Adobe Streamline 4

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A dedicated but simple tracing program that helps the user throughout the conversion process.

Adobe Streamline 4

Streamline is a tracing program for converting scanned bitmaps into vector artwork. Most similar programs, such as Corel Trace, tend to be bundled as an extra utility within a full drawing suite but Streamline is promoted as a standalone. So what does it offer that makes it stand out? The real difference is that it takes a dedicated approach from start to finish. With the utility programs, tracing tends to be a hit-and-run affair - it either works or it doesn't. Streamline recognises that successful tracing is built up through a three-stage process of preparation, conversion and tidying up.

The reason that most tracing jobs fail is the quality of the original bitmap. The software doesn't have human intelligence so every pixel is treated equally. If there are scratches or dirt on the image, or lines are broken that are meant to be continuous, that's exactly what you'll get in the vector representation. Likewise with colour. While it might be obvious to you that all the slightly different shades of a particular colour should be treated as one solid area, the program can't know this and so will produce multiple separate objects.

Streamline offers a range of bitmap editing tools to solve these problems. The pencil and eraser tools allow noise to be removed and lines to be filled in, while the lasso and marquee selection tools allow marked areas of the image to be given a uniform fill. More significantly, the magic wand tool allows all the pixels that fall within a customisable colour tolerance to be selected either locally or throughout the whole image so that they can then be filled. Another nice feature is the ability to restrict the conversion process to named custom colours and tints that you define.

When the bitmap has been prepared, it is ready for converting. There are a whole host of secondary settings such as line weight and line tolerance that can be fine-tuned to each particular image, but there are just three main conversion options: outline, centreline and line recognition. Outline is the most common method and is used on images like logos and photographs that contain filled areas. Centreline is used on images like architectural blue prints that are built up of uniform lines, and line recognition is a variation on the theme that is useful for forms and charts as it only picks up vertical and horizontal lines.

What makes Streamline special is that the different methods can be used together. If multiple check boxes are selected, Streamline makes multiple passes first looking for straight lines, then uniform lines and then shapes. This combined approach can be ideal, but often different areas of an image would benefit from different settings. Streamline deals with cases like these, such as a regular form with an irregular logo in the corner, by allowing the user to select separate sections for processing and then automatically combining the results.

The success of Streamline's conversion process is clear if it is set to trace a full colour photograph. Each colour is processed separately then intelligently combined with all paths matched to each other to produce as continuous and realistic an image as possible. Even with such an engine, however, the results are often not quite what you want, particularly with more regular artwork like converted logos. For these cases, Streamline offers various post-processing options. Whole paths can be automatically smoothed or converted to regular shapes while individual nodes can be added, deleted or edited with the various anchor point tools.

Streamline is by no means perfect. The single bitmap and vector window is a severe limitation, there are no options for rotating artwork and there are none of the OCR and conversion effects that other tracing utilities offer. However, in its dedicated concentration on the job in hand, Streamline really does stand alone.

Ease of Use




Value for Money




ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

July 1998

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