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How to Trace in Inkscape using Multicolor
  • By Nadine Spires
  • 03 Feb 2023
  • 16 Mins
  • Intermediate
  • Inkscape Tutorials

How to Trace in Inkscape using Multicolor

Learn how to trace in Inkscape using Multicolor and create a digital color image

Creating vector digital designs from multicolor images is not as difficult as you think. Turn your hand-drawn design into a detailed cut file ready to use with your Cricut or Silhouette cutting machine. Why not turn your sketches into digital work for your online portfolio? In today's tutorial we will show you how to trace in Inkscape using the Multicolor method.

Result of Multicolor trace in Inkscape

Let’s Spring into action with cute bunnies and pastel colors from this Easter Home bundle. We will be tracing PNG files from this set to show you how the Multicolor settings work.

It’s recommended that you work with images that are less than 3MB in size when tracing with multicolor. Anything bigger could slow down your system or possibly crash the program. This is because the Trace Bitmap feature runs multiple scans and can be CPU intensive.

You can also trace your image using the single scan option for simple black and white results. The Single scan method doesn't need a high amount of resources but the quality may decrease a bit.

Brightness Steps in Trace Bitmap

After you have opened your design in Inkscape, click on Path > Trace Bitmap and the settings will open in a window on the right side of the screen. Click on Multicolor to see the options available.

Select Brightness Steps in Trace Bitmap

The Brightness steps setting scans the image for different shades of dark and light. The lowest scan of 2 will contain the darkest shade while more scans will add layers or steps of lighter shades. With this option, you will only get shades of black, white and gray.

Once you click Apply, the traced image will be placed on top of the original image. You can then use the Move tool to reposition it.

Increase or Decrease the Image Scans

In the example below, we set the Brightness steps to 2 scans. In the Preview, the result looks a little strange. We clicked Apply and ended up with the grayed result on the right side. The Preview doesn’t seem to accurately display what the result will be.

Trace in Inkscape - Increase or decrease scans

If we increase the Scans to the default setting of 8, you can see that the Preview looks about right, but when we click Apply, not everything has been scanned.

Incomplete scan of traced image in Inkscape

So this is where you will need to experiment and test out the results. For this image, we needed to increase the scans to 10 in order for everything to be included.

PNG image completely traced in Inkscape

Ungroup the Image Scans

After the image has been scanned, it then becomes an editable vector design. Depending on how the feature has scanned your image, you can ungroup the design into layers. With the 10 scans done, right-click the trace and select Ungroup.

Ungroup traced image in Inkscape

You can now separate and edit each layer as we did in the image below.

Inkscape tutorial - Separate traced image

Edit Smooth, Stack and Remove Background Options

The Smooth option uses a Gaussian blur to smooth out any jagged edges before scanning. To avoid losing detail, do not increase this too high.

The Stack option removes any gaps between layers and adds a fill. When the box is checked, the scans are stacked on top of each other. When the box is unchecked, the result is like that of a cut out. We will show an example of this with the Colors option below.

Remove Background, when checked, will remove light or white backgrounds. There needs to be contrast between the background and image to make it easier for the feature to identify and remove. This feature seems to work best with the Color option.

Adjust the Detail Settings

In the Details section, you will find settings that are used to fine tune the traced image. Depending on the image, you may or may not see any difference as you adjust the settings.

Speckles - this will help to remove small unwanted areas that are traced. But if you push the number too high, you will also lose the fine detail. We increased the number to the max amount of 1000. As you can see, the middle section of the “A” is missing.

Smooth setting in Trace Bitmap - Inkscape

Smooth corners - as the description suggests, this setting will smooth out any jagged corners.

Optimized - the main purpose of this setting is to decrease the amount of nodes created when the image is traced as a vector. Nodes allow you to edit every single part of the design.

If you have too many nodes, the program and your system will slow down. But, if you have too few nodes, you have less flexibility when editing with the Edit paths by nodes and Bezier tools.

User-assisted trace - you can decide what areas of the image you want to trace by using the Bezier tool to make a selection. Then, add a fill to the selection using the color palette at the bottom of the screen. The color doesn’t matter, you just need a base to work from.

Select everything, then check the box for User-assisted trace. Once done, delete the selection and you will see the trace beneath.

This feature can sometimes be glitchy, very slow, and give bad results. The User-assisted trace feature under the Single Scan option will give better results.

At the bottom of the Trace Bitmap menu you will find the box for Live updates, Update preview button, Apply button, Help dialog box and a button to stop the trace operation. The Help Dialog box contains instructions and a description of each setting.

Help dialog box - Trace in Inkscape

Colors Detection Mode

Go back to the drop-down box under Detection Mode and select Colors. You will have the same settings as the Brightness Steps option. The only difference is that you will be working with color.

In the image below, we tested out the scan settings. We first traced the design using the Scan setting of 2, the lowest setting. The box was ticked for Remove Background. Only the turquoise areas were traced in this case.

We then increased the Scan setting to 8, or until we could see all the colors we wanted. This then produced the desired result.

Examples of different scans - Tracing in Inkscape

The trace is now a vector that can be fully edited with the Edit paths by nodes tool.

Edit nodes - How to trace in Inkscape

By tweaking the settings under Details, you can fine-tune the tracing to get the result you want.

Stack vs Unstacked Trace

Remember when we mentioned the Stack option earlier? Stacking or unstacking the traced image can change the end result depending on what you want to do with it.

We left the Stack box unchecked with the Scan setting at 8 and the rest of the settings left as is. The traced color image was then ungrouped by right clicking > Ungroup. Each layer was separated.

This is the way a cut file is normally laid out, where areas are cut out without overlapping.

Unstacked image trace - Inkscape

When the Stack box is checked, all areas and gaps will be filled in. This is similar to a layered design.

Stacked image trace in Inkscape

We used the same settings with Scan set at 8 but you can use a setting of 5 with this design and avoid excess color scans.

Gray Multicolor Trace Setting

The Grays option is similar to the Colors option above, except that the result is a grayscale image trace.

Gray scan option - trace an image in Inkscape

Autotrace Color Images in Inkscape

The Autotrace feature in the Color option is so slow that even Inkscape added the note “slower” in brackets. We didn’t have any success using this feature as it kept crashing the program.

Once you have created your trace image, you can change the colors, move the design elements around, and edit it however you like.

Change color of Multicolor image trace in Inkscape

You can convert just about any image to an SVG, including photos. With a little tweaking of the settings, the Multicolor trace tool works pretty well for most images.

We hope that what you’ve learned in this Inkscape tutorial will benefit you in your future projects. Don’t forget to check out the rest of our FREE tutorials on Inkscape!


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inkscape tutorial how to trace in inkscape using multicolor

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