Photoshop Tracing And Vectorizing Printed Line Artwork

In this post we’re going to be vectorizing the American 100 dollar bill into a multi-layered composition of vector shapes while still maintaining the core engraving linework found in the Federal Note.  To achieve this effect, we’ll apply multiple Stipplr Action presets found on this site to the 100 dollar bill source layer and then build up our own interpretation of the money with some Photoshop layer effects.


Using the scan of an American 100 dollar bill on Wikimedia we’re going to apply 5 Stipplr tracing Actions to the source image.  Each resulting vector shape traced layer will provide a specific layer needed to build up our own artistic impression of the Federal Reserve Note.


Source Photo

  1. US 100 Dollar Bill Note

Stipplr Actions

  1. LINEWORK001
  2. STROKE029
  3. STROKE030
  4. STROKE036
  5. STROKE041


Shown below is the source material we are going to vector trace in this tutorial.

Following Along With This Tutorial

For readers who plan to follow along with this post, I suggest downloading the source material using the link provided in the Source Photo list above. The image below is very low resolution whereas the source material is a 6.34 MB, 5532 × 2325 pixel jpeg scan.


American Federal Reserve Note 100 Dollar Bill with Benjamin Franklin

Once you have downloaded the file, open it in Photoshop…

Photoshop Auto Tracing of US 100 Dollar bill initial view

Stipplr Actions thrive on low noise and high contrast, and while the yellow in this scan is somewhat brighter than it should be it is light enough that it will be completely ignored by Stipplr when tracing.

As well, the contrast in the image is good enough that we don’t have to perform any adjustments to the image prior to running the trace Actions.


Although I vetted this image prior to writing this tutorial — I want to point out that I generally like to zoom in and have a look at the sharpness of the image to see what kind of detail I have to work with prior to applying Stipplr Actions.  In the image below we are zoomed in 400% and already I can spot the mico details which will be dropped by the Stipplr Actions.

Photoshop Zoomed inspection of US 100 Dollar bill

One cause for concern on this scan is the highly visible color bleeding, the leading cause of bleeding is the quality of paper the ink is printed on.  When ink is applied to paper it gets soaked up by the fibres located directly under the ink, unfortunately the ink naturally follows along the various fibres used to create the paper.  While the issue is hard to spot with the naked eye, the Stipplr Actions will pick up these artifacts and negatively affect the result.

Personally, I feel the artifacts will result in more organic linework — what Stipplr won’t generate are near perfect straight lines (it rarely does even with flawless scans).  The organic quality of the linework, a function of how Photoshop itself works, makes Stipplr results look less mechanical and more natural, as if drawn by a person.

Photoshop Zoomed view of print color bleeding on US 100 Dollar bill

The anti-counterfitting measures found in the scan look like they would be a problem, but won’t be.  The yellow, orange and blue threads are not dark enough to be registered as something to be traced as Adobe shapes.  The worst problem with our result will be caused by the colour bleeding, and even that will be minor.


The number of vector shape layers we need to recreate the US Federal Note is purely random, in this tutorial I chose to represent the Federal Note with using 5 Stipplr Actions.  Setting a hard limit on the number of vector shapes pretty much defines the complexity of the colour swatch.

This tutorial is using 6 colours for our graphical interpretation of the federal currency, 5 of these colours will represent the various vector shape layers that make up the engraving style linework and the sixth will be the background yellow (this will be a simple raster layer).

Here are the 6 colours we’ll be using presented in the order in which they will be appear in the Layers panel:

Photoshop color swatch for US 100 Federal Note vector trace shapes


Set Background Colour

I often like to start by filling in the base colour of the composition.  In this case we’re going to simulate the off-white tint to represent the colour of the paper which the denomination is printed on.

If the layer is locked, unlock it (you can drag the lock icon to the trash to unlock it).

Photoshop drag lock icon to trash can to remove lock

With the lock removed, select the Background Layer (or whichever layer contains the 100 dollar bill) and double-click on the same spot where the lock icon was previously located — this will launch the Layer Style modal.

Alternatively, you can select the Background layer and right-click in the empty space after the layer name — when the popup menu appears by your cursor, select Blending Options… and the Layer Style modal will appear.

Photoshop select Blending Options from selected Layer options menu

Along the left edge of the Layer Style modal is a list of available styles, select Color Overlay.  Then in the proceeding Color Overlay panel click on the color swatch (shown below as solid black, note that it will default to the colour you currently have set as your foreground colour in the tools palette).

Photoshop Layer Style Modal

The Color Picker will open.

Next, set the layer effect colour overlay of the layer to #FDFFEA by typing in the hex value into the highlighted field shown in the image below.

Photoshop use color picker to set US 100 doallar bill base colour

Press OK to close the Color Picker modal.

Press OK to close the Layer Style modal.

The result.

Apply base color overlay to represent us 100 dollar bill paper colour

The raster scan of the US currentcy is still there, we simply applied a color overlay to the entire layer which can be toggled on or off by clicking on the eyeball icon next to the word Effects located directly under the Background Layer thumbnail.


Creating The Vector Trace Shape Layers


The first vector shape layer to be generated is STROKE030, this is a very broad stroke tracing Action with low sensitivity to contrast — it will identify large areas as solid with stencil-like quality.


With the Background layer selected, switch to the Stipplr Actions panel.

  1. Open the STROKE030 Details Page
  2. Hover the mouse over the Solid Black – Sharp playback button
  3. Press the playback button

stipplr panel run stroke030 shape trace action

Stipplr will instantly start the process of preparing the layer prior to tracing it — it first clones the currently selected layer and removes all layer effects, including the color overlay we just added.  This happens very quickly and is most often not visually apparent that this is happening.

Photoshop Merging Layer progress modal after auto tracing STROKE030

About Processing Time Required

Depending on how old your computer is, or how large the source image is, you will very likely encounter the Progress modal shown above.  If the generated Path shape is sufficiently complex there will be a moment in which you will clearly be able to make out the outline shape of the vector path — Photoshop will then convert this path layer into a vectorized shape layer and that process can take a minute or two depending on the cited conditions.


The final result after STROKE030 is complete.

Stipplr STROKE030 vector shape result


With the STROKE030 vectorizing completed the last step for this Layer is to add the #D3E8D1 Color Overlay Layer effect (below).

Stipplr STROKE030 vector shape result with color overlay

Adding The Color Overlay

To add the Color Overlay simply repeat the steps outlined earlier when we added a Color Overlay in the section Set Background Layer.



The next vector shape layer will be LINEWORK001, this is a much finer tracing Action that will generate much more detail than STROKE030.

First, make sure to select our source layer.

Stipplr select source layer prior to running vector trace Action LINEWORK001

Next, switch back to the Stipplr panel and open the LINEWORK001 Details Page — within this Action are 3 presets, we will playback the tight preset.

  1. Open the LINEWORK001 Details Page in the Stipplr Panel
  2. Select the Action Fine – tight from the Action Set menu
  3. Press the playback button

stipplr panel run LINEWORK001 shape trace action


When completed, the following image below will be your result — yup, doesn’t look great but keep in mind that Stipplr Actions always place the results on a new layer directly above your selected source layer. We need to re-sort the laying order manually so that our composit looks correct.

Stipplr LINEWORK001 vector shape result with color overlay

Select the group Line Work 001 ƒ and drag it to the top of the Layers panel — notice the new placement of Line Work 001 ƒ in the Layers panel below.

Stipplr LINEWORK001 vector shape result resorted to correct layer

In the image above we can clearly see the intricate details generated by the Stipplr Action LINEWORK001 using the tight preset.

And here it is with the desired #42926F color overlay — NOTE: the detailed workflow for adding a Color Overlay to a vector shape layer is located in the section Set Background Layer of this tutorial, just remember to use #42926F as the fill color instead.

Stipplr LINEWORK001 vector shape result with intended color overlay

Picking Up The Pace

In the proceeding 3 steps for STROKE041, STROKE29 and STROKE36 Steps, we will essentially be repeating the workflow found in Steps 6 through 8 with the only difference being the Stipplr Action used and the Color Overlay applied.

Steps 9, 10 and 11 will start off with a breakdown list of the repeatable steps and end with an image of the result.



  1. Select the Background source layer.
  2. Switch to the Stipplr panel and go to the STROKE041 Details Page.
  3. Select Action Ultra – graphic from the Action set menu.
  4. Press the playback button.
  5. Drag group “Stroke 041 ƒ” to the top of the Layers panel.
  6. Set the Color Overlay for Layer STROKE041 to #567556.


Stipplr STROKE041 Adobe shape result with intended color overlay


  1. Select the Background source layer.
  2. Switch to the Stipplr panel and go to the STROKE029 Details Page.
  3. Select Action Fine – stencil from the Action set menu.
  4. Press the playback button.
  5. Drag group “Stroke 029 ƒ” to the top of the Layers panel.
  6. Set the Color Overlay for Layer STROKE029 to #384A38.


Stipplr STROKE029 Adobe shape result with intended color overlay


  1. Select the Background source layer.
  2. Switch to the Stipplr panel and go to the STROKE036 Details Page.
  3. Select Action Fine – graphic from the Action set menu.
  4. Press the playback button.
  5. Drag group “Stroke 036 ƒ” to the top of the Layers panel.
  6. Set the Color Overlay for Layer STROKE029 to #273527.

Done.  This is our composition of 5 Adobe shape vector Smart Objects.

Stipplr STROKE036 Adobe shape layer result with intended color overlay


Final Vector Shape Result

Here is the final result with the background layer toggled off — notice that our vector shape layers are transparent.  Stipplr Actions are designed to ignore white (it’s not an option), this makes your results much easier to composite against other results quickly.

Stipplr Adobe Shape vector trace composition with background layer hidden

Vectorized Shape Compared With Source Image

And finally, here is an animated comparision between the vectorized Stipplr results and the source 100 Dollar Federal Note.


Stipplr Actions are not made to generate any one style perfectly, they are meant to be composed with other vectorizing Stipplr Actions in order to create results which are unique to you and your own style.  The fact that 5 Stipplr Actions, and 6 colours, was used is purely a fabrication of my own design, you could just as easily recreate the Federal Note with 12 or more Stipplr Actions for even greater colour depth.

The Stipplr Actions used in this tutorial, in the specific order they were used, is by no means the only way this effect could have been achieved.  This tutorial exists to show you how to create more complex results through the application of multi-layered composition rather than simply depending on a few silver bullet Actions either through this, or other sites.

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