Convert Bitmap Raster Graphics To Scalable Vector Image: Potrace

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Potrace is a free cross platform bitmap to vector conversion software. With the help of Potrace you can convert bitmap graphics, also known as raster graphics, into scalable vector graphics, whose size can be increased without losing quality. You’ve probably seen bitmap images and photos, these are the ones that lose quality and become pixelated when they are zoomed in. With Potrace you can convert them to scalable vector graphics, and zoom in on them as much as you like without losing quality.

Potrace default window

Similar software: WinTopo, RasterVect, Autotracer.

This free raster to vector conversion software is a command line utility, like you can see from the screenshot above. This means that in order to use it, you’re gonna have to read up on the various different commands that it uses, instead of clicking on buttons and menu. This is a bit of a drawback and it might deter some from using Potrace, but don’t give up right away. Using this free converter isn’t as hard as it might seem, you just need to know one command to start basic conversion. Key features of this free raster to vector conversion software are:

  • Free raster to bitmap conversion – convert raster graphics to vector
  • Supported input formats – BMP, PPM, PGM, PBM – bitmap images
  • Outupt can be saved as EPS, SVG, DXF, PDF, GeoJSON, XFig, etc.
  • Edit graphics during conversion – resize, scale, rotate, crop, etc.
  • Change color – some backends can also manipulate colors
  • Portable – doesn’t require installation – run from USB drive
  • Cross platform – works on Linux, Windows, BSD, Solaris, Mac OS

As you can see from the list of features above, even though this is a command line application, there’s a lot that Potrace can do next to bitmap to vector conversion. Clip art graphics are usually raster bitmaps. When you scale them up to a higher resolution, they become jagged, you’ve probably seen this. Here’s how you can avoid that with this free raster to vector converter.

How to convert raster bitmap graphics to scalable vector graphics with Potrace

To start just the basic conversion, with basic settings and without any kind of additional changes to the graphics that you’re converting, you need to run the following command.

potrace filename

Potrace command activated

Where of course filename is the name of the raster image that you want converted. Make sure that you put both Potrace executable and the image in the same directory otherwise it won’t work.

Potrace output example

Conversion is pretty much instantaneous. Example of before and after can be seen on the image above. Notice how the image on the left is all smudged, pixelated and jaggy, while the one on the right isn’t. That’s the difference between bitmap and scalable vector graphics.


If you’re looking for a simple but powerful raster to bitmap converter, we suggest that you give Potrace a try. We haven’t mentioned all the features from the list above, there’s a lengthy Readme file which explains all the available commands in detail. Make sure to give this free conversion utility a try, don’t give up on it just because it’s a command line utility. Free download.

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Works With: Linux, Windows, BSD, Mac, Solaris
Free/Paid: Free

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