Vector Color Separation in Illustrator

For this tutorial, you will need some Vector Art created by you or downloaded from the web and/or some Flat images you want to vectorize.

1 - In Illustrator, create a “New Document”. Or “Open” one of the ones you already have.

2 - Go to File > Place and navigate to where the image you want to vectorize is stored, select it and click “Place”.

3 - You may need to “Re-Size” it. Hold the “Shift” key while dragging one of the corners to the desired size then release.

4 - With the image still selected, enter the “Image Trace” Panel (or click the option in the Top Menu). Access the “Advance” options by clicking on the small arrow on the left side of the tab and make sure the “Ignore White” box is checked. Choose “6 Colors” in the “Presets” menu (or other options depending on your image). Click “OK” if you get a Pop Up about slow tracing.

5 - To enable the “Trace” button you need to uncheck the “Preview” box. Then, click the “Expand” button in the Top Menu.

6 - Go to Object > Expand and click “OK”. Then, right-click on top of the vectors and choose “Ungroup”.

7 - Use the “Direct Selection Tool” (A) to select something from the image. Then, go to Select > Same > Fill color to select all the paths that have the same fill.

8 - Go to Object > Group (Command/Control + G) to group them together.

9 - “Create a New Layer” by clicking on the small button at the bottom of the “Layers Panel”.

10 - Then, “Cut” (Command/Control + X) and “Paste in Place” (Shift + Command/Control + V) to place all the same color paths in the new layer.

11 - Repeat “Steps” 7 to 10 with all the colors in your “Artwork” so each one is in a different layer. To check if everything is ok, you can “Hide” the layers by clicking on the Small eye icon on the left side of their Thumbnails.

12 - With one of the layers selected, head to the “Layers Panel”, click on the small arrow on the left side of its thumbnail to show its contents to make sure the “Group” is selected and go to object > Compound Path > Make. Repeat with the rest of the Layers. You can select the content of one of the layers and change the “Fill” color if you want.

13 - You can also use an existing Vector File and “clean” it to create the color separations.

14 - Select everything and go to Object > Ungroup (Shift + Command/Control + G).

15 - With everything still selected, head to the “Pathfinder Panel” and choose “Merge”.

16 - Go to Object > Expand and click “OK”.

17 - Use the “Direct Selection Tool” (A) to select something from the image. Then, go to Select > Same > Fill color to select all the paths that have the same fill.

18 - With everything still selected, head to the “Pathfinder Panel” and choose “Merge”.

19 - Then, “Cut” (Command/Control + X) and “Paste in Place” (Shift + Command/Control + V) to place all the same color paths in the new layer. Repeat with the rest of the colors to place them in individual Layers.

20 - For some “Paths” you will need to punch trough the portions that would be covered by other color. Specially if you plan to use the “Artwork” for Vinyl cutting. You can “Hide” the layers by clicking on the Small eye icon on the left side of their Thumbnails. If you need to clean some “Paths”, double-click on top to enter “Isolation Mode” and when you are done click on the left-facing arrow in the Top Menu as many times as needed.

21 - To further merge the paths, head to the “Pathfinder Panel” and choose “Unite”. Sometimes, you may need to enter “Isolation Mode” and “Ungroup” some “Hollow” shapes. Then, select both parts of the shape and use “Minus Front” to merge them.

22 - For the “Background” color you can use a whole “Square” shape since the cutting should be too complex.

23 - To check if everything is ok, you can “Hide” the layers by clicking on the Small eye icon on the left side of their Thumbnails.

24 - To save your files so they can be opened with Vinyl cutting software is better to use an older version of Illustrator. Go to “Save As” (Shift + Command/Control + S), choose “Adobe Illustrator (ai)” as “Format and click “Save”, but in the “Version” Tab choose “Illustrator 8” and click “OK” in the Pop-Up window. Check it out!

by @lornacane

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