LightBurn Tutorial 08 – Basics: Image Trace

The Lightburn Software Series

The Lightburn Software is probably the best generic laser cutting software available (I use it for almost all of my laser work). This series has tutorials, hints and tips as well as the occasional speed comparisons between it and RDWorks. In this LightBurn Tutorial session, we learn how to use Image Trace.

My thanks to the team at Lightburn for allowing me to embed their videos.


How to use the Image Trace tool in LightBurn.

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Lightburn tutorial image trace
LightBurn Tutorial Image Trace

Transcript for LightBurn Tutorial Basics – Image Trace

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0:00 image trace in lightburn is one of the

0:02 more useful tools that we have available

0:03 it’s also very easy to use compared to

0:06 what you may be used to in other

0:08 software so in this video we’ll cover

0:10 the basics and then we’ll show you how

0:12 to use the more advanced options so what

0:14 is image trace image tracing is

0:17 essentially converting pixels into

0:20 vector shapes

0:21 if you’ve ever zoomed in on an image

0:24 like a JPEG or a PNG file you’ll see

0:26 that an image is just a grid of shaded

0:30 squares these are called pixels and each

0:33 one of them will have a brightness value

0:35 or a color assigned to it there are no

0:38 shapes exactly it’s just a regular grid

0:41 of dots with shading this is great and

0:44 for example this image the laser would

0:46 have no trouble engraving scanning back

0:48 and forth and turning on and off as it

0:50 encounters dark areas but the problem

0:53 arises when you want to cut something

0:54 like this out there is no path for the

0:57 laser to follow to tell it to cut the

1:00 outline of this for example so image

1:02 trace allows you to recover shapes and

1:05 vectors from an image like this to

1:08 access the image trace feature in lightburn

1:09 select the image and either go to

1:12 tools trace image use the hotkey alt T

1:16 for trace or you can select the image

1:19 right click and go to trace image in the

1:21 pop-up menu and you’ll be presented with

1:24 lightburns image trace dialog in this

1:27 window here you’ll see purple outlines

1:30 showing me the vectors that lightburn

1:32 has found in this image and often this

1:36 is all you’ll need to do bring up the

1:39 image trace check it to make sure that

1:41 the result is what you want click OK and

1:44 you’re essentially done this image now

1:47 has a vector outline dropped right on

1:50 top of it in the same place light burn

1:52 will do that for you and you can see

1:54 here I’m only seeing the wire outline of

1:57 this image but if I switch lightburn to

Transcript for LightBurn Tutorial Basics – Image Trace (Cont…)

2:01 showing me the filled rendering you can

2:04 see that they match nearly exactly and

2:07 if i zoom in I’m no longer seeing those

2:10 jagged pixel outlines I’m seeing nice

2:12 smooth

2:13 Irv’s here on this shape on the left and

2:16 that is because this shape is now made

2:19 of curves and lines instead of

2:21 individual dots as a grid and so this

2:25 can be engraved the same way that you

2:26 would an image but it can also be cut I

2:29 can recover these vector lines if I

2:32 switch back to my standard wireframe

2:35 view I could ungroup this take this line

2:39 and set it to cut for example so that I

2:42 could cut this out I could offset it I

2:44 can do other operations that I couldn’t

2:45 do on the original image that’s the

2:49 basic operation of lightburns image

2:52 trace feature I’m just going to remove

2:54 this one and go back to this show you a

2:59 few more advanced options so first of

3:02 all when you are looking at the image

3:04 here sometimes it can be difficult if

3:06 the image is busy to see the lines that

3:10 the software has created for you if you

3:12 click the fade image button down here at

3:15 the bottom it dims the image so that you

3:18 can more easily see the vector shapes

3:20 this is a great way for you to spot

3:23 check things make sure that everything

3:24 looks right there’s also show nodes or

3:28 show points so you can see the

3:31 individual nodes or vertexes that the

3:34 software is adding to your shape you can

3:37 also see whether things are curved or

3:39 not so for example here at this tight

3:42 corner you can see that the software is

3:44 making a curve there if the software

3:48 creates shapes that are too sharp or too

3:51 smooth you can adjust the smoothness

3:53 value here pixels don’t have curvature

3:57 exactly so the software is trying to

3:59 figure out the best possible shape that

Tran script for LightBurn Tutorial Basics – Image Trace (Cont…)

4:03 fits your image intuitively I guess and

4:07 it’s there’s not always a perfect answer

4:09 so here for example it’s chosen to make

4:11 a sharp corner that looks correct here

4:14 it’s chosen to make a round shape that’s

4:16 probably correct sharp corner here sharp

4:19 corner here and so on but there may come

4:21 places where the decisions aren’t quite

4:24 so clear

4:25 and so you can choose to increase or

4:29 decrease the smoothness value here which

4:32 adjusts where and how those decisions

4:35 are made so for example this corner

4:37 right now is smooth if I lower my

4:41 smoothness number enough it becomes a

4:43 corner and so you can tune this value to

4:46 match the image and that’s useful

4:48 sometimes if you’re trying to capture

4:50 small texts or things like that that

4:52 have sharp corners where there’s not a

4:54 lot of detail and the software’s having

4:55 a hard time making the right the right

4:57 call there’s also a value here called

5:00 optimize this controls how many nodes

5:03 get added to the vectors that it creates

5:06 and so if you set this down to zero you

5:10 can see that it’s created quite a few

5:12 points around this shape here for

5:14 example if I increase the optimization

5:18 value you’ll see that more and more of

5:22 those nodes get discarded and sometimes

5:26 it may affect the quality of the fit so

5:30 for example at an optimization of zero

5:32 this is the best possible outcome that

5:35 the software is able to come up with as

5:37 I increase the optimization number it

5:41 discards more and more points but you’ll

5:43 notice that in some places it doesn’t

5:45 quite fit as well as it did before so

5:47 here for example it’s starting to slip

5:49 off of the shape a little bit as you

5:52 lower this number

5:53 it’ll probably increase or get better

5:55 and see there you can see now it’s a

5:57 better fit so play with this in most

Transcript for LightBurn Tutorial Basics – Image Trace (Cont…)

6:00 cases the default value of 0.2 is a good

6:03 balance between the quality of the fit

6:06 and the number of points in the output

6:08 and so you probably don’t need to change

6:10 it much but it’s good to know that it’s

6:12 there there are other options as well in

6:18 most cases you’ll go trace image the

6:22 spot check it hit OK drag the original

6:25 out of the way and or delete it if all

6:28 you want is the vector traced result so

6:31 there’s a helper that will make that

6:34 just a little faster if I go to trace

6:36 and I say delete the image after trace

6:39 when I hit okay lightburn has removed

6:42 the bitmap for me and now I’m just left

6:44 with the trace so it’s a simple thing

6:46 but it saves you a step there are a

6:51 couple of options in the trace feature

6:53 that are a little more advanced and

6:55 we’ll show what those are and how they

6:57 work so the first one is threshold

7:00 threshold controls which portions of the

7:03 image are things that you want traced

7:05 and which portions will be discarded

7:07 this is not something that you would

7:09 likely trace this is just a gradient but

7:12 it’s an excellent demonstrator for the

7:14 threshold and cutoff values right now by

7:18 default lightburn is set to a threshold

7:20 of 128 that’s half of the possible 255

7:24 shades and brightness so it’s going to

7:26 capture everything from pure black up to

7:30 128 brightness and anything from 128 up

7:34 to 255 brightness is discarded as I

7:38 slide the threshold downward I’m now

7:42 narrowing which brightness values lightburn

7:45 is catching or tracing so now it’s

7:47 only going to trace around the darkest

7:49 blacks for example as I increase this

7:52 it’s going to trace more and more into

7:54 the grey areas and potentially all the

7:57 way up to white so if you have an image

Transcript for LightBurn Tutorial Basics – Image Trace (Cont…)

8:00 that has shading or shaded edges like

8:04 this one if i zoom in you can see that

8:06 there is grey here in these edgings

8:09 anti-aliasing or shading was applied to

8:11 this image to make it smoother and

8:13 adjusting the threshold will let you

8:15 catch more or less of that detail

8:19 similarly there is a cutoff value and

8:21 the cut-off chooses where the brightness

8:24 starts so it’s effectively the opposite

8:27 of the threshold or the bottom end so

8:30 with these two controls I can slide

8:33 threshold all the way up to pure white

8:35 and bring the cutoff value up to the

8:37 middle and then I’m only tracing now

8:39 from mid grey to the brighter white this

8:43 allows you to narrow in on specific

8:45 shading regions within your image so

8:47 going back to our cartoonish Rhino here

8:50 if I open the trace if I was to want to

8:55 trace this grey section in this

8:58 independently of the rest of the image

9:00 let’s say that I wanted to take this

9:02 image and do a couple of passes over it

9:04 and engrave this grey with a different

9:07 pattern than the rest of it I can

9:09 capture that by playing with my

9:12 threshold slider until I’m catching one

9:16 part of it so now I’m gonna turn the the

9:18 fade on so I can see what’s being caught

9:21 right now so I’m grabbing from purest

9:23 black up to some level of grey here as I

9:28 pull this down you can see this line

9:31 pops from here to here so I’m crossing

9:34 the threshold here where it captures

9:37 from this dark black in the original

9:39 image to this darker grey and so that’s

9:43 that’s a good spot there for my

9:45 threshold and now if I bring the cutoff

9:48 up I’m going to skip over these black

9:52 areas and just capture these Grey’s

9:54 which is actually what I want now you’ll

9:57 also notice that because this image has

Transcript for LightBurn Tutorial Basics – Image Trace (Cont…)

10:00 shading there are spots here that fall

10:03 into that same band of grey that are

10:07 being caught as well and I don’t want

10:09 these now I could manually edit the

10:12 resulting image after I’m finished but

10:15 there’s an easier way lightburn has

10:17 this ignore less than value here this

10:21 basically says that any isolated region

10:25 that is smaller than this number of

10:27 pixels gets discarded so right now it

10:29 says anything smaller than two gets

10:31 thrown away so anything that’s a single

10:33 pixel in size will get discarded that’s

10:35 obviously not large enough for these so

10:38 if you increase this say make it 20 now

10:42 you’ll notice that all of those little

10:44 strays here are gone if I bring it back

10:46 to two you can see there’s a bunch of

10:48 them here set it back up to 20 and those

10:51 are gone there’s still one here so 20 is

10:54 not quite enough

10:55 so let’s bump that up again say 40 I’m

11:00 gonna fade this again so that I can see

11:02 a little easier where

11:04 my results are I don’t know there’s one

11:07 all right so let’s just go all the way

11:09 up to a hundred that looks good

11:13 I’ve got only the regions that I’m

11:15 interested in capturing turn off the

11:18 delete image after trace because I want

11:20 to do another pass over this hit okay

11:23 and my first result is now captured now

11:28 I can select the image and go to trace

11:31 again and this time I’m only interested

11:34 in just the black outlines so I’m going

11:37 to pull my threshold down until I’m

11:40 capturing all the black hit okay and now

11:43 I have the dark shading and the black

11:47 outlines as two separate pieces and if I

11:50 grab this one and pull it away you can

11:52 see that that other section is still

11:53 there I can make this a different layer

11:57 for example change the fill setting

Transcript for LightBurn Tutorial Basics – Image Trace (Cont…)

12:00 change the power that’s being used and

12:02 so on and so I could engrave this image

12:05 as a two-tone with multiple passes and

12:09 get the shading effects that I want so

12:12 I’m undoing a bunch of things here now

12:14 so I can show you a few other options

12:16 trace image also allows you to define a

12:20 boundary so if I was only interested in

12:23 capturing say the face of this and not

12:27 the rest if I click and drag out a

12:30 rectangle the trace feature will only

12:33 capture what’s in that rectangle and

12:35 ignore everything else and so that can

12:36 make editing your result or capturing

12:39 only the things you’re interested in

12:40 much simpler it won’t be perfect you’ll

12:43 see I’m catching a spot down here and a

12:46 little bit up here that I don’t want if

12:48 I’m just trying to catch the face but it

12:50 means a lot less editing of the end

12:52 result if you are capturing from the

12:54 camera for example and the resulting

12:57 image has a lot of noise or a lot of

12:59 visible bed area things like that

13:01 so dragging a rectangle out allows you

13:05 to narrow in what you are capturing and

13:09 makes the editing process simpler after

13:12 you’re done if you accidently drag the

13:15 rectangle you can single click anywhere

13:17 or double

13:18 click to clear it you can also edit the

13:21 rectangle after it’s been dropped by

13:23 just clicking and dragging on any of

13:24 these points and you’ll see that it

13:27 makes a makes a much tighter fit so I

13:31 can grab just the nostrils for example

13:33 just the eyeballs and so on

13:39 and there’s what we’re left with and so

13:42 this would be much faster to edit out

13:44 than trying to edit everything as a

13:48 result of that trace if I didn’t want

13:49 the whole thing now there’s one more

13:53 feature of the trace in LightBurn

13:55 that’s worth mentioning if you do a lot

13:59 of work with handwriting for example old

Transcript for LightBurn Tutorial Basics – Image Trace (Cont…)

14:02 recipes things like that engraved onto

14:05 cutting boards there’s a feature in the

14:07 trace that can help you so looking at

14:10 this you’ll notice that the lighting

14:13 across this photo of a handwritten

14:16 recipe is not uniform it’s not

14:19 consistent and so it gets its light up

14:21 here and it gets darker down in the

14:22 corner and a traditional trace is going

14:25 to have a hard time catching just to the

14:27 writing so as I move the threshold value

14:30 around you’ll see that it’s catching all

14:32 of this dark area here because it’s dark

14:35 if I pull the threshold down enough now

14:38 I start losing the lighter bits of the

14:41 text and that’s a problem and it’s a

14:44 problem in most software however lightburn

14:46 has a feature called sketch trace

14:48 which looks for sharp edges and

14:50 transitions in lighting and ignores the

14:53 overall lighting and it’s actually

14:55 designed for recipes and handwriting so

14:59 now this threshold value becomes sort of

15:03 a detail size or how much difference

15:07 there is between the dots for it to be

15:10 considered an edge so if I scroll this

15:12 up you’ll see that it’s starting to skip

15:15 smoother areas of the image here but

15:17 it’s still catching most of the

15:18 handwriting if I scroll it down far

15:20 enough it’ll actually start capturing

15:23 the noise as well as the handwriting

15:26 that I’m interested in and so through a

15:29 combination of adjusting the threshold

15:31 value here

15:32 and tweaking this ignore less than

15:34 number you can do a lot of handwriting

15:41 recipes

15:42 fairly easily so this one I’m still

15:46 catching a fair amount of the detail

15:47 over here I’ve got almost all of that

15:50 handwriting well captured and recognized

15:53 hit okay and drag this away if I preview

15:58 the result here oops so this actually

Transcript for LightBurn Tutorial Basics – Image Trace (Cont…)

16:03 has captured the outline which is going

16:07 to require some editing or a little bit

16:12 easier I can just put a box around the

16:13 whole thing and now if I preview turn

16:19 off the show traversal moves you can see

16:21 that the end result is actually quite

16:22 legible readable and you know with a

16:25 little bit of editing would be pretty

16:26 clean especially given the quality of

16:28 the original image so none of the

16:30 strange shading is in here and with a

16:32 little clean-up this would be quite

16:34 appropriate for an engraving that pretty

16:37 much covers it so thanks for watching

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Last updated August 26, 2021


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