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Free Soft Silhouette 1.0.1

Raster image vectorization plugin for Adobe Illustrator By Dave Nagel
Adobe, Macromedia, Corel, Creature House and probably a half dozen other software developers offer software that, in one way or another, takes scanned images and converts them into editable, resolution-independent vector images. There's nothing new to the concept. And, for that matter, there's not a whole lot that's new about the ways in which this process happens or the quality of the results it produces. What is new though--or relatively so--is the concept of adding this functionality to Adobe Illustrator in the form of an easy to use plugin.

Enter Silhouette from graphics software developer Free Soft. Silhouette is a piece of software for converting raster images into vector objects. It's available in three different versions--as a plugin for Adobe Illustrator (8, 9 and 10) and in two standalone incarnations--a Pro and a Lite version. Today we look at the plugin for Adobe Illustrator 10, which offers support for Mac OS 9, Mac OS X and Windows. (The standalone versions are for Macintosh only.)

How it works
Silhouette is simple enough to understand and just about as easy to use. Once you drop it into your Illustrator plugins folder and launch Illustrator, several new tools are added to your tool palette, along with two new palettes for adjusting the settings of the new tools.

These new tools include the core vectorizing tool (Actually called the "Vectorize Raster Image Tool"), a special color tool for specifying the colors of the vector output and five others for cleaning up your artwork after it's been converted. Each tool also includes a number of options. The vectorizer, for example, has options for color, black and white and simple mask generation. And other tools include options for customization, such as maximum angles and distances for automatic adjustment or realignment of points.

Getting started with the plugin is quite simple, almost exactly the same as the Trace tool in Macromedia Freehand. That is, you select the vectorization tool, drag it over a bitmap image placed in your Illustrator document and watch as it chugs out a new vector version of the artwork.

As you can see, the vectorization process is somewhat limited with photographic images. The plugin is limited to 256 colors--like other vectorization software--and does not attempt to fill converted areas with gradients in order to compensate for this. It simply sees solid colors and applies a sharp break between them when it detects significant differences in color.

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