What Is A Vector In Graphic Design? And How Should I Use Them Correctly?
Ever wonder what is a Vector in graphic design?
Today you’re going to learn precisely what we mean by the term “Vectors” in the world of graphic gesign.
You’re probably here because you got a last-minute email asking for a vectorized image or design.
And you’re now freaking out trying to understand something you didn’t even know existed.
Or it could be that you’re taking your first steps into the world of digital art.
And you’re trying to figure out why there are so many different pieces of software out there.
Don’t panic because we’ve got you covered!
Read on to find out what is a Vector in graphic design.
Table of Contents
What We Mean By Graphics
Before we jump into the complexities of fully understanding the meaning of the term “Vector,” we need to set our baseline as to what is defined by the word “graphics.”
To put it simply, graphics are any kind of visual image or design produced for people to look at on a certain canvas that is not text.
By canvas, we mean computer screen, paper book, kindle e-book, an actual painting canvas, a wall, your fridge door, and whatever you think could use a change of look.
The list is pretty much endless.
We will focus on computer-specific graphics as this is where Vectors will come into the picture.
These are all the designs or images that have been created by a computer.
It’s a whole world that can be categorized into two short words: Raster and Vector.
We know you have no idea what these are.
But fear no more.
Here’s your ultimate guide to understanding and using them properly.
Raster And Vector
You need to know that the possibilities of you creating an image without understanding the content in this article are pretty much zero.
If you’re a graphic designer, Raster and Vector could be your dogs’ names.
And if you’re working with one, there’s a high chance you will need to ask them to provide a Vector file.
You won’t know if you’re getting one if you don’t know what they are.
There’s a reason knowing this before you create an image is important and will define your result.
Fundamentally, Raster and Vector are two file types containing visual images on your computer screen.
They will translate into different benefits and possibilities when working with digital art files.
Raster graphics are a combination of pixels (points of color) in the form of a grid.
This grid is also known as a Bitmap.
Vectors, on the other hand, are a combination of mathematical formulas that result in an array of geometrical figures displayed as a whole to ultimately form a certain image.
These initial formulas will turn individual points in a canvas into a result our eyes can appreciate.
Let’s say you have any two dots: the formulas will turn those dots into a line.
And if it’s three dots?
Then you can build a triangle.
Bring in a radius, you get a circle, and so it goes.
All these formulas that bring those dots together are called paths.
A Vector-imaging software enables you to create those paths individually and then make them into a cohesive final image.
So, which one to use?
The Advantages Of Vector Format
There are three main advantages of Vector over Raster graphics:
- They are endlessly scalable.
- They fit into smaller sized files.
- One can easily edit them.
But to understand these and make smart choices when deciding which to use, we need to know their basic properties and how they work.
First of all, let’s talk about scale.
The size you will need your graphic to be displayed will affect your initial decision.
This is because Vector images can be scaled freely.
Without fear of ruining an image, Raster ones don’t carry the same luck when dealing with enlarging.
The explanation behind this is quite simple.
Vectors will be reproducing the same original formulas in a different sized canvas.
So whether it’s a smaller or a larger one, the image will turn out flawless.
It will be the same as the initial one because the command to join the dots will come after you create them.
Rasters, on the other hand, will expand the existing points of color (pixels) over the resized area.
This means they will lose sharpness, thus showing up blurry and imprecise.
Pro Tip: Use Scale To Figure Out What File Type You’re Dealing With
An easy way to have a Raster or Vector file in your hands is zooming in as much as possible.
Suppose you’re dealing with a Raster Image.
In that case, the pixels will eventually become individually visible.
If the image is composed of vector paths, you will never see a difference no matter how much you zoom into it.
We’ve been going on about the perceived size of an image.
By perceived, we mean we’ve been theorizing about scaling a business card sized logo into a billboard add sized one and the opposite.
But this won’t mean anything if you have no clue what resolution means.
You’re probably familiar with this term after all those hours watching TV.
Essentially, the resolution is a proportion given by the number of pixels per inch (PPI) or dots per inch (DPI).
The higher the amount, the higher the resolution, the clearer the image.
But how do you make sure you’re using the adequate resolution for each file and avoid printing a pixelated blur?
For any web design, the quality standard is 72 DPI, while it is 300 DPI for any printed image.
How does this translate into file size?
Well, let’s say you have a magazine where you’re planning to display your brand’s logo.
Since you’re dealing with prints, you need to set your quality base at 300 DPI; otherwise, you’re ending up with a colorful blur.
You go ahead and ask the designer to send you that file over an email, and you send it out for printing.
Now imagine you need to fill a whole billboard with the same logo.
You find out just how distorted an image can get if it doesn’t have the correct resolution.
Going around quality standards won’t cut it, so for that billboard to look good, you will need A LOT of dots per image (pixels).
And those dots will take up space.
So now, when you send a second email to your designer asking for that raster image, it’s going to be so heavy that the whole process will get complicated.
Thankfully, Vectors are what you’re here for, and that’s not how they work.
Vector images will get you a much lighter file by saving a lot of information in smaller sized file formats than pixels.
This will make them a lot more appealing for big designs.
With pixels out of the picture, the resolution is not an issue you need to worry about anymore.
A Vector file will get you access to a perfect display of your image.
Last but not least, Vector graphics are far easier to edit than Raster files.
This is because all objects in a canvas can be isolated to work with, moved around individually, and edited to eventually come together as one final image.
This is opposed to raster images that require pixels to be edited.
It takes a very long time if the design is complex.
This is why you may sometimes see poorly edited photos online.
You can spot how the properties given to one area have transferred onto the wrong pixels.
When To Use Vector Graphics
Now, you’ve read a bit more about the technical qualities of both file types and can tell them apart.
It’s important to highlight just how different they are from a purely design-based point of view.
While Raster images create that map (Bitmap) of pixels that portray different tones to come together as a whole image, Vectors can display sharp and crisp edges.
This is displayed in a way the first one simply cannot because they aren’t based on any map.
It means that mathematic principles and not by color, define all lines and dots.
To make this clearer, imagine you need to draw a straight, diagonal, black line in a Bitmap.
Of course, you already know that not all the dots making up that line will fall exactly into one pixel, even less take up the whole pixel precisely.
So what happens to all those dots?
They blend with the colors right next to them.
The black in your line is now a variety of darker and lighter grey, creating a sense of fuzziness when seeing the image as a whole.
On the opposite end, a Vector will go from point A to point B without the frame of a map or specific position.
The line will be perceived as crisper, and all edges will be seen as sharper as there will be no blends involved in the process.
The fact that Vectors don’t respond to a map also means that you can move your objects around the canvas without any change to how you perceive them when designing.
That’s why when creating designs composed of shapes of a certain geometrical perfection, Vectors work much better and are recommended over Bitmaps.
This means that logos, texts, shapes, and icons should be designed with computer software that works with Vectors.
On the other hand, Raster-based programs are better suited for photographs or paintings.
There are four main vector file formats you will run into once starting to create your designs: EPS, SVG, PDF, and AI.
EPS (Encapsulated PostScript) can carry both vectorial and bitmap data.
However, they are ideal for text or graphic file transfers as they don’t depend on specific software.
This means there’s no loss of information in the process.
They can be opened in both Vector and Raster format, allowing for more versatility and skipping the rasterizing step other images might need.
SVG (Scalable Vector Graphic) is a base file type widely used on the internet to display any kind of graphics.
It’s resolution independent, so as we’ve seen before, you will have access to very high-quality imagery in a very small document.
PDF (Portable Document Format), which you might be familiar with already, is a basic file format that can save both Vectors and Raster files, or even information of the two types into the same file.
It’s ideal for printing or publishing on the web without having to rasterize files.
AI (Adobe Illustrator Artwork) files are created in Adobe Illustrator, a digital art software that works with Vector paths.
Even though this is a tool most graphic designers use and allows for a wide range of editing tools, file transfers can become tricky when dealing with different software versions.
Turning Vector Into Raster Files And Vice Versa
Without further ado, let’s get to the issue of what-on-earth-will-happen if you’re working with the wrong file type for the job from the start.
Thankfully, there are ways to go from one file type to the other without compromising the results.
However, the two don’t require the same amount of time or level of expertise.
As its name suggests, this is the action of converting a Vector file into a Raster one.
Thus, turning the paths you’ve created into a map of pixels can then be displayed on a screen or printed out.
The two main reasons you will need to do this are:
- To deal with highly complex Vector files such as ones composed of many independent objects, layers, gradients, etc.
- When applying filters on a certain image, an option you will not have by only using Vectors.
Almost all software dealing with Vector images will give you the option to rasterize them.
The process is as simple as using an in-built command.
All you will need to know are what resolution and size you want the output, and: TA-DA!
Also called image tracing or raster-to-vector conversion is, on the contrary, turning a Raster file into a Vector one.
Vectorizing requires a higher skill level than rasterizing, as lost information will need to be rebuilt.
Think of it as summarizing a three-thousand-word essay vs. writing that same essay from a fifty-word summary.
That’s why even though some programs have a vectorization command and will do this automatically, not all images will get the best result this way.
Many of them may need manual vectorizing.
Manual vectorizing would mean going over a whole Bitmap, thus, creating path after path, until you replicate the full original image.
This takes time and expertise, so starting with the correct file type is crucial in any design process.
You’ve now gathered all this information on what is a Vector in graphic design.
You will be able to confidently speak to a designer and stand your ground on what you’re looking for.
Suppose you’re delving into the design world yourself.
In that case, you can meet your clients’ creative needs without receiving a phone call after delivery asking you to manually vectorize an immensely complex raster file and avoid wasting time and money.
In the end, it’s all a question of knowing what you need first.
So choose wisely, design with a clear objective, and get the perfect outcome.
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