How to Convert an Image into an SVG Cut File....Legally

Don't have the time to read? Listen to the audio transcript of this post:

When I learned the ins and outs of tracing an image and turning it into an SVG file I felt I had opened a door into a new era of a good, legal way! Say what? Tracing someone else's photo is not original content and therefore illegal, isn't it? Yes and no. Tracing, when not done the right, legal way limits us as designers from learning, broadening and improving our design abilities. Trust me, if you are using this as the main method to design, I promise that you are not only limiting yourself but its apparent to others that it is not original.

Let me clarify...

I am NOT encouraging you to copy someone else’s work. This method I will teach you is meant to ENHANCE your design by giving you a starting point, a foundation, something to BUILD upon. 

Why this is important...

If the cut file design is being used to create a shirt, decor or other item, the last thing you want is to have someone recognize the design as not being yours and report it to the owner. I've had personal experience with this. Someone had copied one of my designs and was actually reselling it to their customers. I contacted the company (now have a legal statement written up that I send them), but at the time I said something along the lines of this: I am the original designer of this item, you do not have my permission to use this. Please remove them from your store within 48 hours or the next time you hear from me will be through my legal attorney. Kind of serious business, but being a designer online these days you NEED to let them know you mean business! I encourage each of you to do the same so that all the hours you put into a design do not get copied and redistributed online and then all that hard work going down the drain. Don't waste time scouring the web for people copying your designs. Just have a process in place so that when it does happen, you know what to do and have statements, etc. on hand, ready to use.

So back to or the person using your design could get into some serious trouble for using a design illegally.

Legal Versus Illegal

What would be considered illegal? If you search an image in Google and trace the first image that pops up, you are more than likely using an image that is copyrighted! This is illegal. So is all hope lost? It doesn't make sense to spend hours and hours trying to make a little kitty cat by hand that is a minor part of your design. I am a design commerce business owner, I do not have time to making ALL my designs from scratch and I know you don't either.

Profitable Business = Fast Design Time

This is huge, especially if you are selling your designs like I am. The way more to make more money is by creating designs as fast as possible. There is a balance between good, quality designs and designs just thrown together.  There's a point that if you spend too much time on a single design that makes it unprofitable, when you won't receive out of it what you put into it. Then there's designs that are too simple, too cheap (for lack of a better word) that won't appeal to your audience.

So how do I leverage image trace legally? Well, there's three solutions I have found for this: 

  1. Obtain written permission from the site owner 
  2. Take your own photo with a camera and this to trace or
  3. Go through site that offers free commercial image use that also includes alterations.

There is such a place my friends, its called and its completely free! (Just a side note, I am not affiliated with them, I just love them.) This is where I go for a foundation image when I am in need of a silhouette object, such as an animal or person. Many sites require some form of attribution, so you would have to mention them wherever the design is used. But with Pexels no attribution is required. Plus you are allowed to alter the photo in any way, trace and are allowed to sell the end product. This is huge and how I was able to build the car pictured below.

I used an image of an old Volkswagen from, traced it by hand in AI using my Wacom graphics tablet, added the accents on the vehicle, free-handed the tree on top and this is the outcome. Pretty simple, right?

So even though tracing images has a negative connotation, it actually can be used in a very good, legal way that can improve your design. Using images as the foundational shape for your design:

  1. Gives you a starting point which is especially beneficial when you are a beginner
  2. Saves you on design time so you can focus your skills on another more intricate or complicated part of the design.
  3. You now have the potential to create any shape imaginable - even if you're first starting out.

In the end it's a win-win no matter how you look at it.

 In the video tutorial...

I show you how to convert an image into an SVG. I walk you through how to trace the image that also has a background, I show you the advanced trace setting options, and the best way to use these to get a tight trace. I also show you how I manipulate the traced silhouette path of the horse to make it cutting machine friendly. I also provide a freebie that gives you the "5 Simple Steps to Creating SVG Files in Adobe Illustrator", so you can see where to go after this video and how to export the file to an .svg. Be sure to grab the "5 Simple Steps to Creating SVG Files" if you would like to have a detailed guide to refer back to in the future!

Also if you'd like to keep following me to see any new video tutorials I release, be sure to follow my YouTube channel or Instagram.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post and video tutorial. If you enjoyed this post and tutorial let me know by posting a comment below.  



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