse one or more curve handles, right-click a curve handle or point and choose “Collapse Handles”  from the contextual menu
  • To collapse or expand all curve handles, right-click on the path and choose “Select all Handles” and then choose the collapse or expand all option from the contextual menu
  • To “Nudge” one or more points or curve handles, select the points and move with the keyboard arrow-keys
  • To join two paths, make sure their end points are close and select both paths, then use the CMND-J keyboard shortcut (or choose Edit > Paths > Join from the main menu)
  • Don’t forget, you can also use the Add Point To Path [+], Remove Point From Paths [-], and Cut Path [u] tools :)

Step 3

Draw the “crown” on the neck of the bowling pin. Use the Bezier Path [b] tool and click “Reset” in the Format bar to reset the style to the default stroke and fill. We draw it outside the pin edges because after you’ve drawn the crown, we are going to use “intersect” to clip it with a duplicate of the bowling pin object (see Step 4).

Step 4

First, make a duplicate of the bowling pin to use for the intersect operation while leaving the original object in tact. To make a quick duplicate, hold the Option-key and click its path. You won’t see any changes because the new path is copied in the exact same place as the first. But if you want to check, grab it with the Select [s] tool and move it – you’ll see two copies (you can undo this afterwards).

Now Select [s] the top (duplicate) bowling pin path and the “crown” and click the Intersection icon on the tool bar. This function will clip the lower “crown” object to the path of the bowling pin.

Step 5

That’s pretty much it for tracing our pin. You can use the same techniques for tracing much more complicated objects. Now we can make it look great with styles.

Let’s add a gradient fill to our pin. Use the Select[s] tool to select the bowling pin and open the Style Inspector. With the shape shape still selected, click “New” to create a new style. Click onto “Fill” in the components list then click the “-” button to remove the component. Click onto the “Stroke” style component and make it about 15-pts wide (it will be different if you are using different drawing units). Click the “+” button in the Style Inspector and add a “Gradient Fill” style component. Click the “+” on the gradient slider to add two more color stop to the slider. Click onto each gradient slider to change its color and slide to adjust its position as shown below. We are using a light grey and purple color scheme. You can use different colors – just note the progression of color from darkest on the bottom and top. In the gradient-well, hold the SHIFT-key and move the rotation handle so the gradient angle is -90-degrees (HINT: holding the SHIFT-key constrains the angle to 15-degree increments).

Step 6

Select the “crown” and follow the same steps as above to add a new gradient. For the crown, we remove the “Stroke” component and add a simple red to dark-red gradient.

Step 7

Finally, let’s add some finishing touches to add depth and interest. Choose the Oval [o] tool and create a new style that has a grey fill and no stroke. We’ve drawn several different sized circles around the middle and top of the pin. Hold the SHIFT-key while you’re drawing to make perfect circles.

Switch to the Bezier Path [b] tool and create a new style. This time we create a new style with no stroke and a 50% opacity white fill. Use this to draw shapes that will be highlighting on the pin as shown below.

Final Image

Congratulations! You’ve drawn a fine specimen duckpin bowling pin. This would make a great logo or icon, or even an art asset for a game!

Once you have finished tracing your new graphic, it is easy to get rid of the background photo/image if you prefer not to show it. You can either delete it or just hide it:

1. To delete the photo, click on the Layer name to return to the layer that holds the photo, Select [s] the photo and delete it (you might choose to do this if if you are really completely done with the photo – this can reduce your file size, but once the image is deleted it is permanently gone from your drawing!), or
2. To hide the photo, simply click the “eye” icon in the Layer list next to the name of the layer containing the photo (the contents of the layer will still be there, just hidden).