How to Convert Any Graphic for a Plotter Cutter

By RS Wagner

This is an example of a grayscale vector graphic.
i pattern vector image by WaD from

Converting a graphic for use on a Plotter/Cutter requires knowledge of vector graphics. Vector graphic are scalable to any size. Vector graphics are not based on image resolution, as bitmaps are. Vector graphics depend on mathematical formulas creating lines and curves that a Plotter/Cutter can read. Consisting of a grid of square dots, bitmaps are created in a photo editing program, are unreadable to a Plotter/Cutter and must be converted to a vector format using illustration design software.

Software Selection

Vectors are outlines.
i ebb flow outlined image by Nicemonkey from

Buy an illustration program that offers the ability to trace bitmap or "raster" graphic files. Choose a software program that allows you to preview in a "Wireframe" or "Outline" mode, and perform adjustments to the final trace.

i global nodes network image by Michael Brown from

Use a program that offers easy editing by simplifying vector drawings by minimizing "nodes," or points for creating detailed graphic designs.

Remove the background of a graphic when converting files to vector.
i logo image by Biro from

Select a program that offers preserved colors and lines from the original graphic. Choose programs capable of removing backgrounds for easier conversion when imported into a Plotter/Cutter.


Save a graphic from a photo editing program as a bitmap, BMP. Choose "File," then "Save As" from the drop-down menu at the top of the document. Choose where you would like to save the file on your hard drive. Select "Enter."

Open an illustration program. Create a new document by selecting "File," then "New." Size the image to scale.

Press "CTRL/CMD"+"R" to show the rulers in the document, or choose "View," then "Show Rulers." Create guideline margins by holding down the mouse button, then dragging guidelines from both the top and side rulers.

Select "File," then "Place" or "File," then "Import," placing the file into the document. Enlarge or reduce the file, as necessary, fitting the graphic into your margin area.

Hold the "Shift" key when dragging the graphic to size, maintaining proportions of the graphic. Select "Enter," finishing the import procedure.


Click on the graphic. Choose "Object," then "Trace" from the drop-down menu. Use a preset tracing function or customize the controls according to your needs.

Choose from the color modes for color, grayscale, or black-and-white. Experiment with the different settings on your specific software program.

Use the "Blur" function before tracing for smoothing jagged lines and to remove small dots or "artifacts" in the bitmap. Use a higher numerical value for a smoother path.

Remove the background from the image, reducing nodes in the graphic by selecting "Ignore White" or "Remove Background."

Choose "Preview," observing how the traced image will appear. Select "Enter" or "Trace."

Select "Expand" from the "Objects" menu at the top of the document for viewing the vector tracing.

Using the Pen Tool

Use the pen tool, manipulating any lines that intersect or need further adjustment for producing a smooth path. Press the letter "P" to select the pen tool or select the pen tool icon from the tool bar.

Choose other options by holding down the mouse button on the pen tool on the tool bar and selecting your choice from the fly-out menu.

Select the "Plus" sign, "+", or "Minus" sign, "-" to add or remove points on a path.

Press "Shift"+"C" for converting one anchor point at a time. Select multiple points by holding down the "Shift" key while selecting the points with the selection tool and by choosing, "Convert Selected Anchor Points To Smooth" in the Control panel options box.

Save the file to your hard drive, then use the "Import" or "Place" command in your vinyl cutting software, following the software developer's instructions located in the "Help" file of your specific vector program.