In this article I will highlight the key comparisons of Vector vs. raster graphics, the difference between the design file formats. The benefits of choosing vector or raster for your files. If you are learning about graphic design or planning to hire a design but someone mentioned to you "make sure you get your logo in vector".
However, if you are creating and illustration you could benefit from choosing raster for something highly detailed. The following information should prove to be very useful in helping your choose what's best for your project!
First used by the U.S. SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) air defense system in the late 1950s to plot aircraft's location, vector graphics are essentially modified oscilloscopes displaying the relationships between two or more variables based on the points indicated on horizontal and vertical axes.
One of the main reasons for using vector graphics was (and still is) low memory requirement, as opposed to its hardware-demanding raster counterpart. However, by the 1980s, as computer hardware became more affordable, vectors started to fall out of favor, although for specific applications, it remains the format of choice.
What Is A Vector File?
As a designer there are two image file types in the digital world that I use and most industry graphic designers also create with: raster and vector. The former is made of square pixels; each pixel contains color information. And that’s where all the differences with vector files begin.
A vector file is a computer graphics image defined by points on a Cartesian plane (or a grid), connected by curves, lines, and polygons. The position of the points determines the direction of the vector path; each path can have various properties, including but not limited to color, thickness, fill, curve, and shape.
All the points and paths in a vector file can be scaled up or down. Scaling the vector files can be to any resolution without aliasing because those elements are independent of the size of the image. There are no pixels, so no matter how large you magnify the image, everything still appears as clear and sharp as possible.
A computer draws a vector file based on a sequence of mathematical commands, creating a precise number of lines in two- or three-dimensional space.
Every single line in a vector file can be defined by just two points (coordinates of each end of the line).
The computer depicts a vector image by organizing the number and position of the pairs of points instead of blocks of pixels to display high-quality graphics using comparatively small computing resources.
SVG - Vector Scalable Graphics
A file format (file extension) indicates how information in the file is encoded for digital storage or usage. Some file formats are intended for only certain types of data; take PNG, for example, which stores bitmapped images and lossless compression.
Based on the extensions used, computer operating systems, such as Windows, can associate the file with specific applications.
If an image comes with one of the vector format extensions (there are quite a few), all the information in the file will be treated as a vector.
A compatible application can open the file as intended and display a vector image on the screen. In contrast, an incompatible one may display it incorrectly or refuse to open it.
As determined by the Word Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the standard file format for vector graphics is Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). Unfortunately, the process to establish that specific format as “standard” is pretty complex and relatively slow, partly due to conflicting commercial interests.
You shouldn’t be surprised to see a vector image with file extensions other than SVG. The files with an SVG are recognized by all major web browsers, such as Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Opera, and Safari, and now offer at least essential support for the file format.
In addition, the rendering engines in the browsers can display the image accurately – as intended by the vector graphics maker/editor used to draw the image in the first place.
SVG files are, in essence, printable text that contains descriptions of curved and straight paths along with all other attributes.
It is a “vector graphics markup language,” and the contents are primarily repeated text fragments. Therefore the file can be indexed, searched, compressed, and scripted.
Mobile phones have their version of SVG files known as SVGT (T for Tiny) and SVGB (B for Basic), intended for devices or user agents with limited rendering capabilities.
Does A Logo Have To Be Vector?
A custom logo for your company is a clever way to start building brand identity alongside other branding assets. Chances are you put the logo in just about everything you can get your hand on, from social media to online stores, from brochures to billboards.
Each platform requires a specific resolution; for example, you need a larger logo size for a poster than for a pamphlet.
Logos must retain its sharpness and quality when used on multiple marketing fronts, so it makes more sense to start with a vector as the source file, then enlarge and shrink as needed. Raster images may not lose quality when you decrease their size, and blurriness immediately becomes apparent if scaled up.
While there is nothing wrong with creating the same logo in various sizes, it is not the most practical solution. Instead, you can convert a vector to other formats as needed when you start your designs with this type of image.
Going in the opposite direction is more challenging, especially when subsequent vector editing is required. In short, a logo doesn’t always have to be made as a vector file. Most designers, however, choose to go that way to have the advantage of scalability.
Some Types of Vector Format
Vector graphics can have various file formats (file extensions). In addition to the standard SVG, some of the most common are as follows.
- EPS (Encapsulated PostScript): an older vector image format that essentially is a PostScript program to describe how to produce layouts or drawings, saved as a single file. EPS file format often comes with a low-resolution preview of the image on the screen. The Newer AI format by Adobe is based on EPS.
- AI (Adobe Illustrator Artwork): is a proprietary file format developed by Adobe Systems. The Adobe vector file can be saved in a PDF-compatible option.
- PDF (Portable Document Format): most typically used to present text documents, PDF is a file format also developed by Adobe. The file format can also contain vector image elements (paths) and raster images.
Most CAD software has its vector formats, typically proprietary and developed by the software makers, for example, Autodesk’s DWG and DXF.
There have been dozens (if not hundreds) of formats created over the history of vector files used for graphics design and GIS (geographical information system) for spatial analysis.
RASTER FILE FORMATS
Raster file types:
- BMP - Bitmap Image File
- GIF - Graphics Interchange Format
- JPG - Joint Photography Experts Group
- PNG - Portable Network Graphics
- TIFF - Tagged Image File Format
VECTOR FILE FORMATS
Vector file types:
- EPS - Encapsulated Postscript File
- SVG - Scalable Vector Graphics
- AI - Adobe Illustrator File
- PDF - Mentioned earlier (This file type Can be both Raster and Vector)
Why Vector Is Better Than Raster?
Quality is the main advantage of vector-based images in digital graphic design. Pixel is not an element necessary to create a vector, so the files can be scaled up without affecting the (losing) resolution. On the contrary, the raster format depends on the number of pixels.
When a raster is saved in JPEG or PNG format, for example, then scaled up to a size larger than the original file, the image becomes “pixelated” or blurry.
For creating logos or any other digital graphics art, vector remains a better format than raster. In addition, the scalability of a vector makes the format a versatile choice to produce an equally high-quality image for use on something as small as a bumper sticker or as large as a billboard from one single source file.
Raster Image Software
- The Most Common and Professional Designer Vector-based software (Adobe Photoshop, Painter, Procreate)
Mostly Used to Create
- Detailed Digital Paintings and Illustrations
Vector Image Software
- The most common and professional raster-based software (e.g., Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw)
Mostly Used to Create
- Typeface Fonts
- CAD Drafts
- T-shirt Designs
- Digital printing (ex. packaging designs)
Key Takeaways: Choosing Vector or Raster
Many computer and mobile applications allow even the most casual users to create a vector image without much difficulty.
Every program offers a specific way to do it, offering various solutions to achieve the same goal.
A complex vector image, however, is likely to be the go to choice for an experienced designer. Designers who have working knowledge of geometrical composition and artistic skills do very well creating vector designs.
Simply drawing some lines between pairs of points wouldn’t be enough; the designer may have to manipulate the attributes with the correct numerical values to get the desired effects.
The Verdict: Vector for the Win
As a designer with over 10+ years creating graphic for clients from branding design campaigns to a logo design, go with Vector when you planning to build a brand.
If you are working on a project like an album cover artwork or book cover design, raster would provide you more flexibility to create highly detailed illustration graphics.
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