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Design 101: Creating and Using Bitmaps in Illustrator

Recently, I stumbled upon an article about Don Clark and how he used Adobe Illustrator to create a poster for Adobe. In this article I learned many things I didn’t know how to do in Adobe Illustrator. Among one of the new things I learned, was using bitmaps from Photoshop in Illustrator. In the article bitmaps were used to create shadows, but you could apply and use them in other ways. Here, I’ll show you how to create a bitmap and import it in Illustrator.

What are Bitmap Images and How Are They Used?

Thanks to an article from Knowledge Jam, they explain a Bitmap TIFF as “an image that has been converted to Bitmap mode in Photoshop an saved as a TIFF file.” They go on to explain, “While Bitmap images are typically black and white, Bitmap images saved as .TIFF files become black and transparent once placed into Illustrator and InDesign.” These kinds of images are great to place in Illustrator to add pattern or texture to your artwork. When you create them in Photoshop, you can create a Bitmap TIFF from scratch or use a photo. Here’s an in-depth explanation of what exactly a bitmap is.

Creating a Bitmap TIFF

Upon discovery of creating bitmaps, I realized that you are able to create two kinds of bitmaps. You can create one yourself (anything) from scratch or you can use a photo and manipulate it. In both of the mentioned articles, they both made a bitmap their own way in Photoshop. For my bitmap, I followed how to create it from the second article I mentioned.

First, set your canvas to whatever dimension you’d like. Next, choose whether you’d like to create your own bitmap or use a photo while keeping in mind that whatever you’re creating can only be shaded monochromatically in Illustrator.

After you have created your design, you have to convert it to bitmap. Before you can make it a bitmap you have to discard all color information. You can do this by selecting Image > Mode > Grayscale from the main dropdown menu.

At this point, Knowledge Jam suggests in their article to set the threshold level to 47 if you’re using a photo. Do this by selecting from the dropdown menu, Image > Adjustments > Threshold and entering your value. This isn’t mandatory but rather it’s recommended to do if you’re using an image. To convert your design or photo to a bitmap, select Image > Mode > Bitmap from the dropdown menu and selecting your bitmap settings. Knowledge Jam suggests changing the output to 200 with the Method set to “Halftone Screen.” You can also customize these settings to whatever you’d like instead of using the 200 pixel halftone screen.

Finally, save your bitmap by selecting File > Save As from the main dropdown menu, and under the “Format” dropdown menu, select TIFF. A TIFF Options box will appear after you click Save, which you can customize to your own settings. To understand each option, Adobe has some great explanations. When I saved mine, I chose “None” for Compression, “Interleaved” for the Pixel Order, “Macintosh” for Byte Order and selected “OK.” Now the bitmap is ready to import into Illustrator.

Importing a Bitmap TIFF into Illustrator

In Illustrator you’ll use bitmaps with clipping masks. From the Don Clark article, he mentions that he placed each of hit bitmaps into their own layers so they could be copied and pasted as many times as needed in document.

Open your Layers panel and create a layer for each bitmap and place each one in their own labeled layer. Now, create your shape that your bitmap will sit in.


For my example (above), I used an icon of an opened lock for my clipping mask. Copy and paste your bitmap in your main layer with the shape you’d like the bitmap in. Adjust the size and placement of your bitmap over your shape, then change the color by either using the swatch panel, selecting the fill color or using the eyedropper tool for an existing color in your document.

After you’ve selected your color, it will be monochromatically applied to your bitmap. Finally, move your shape to the front of your bitmap by using Shift + Command + ], then select both of them and hit Shift + Command + 7 to have your shape create a clipping mask over your bitmap.


There are many things you can use your bitmap image for in Illustrator. Rather than creating a pattern from scratch, you can create bitmaps in Photoshop to add texture, shading and style to your documents. Here’s a great source from Creative Bloq with “20 expert tips to improve your bitmap illustration”. Experiment and explore however you like. Still not sure what to make with them? Here’s one more example of how a texture was applied to some artwork.