JPEG to Vector conversion

Freefalling360 used Ask the Experts™
I am attempting to convert a large quantity of JPEGS into vector files.  At the moment I have been doing this in adobe illustrator cs4 manually because the live trace function produces files which are virtually impossible to edit and much larger than if I reproduce them by hand.

Is there a way to get better results from the live trace function in order to create smaller file sizes while maintaining a high degree of fidelity?
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As you have already discovered, there IS NO EASY way to convert bitmapped images into quality vector.

The problem being that our human brains find it quite simple to determine where the edges of shapes are even in areas of low contrast or similar colors. A lost of this comes from a lifetime of building a huge database of common shapes in all kinds of settings.

Computer software has to depend on the most rudimentary methods of determining shapes and colors. It can only work with what it "sees".

That being said, there are a few things that you can do to help the program out. Starting with the largest, highest quality image that you can helps a lot, especially when dealing with curved lines. Jpegs especially, are problematic because of the square jpeg artifacts that tend to appear on higher compression settings.

Increasing contrast can make it easier to distinguish edges of shapes.

Avoid complex texture and too many shades and colors. Running the posterize filter on the image to reduce the number of tones can help produce a better vector image.

Be careful with the sharpen filter. It can often leave a halo around a shape that Illustrator can pick up and exaggerate.

Most importantly, take comfort in knowing that automation will never do as good of a job as you. So don't sweat the details. Download almost any free vector clip art and see how poorly it is rendered. Most of it was run through a bitmap to vector program. No one fussed over the details and it is working just fine for most situations. Even though the files are bloated and details are jagged, it gets the job done just fine.

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