To create vector images from bitmap images can be useful, for example, if you already have a raster-based picture in a common graphics format (such as a PNG, JPG, BMP, GIF, TIF or ICO file) and want to convert it to a vector-based format (such as a XAML, SVG, EPS or EMF file) to perhaps use it in a Silverlight or WPF application or simply to enlarge the image without seeing individual pixels as large blocks. The process of such an image conversion is referred to as vectorization, and the free Inkscape application (which is “an Open Source vector graphics editor, with capabilities similar to Illustrator, CorelDraw, or Xara X” – currently at version 0.46) has built-in tracing functionality, and it supports all the file formats mentioned above and more (yes, including the Microsoft XAML format). To vectorize images, Inkscape uses Potrace by Peter Selinger. Potrace (currently at version 1.8) can also be used as a standalone command-line application or API to transform bitmaps into vector graphics.
As an example of using Potrace and Inkscape to create a vector image, which will be saved as a XAML file (although the other vector formats might just as well have been used), the logo and mascot of Potrace will be used, which is available as a PNG bitmap image. (The logo is licensed under GPL.) After opening the source bitmap in Inkscape, you can use the Path | Trace Bitmap menu to vectorize your image, as illustrated in the screenshot below. (Make sure you have the image selected, or else it won’t work.)
When tracing a color bitmap, one of the available options is to remove the background, but, for this image, both the background and the mascot’s eyes are white, which would result in the eyes also being removed. Therefore, you might sometimes first want to edit the original bitmap in an application like Paint.NET (which is another free image and photo editing program, similar to Adobe Photoshop, Corel Paint Shop Pro, Microsoft Photo Editor, and GIMP) and change the color of such regions before the vector trace. However, to keep the current example simple, we leave it as is for now. Since this is a color image, we select Colors, disable the Smooth option (which would just blur the image), then enable Remove Background and choose 7 Scans; usually you just play around with the last number while hitting the Update button until you’re happy with the Preview. The dialog box with selected values for this example is shown below. To get a better understanding of the Options values, such the Size of speckles (
turdsize), the Threshold for smooth corners (
alphamax) and the Tolerance of path optimization (
opttolerance), you can refer to the technical documentation of the Potrace library API (see the “tracing parameters” section in particular).
By clicking the OK button on Inkscape’s Trace Bitmap dialog box, Potrace is invoked and a vector image is created on top of the bitmap background. You can now remove the original bitmap image, for example, using the Edit | Invert Selection menu (since the vector image would be selected after creation) followed by Edit | Cut. Then save the vector image, for example as a XAML file, from the File | Save As menu, enter a new filename and select XAML for the file type. If you were to zoom in on the original bitmap image and compare it with a corresponding region of the new vector image, you would notice that the vector image is much smoother at higher resolutions; this is illustrated by the two screenshots below.
The XAML code produced by Inkscape looks something like the following:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<Canvas Name="svg2440" Width="468" Height="508"
Data="M 131 480.5 L 131 477 L 124 477 L 117 477 L 117 463.5
L 117 450 L 120.5 450 C 123.83333 450 124 449.83333 124
446.5 L 124 443 L 134 443 L 144 443 L 144 439.5 ...
C 363.96712 116 362.37172 115.38726 359.55909 112.91773 z"/>
<!-- more Path elements -->
The bulk of the XAML file is generally the
Data attribute values of the
Path elements, which describe the path segments and coordinates that have been serialized using Path Markup Syntax. This data are probably exactly what is returned by Potrace, which are line segments consisting of cubic Bezier curves and pairs of straight lines (what Potrace calls “corner segments”). The XAML can now easily be used in your Silverlight or WPF applications. It is also relatively easy to parse the path data into the fundamental segments (for example, using Geometry.Parse to convert from Path Markup Syntax strings, or XamlReader.Load or XamlReader.Parse to convert all the XAML at once) and use the path coordinates in other vector-based applications (for example, as vertex data in DirectX or XNA graphics).
Also distributed with Potrace is a program called mkbitmap, which “can be used to pre-process the input for better tracing behavior on grayscale and color images” – this is handy for adding dark outlines to images that are not just black-and-white. Since not all converted color images show the black outlines as clearly as the present mascot example, you might have to create two XAML images and combine them; for example, you may need to create one image for the color areas displayed as backgrounds, and another single-scan image for the black lines (which you may first need to pre-process manually in Paint.NET or using the mkbitmap utility to produce a source image containing only the black outlines to be vectorized). The combinations of the various techniques to create vector images are quite powerful once you start to realize what your different options are.