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Making your bitmaps scaleable and stylized (part 1)
This is the first post in a two part article on how to make your bitmaps scaleable and stylized. In this first part, we'll have a look at a free utility by Peter Selinger called Potrace.

There are various reasons why you would want to make your bitmaps or icons scaleable: In older times, the main reason was to be able to print the images with high resolution. Nowadays, with the advent of high-resolution LCD screens and very large icons in Windows Vista and Mac OS X, it's becoming more and more obvious that just scaling your bitmaps leads to blocky, ugly edges. Other reasons might be to convert scanned company logos, handwritten text, etc.

Potrace is a utility that converts the original bitmap into a series of vectors. It is to some extent similar to CorelTrace and other tracing tools that are bundled with scanners and graphic programs. The advantages of Potrace are of course its price (free) and the fact that it's very lightweight (you don't need bloated installation files of hundreds of megabytes).

Original scanned image:

Potrace converter output:

You can find more examples of the excellent results you can achieve with Potrace on the Potrace examples page.

Once you've converted your bitmaps with Potrace, you can save the result in various formats: EPS, PostScript, PDF, SVG (scalable vector graphics), Xfig, Gimppath, and PGM. All of these formats allow you to print or display your image at any resolution without losing edge quality.

Bundled with Potrace is a tool called Mkbitmap. This is a little program to pre-process the input bitmap to achieve better results on grayscale and color images. You can see examples and an explanation of Mkbitmap on the Mkbitmap examples page.

In the second part of this article, we'll have a look at scanning a drawing, converting it with Potrace to the SVG format, and then stylizing it with the excellent Inkscape SVG editor.

Download: Potrace and Mkbitmap (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux)

Part two will be published soon. Meanwhile, comments and recommendations welcome!

Update: Corrected the link to the Potrace Samples!

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  Posted by oVan on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 | PermaLink | 0 comments
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