What’s the Big Deal about Vector Files?

What’s the Big Deal about Vector Files?


Working in the digital age requires a level of finesse with file types, particularly if you’re a graphic designer. But understanding the difference between the two major file types isn’t simply for those with a propensity for Photoshopping – it’s a smart business move for companies and small business owners, too.

We’ve all seen it; the great looking logo or marketing message that would have been stellar, if only it hadn’t pixilated somewhere in the process of posting. Or what about the brochure or printed piece with a great design, but horrifying images because they’re blocky and out of focus? Not only does this have to do with understanding resolution, but the basic fundamentals of the two major file types and their best uses.

So, what are the two major file types?

Raster vs Vector

Raster files (also known as bitmaps) are made of pixels (dots) on the screen or printed on paper. They’re resolution dependent. This refers to the number of dots per inch the image holds – typically 72 dpi for screen resolution and 300 dpi for print. Because of this resolution dependence, increasing or decreasing a raster file may end up sacrificing some of its quality in the process.

While raster files have their place and are used in a great many designs, high quality raster files are memory intensive – taking up significantly more space the larger and higher the resolution. This makes them difficult to use for website design, or to send files easily to others.

Common raster files include: BMP, GIF, JPEG, JPG, PNG, PCX, TIFF, and PSD (Adobe Photoshop).

Vector files on the other hand consist of lots of individual, scalable objects defined by mathematical equations. Unlike raster files, they don’t rely on pixels or dots, so they always render at their highest quality, regardless of how it’s enhanced or enlarged. A vector file can consist of curves, lines, and shapes (called primitives) – each with editable attributes about them, such as changing in individual color, outline, opacity, and fill.

Common vector files include: AI (Adobe Illustrator), CDR (CorelDRAW), CMX (Corel Exchange), SVG (scalable vector graphics), CGM Computer Graphics Metafile, DXF AutoCAD, and WMF Windows Metafile.

A special note about metafiles: While metafiles are still considered vectors, they actually contain both vector and raster data. Some of the metafiles are: EPS (Encapsulated PostScript), PDF (Portable Document Format), and PICT (Macintosh).

Where Vector Files Succeed

  1. High quality magnification: Because of the way a vector file can be enlarged without distortion, they’re ideal for logo creation. When your graphic designer uses a vector program, such as Adobe Illustrator, to create your logo, it gives you the flexibility to use it not only for the very smallest of uses (like a favicon), but it can also be enlarged for use on billboards, signs, and much more without a problem. Fonts are another example of a vector file that can be enlarged without a problem.
  2. Spot Colors (pantones): When color matters, a logo or image designed as a vector can utilize spot colors (pantones) to specific sections of the design. For instance, if a logo requires a small portion to be a pantone silver, the file will specify these details for your printer.
  3. Has your graphic designer ever had to remove a logo or image from a background for you? It can be really tough to do without contaminating the image. When your design is a vector image, the transparency isn’t a problem because it’s designed by itself without the background image to conflict with the file. It can be easily placed on top of other images without needing to cut around it.
  4. Easy Rasterizing: One cool thing about vector files is they can easily be converted to raster files (called rasterizing). In this regard, if you use them within a raster design or on top of a photo, they can easily be placed without a problem.
  5. Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG): Because people are viewing images online on a myriad of different devices, it’s become more important than ever to utilize files that can be scaled up and down in a responsive manner. SVG, as the name suggests, are vector files that easily scale according to the size of the device. Due to the fact that an SVG has mathematical equations determine the quality of the image regardless of how much it’s enhanced, it can be saved in a very small format, saving bandwidth – making it extremely web friendly.

Where Vector Files Fail

  1. Complexity: Vector files are best suited for simple, straightforward images. Unfortunately, vector files cannot be used for complex images, such as photos.
  2. Creation: Because a vector file relies on those specific mathematical details about the image, you can’t scan in a document and easily turn it into a vector file. However, there is conversion software you can use, or you can even consider a tool like Adobe Shape to create quick vectors. Otherwise, a tool like Adobe Illustrator will give you more control over the design and development of the file.

As we progress with SVG and responsive websites, we’ll find vector files becoming more and more prevalent. As a business owner, entrepreneur, or employee who handles the different graphic files, understanding the uses for vectors can help save you and your company money and increase the quality of the messages you put out there. By having a grasp on what vector files are best used for, you’ll not only be able to supply your graphic designer or web designer with the best possible image, but you’ll also understand the why behind it, too.

– Artwork Abode

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