I learned Adobe Illustrator in graduate school, and have used it to generate hundreds and hundreds of musical examples over the years. I used to get it for free from IU as part of the (excellent) IUware program, but then I graduated, and my gravy train ran out.1

I still need to make examples occasionally, either on contract as favors to other people (read: Carolyn), but I sure as hell don’t want to pay a monthly fee to use Illustrator. So I bought a copy of Affinity Designer, which is … fine. Except that it doesn’t do a lot of things I’d come to expect from Illustrator: you can’t make a line with an arrowhead on the end of it.2

So earlier this week, Carolyn says “hey, can you make me a little graphic for my signature?” In Illustrator, this is really easy: scan the signature, live-trace it, and clean it up a bit. So I fired up Affinity Designer, searched for the live-trace feature, and couldn’t find it.

And indeed, it seems, somehow, that this vector drawing program doesn’t have a tracing feature. Some searching suggests that I could do it in Inkscape could do it and import the resulting SVG, but that seemed tedious. Some further searching suggested that Inkscape uses the potrace algorithm for tracing, and that it’s better than Illustrator anyway.

Aha! We’re off to the races now.

$ brew install potrace
$ magick convert signature.pdf signature.bmp
$ potrace signature.bmp

Open up the resulting PDF and find a beautifully traced signature, with no noise. Converted it to a PNG in Preview, emailed it to Carolyn. Job done.


  1. I actually paid for a subscription to Adobe Flash for a year or so in 2016 to maintain a bunch of examples I originally made in 2011. Then my MTO article came out and I cancelled that nonsense immediately.
  2. Yes, you read that right.

Tagged: misc, programming