In the realm of digital art and graphic design, there are two types of images: raster vs vector. While you might not be able to differentiate between the two at first glance, they are fundamentally different. And once you understand the difference between vector and raster, you’ll be able to choose the correct image type for your projects.
Ready? Check out the guide below for a complete raster vs vector analysis.
What Is a Vector Image?
A vector image is made up of points, lines, and curves that are created with mathematical formulas, rather than individual pixels. Essentially, a vector image file specifies a sequence of points to be connected—like a connect-the-dots puzzle. Because of this, vector images can be expanded or contracted thousands of times without losing quality.
Common vector file types include .ai, .eps, .pdf, and .svg.
What Are Vector Images Used For?
Vector images are best suited for projects that require scalable graphics. This often includes printed projects, as it ensures your image won’t be blurry or pixelated when printed, no matter how it’s resized. Marketing images and company logos are often created as vector images, because they can be scaled up or down to fit any use—from a business card to a billboard—while maintaining crisp, clear lines.
Examples of Vector Images
- Textured Rooster
Vectors are made with points and lines, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be complex. This vector image of a rooster incorporates texture, highlights, and shadows.
- Modern Logo
Most brand and business logos are created as vectors so they can be scaled up and down based on the company’s needs.
- Custom Font
Because fonts must be able to be sized up and down without any loss of quality, they are typically created as vector files.
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What Is a Raster Image?
A raster image is a compilation of many individual colored pixels. The more pixels, the higher the image resolution, and the larger it can be resized. When viewed from far away, the pixels form a complete picture. However, as you zoom in, you will increasingly be able to see the individual pixels, which can make the edges of the image look blurry or jagged.
Common raster file types include .jpg, .gif, .png, and .tif.
What Are Raster Images Used For?
Raster images are used in digital photography. Because vectors are made up of mathematical lines and curves, they don’t accurately display photographic images. Instead, photographs are best displayed in a raster format.
Rasters can also be used for printed projects, but they must meet certain specifications. Generally, a raster must have a resolution of 300 DPI (dots per inch, which is approximately the same as pixels per inch) for printing.
Raster images are also commonly used for web graphics, as they are generally available in more accessible and shareable file formats. Because they are made up of tiny pixels, rasters are also better suited to display subtle color gradations and blends.
Examples of Raster Images
- House on the Hill
This illustration was created in Procreate, which makes it a raster file. Based on the intricacies and color gradations, it likely would not translate well to a vector image.
- Lifestyle Photography
Photographs are raster files. While high-resolution photos can generally be resized quite large, they can’t be infinitely scaled—eventually, you would be able to see individual pixels.
- Mixed-Media Cactus
This composition combines a photograph with hand-drawn elements added in Procreate to create one combined raster image.
Difference Between Raster and Vector
The main difference between vector and raster images is that rasters are pixel-based, while vectors are created using mathematical formulas for lines, points, and curves. If you zoom in to a raster image, you will begin to see individual pixels, which can make the image look grainy or blurry. Vectors, on the other hand, are infinitely scalable—you can make them as large or as small as you like without losing quality.
Generally, vector image files take up less space, while raster files are larger. However, raster images are readily available in a variety of file formats, making them more accessible and shareable than vectors.
How to Create a Vector Image
It’s also possible to convert a raster image to a vector. You can either use a vector software program to manually trace and vectorize an image, or you can try using an automated, online vector conversion program, like Vector Magic or Vectorizer.
How to Create a Raster Image
To create a raster image, you can either create a drawing directly within a raster-based program, like Procreate, or you can scan and upload your artwork or photos into a program like Photoshop.
It is also possible—and usually, quite easy—to convert vectors to rasters. In your vector-based program, simply export the vector image as a raster file format, like JPG or PNG. That action will convert and save the image as a raster.
The More You Know
Understanding the differences between raster vs vector will ensure that no matter what kind of digital art you produce, you select the appropriate software program and image type. And with the right image type, you can ensure that your image or artwork doesn’t lose any quality—no matter how it’s used.
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