How to Turn a Photo Into a Stencil in Illustrator

By Ken Burnside

Stencil effects like this one can be made by converting photos to vector art in Illustrator.
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Stencils are printed as masks or screens. You lay the stencil down on the surface you want to paint, and run the ink over the stencil; it goes through the holes in the stencil and paints the surface. The stencil is removed, and in a multi-screen process, the surface being printed on is shifted to the next stencil in question. Adobe Illustrator's Live Trace function allows vector-based stencils to be made easily from raster artwork, including a scanned photo.

Step 1

Load your raster image in your raster editor of choice; this can be GIMP, Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro.

Step 2

Delete the background of the image you want to convert into a stencil, and replace it with white. Once that's done, outline the area you want to convert into a stencil with a 3-pixel wide black border.

Step 3

Convert the image to Gray Scale, using the fewest tints of gray that you can. Save the image in PNG, JPEG or GIF format.

Step 4

Start Illustrator with a blank artboard.

Step 5

Click on the "File" menu, and select "Place." Navigate to where you've stored your image, and double click on it. The image will be placed in Illustrator's artboard.

Step 6

Look above the artboard. You'll see a button labeled "Live Trace" and next to it a small button with an arrow. Click the small button with the arrow and select the "Black And White Logo" option. Illustrator will convert your artwork into a set of black and white vector objects.