Vector vs. Raster

Jesse MacKenzie
January 26th, 2015

Pixels and Anchors

Vector and Raster are often used, but are rarely understood terms that can be quite confusing for someone new to the concept. Vector and Raster are completely different in how they work, what they are made of, what they should be used for, and how they react to editing. Generally, vector images are created in Adobe Illustrator, and raster images are created in Adobe Photoshop.

Raster: Photo and Detail

A raster image is made up of tiny squares (pixels) of color. Each of these pixels can only be one specific color. The higher the resolution, (measured in pixels per inch or ppi) the more pixels of color the computer stores for each inch of the image, making each pixel less noticeable.

Vector vs. Raster

Raster Pros

  • Detail: If you’re looking for photographic detail, the raster image will hold as much detail as we can print.
  • Editing: Photoshop gives amazing control over your images, and because the image is made up of individual pixels, you have the freedom to edit each pixel individually.

Raster Cons

  • Enlarging Restrictions: Raster images are made up of a certain number of pixels, and if the image is enlarged, it only has those pixels to work with. Either the computer will guess to fill in the extra pixels and you will get blurring, or the pixels themselves will enlarge and the image will appear blocky.
  • Large File Size: Because each pixel holds color information, a 10″ x 10″ file at 300ppi will hold 9 million pixels of information. That’s a lot of info for a computer to store, so the file sizes are often very large at high resolutions.

Vector vs. Raster

  • Raster is excellent for photographs, because the computer stores thousands or even millions of tiny pixels capturing all of the small color details of an image. When printing, if an image is 300ppi, you can print it at its exact size and the pixels will be imperceptible to the eye. But if you try to blow up that same image to a much larger size, the pixels will be very pronounced and the image will look blocky or blurry.

 Vector: Logos and Graphics

Vector images use math to create shapes and objects. A 1″ square in 300ppi raster mode will contain 90,000 individual pixels. The same square in vector mode will contain 4 dots, one for each corner, and one fill color. Because vectors are math based, they can be sized infinitely. Vectors are simply a set of points, angles, and curves which can be scaled, shifted, or skewed any direction without issue.

Vector vs. Raster

Vector graphics are excellent for logos and icon based art with large flat colors. Vector programs handle text much better than raster because the text stays an editable object throughout, without ever having to rasterize.

Another consideration is resolution. Our equipment is top of the line and can produce prints of up to 600ppi. This is exponentially more exact than 300ppi, and with vector files we can begin our process at 600ppi so we never lose detail. Raster art can also print at 600ppi, but if you don’t send it to us at that resolution, it’s impossible to change on our end.

Vector Pros

  • Resolution: Vector based images have no limit on resolution, so your art will always print at the absolute highest resolution possible, no matter how big or small you decide to make it.
  • Small Files: Because the computer only has to store anchor points, the file sizes are greatly reduced from raster files. This also means they will run much faster on your system.
  • Edit-ability: Because all objects stay separated, you’ll always have full control over the file.

Vector Cons

  • Low Detail: Even though vector files can hold the tiniest detail at any size, the color variation is very low. Because each shape has to be a specific color, photographic details are nearly impossible to create.
  • Limited Filters/Effects: Most of the common filters and effects that people use such as distressing and photo filters are not available with vector based graphics. Vectors are only suggested for simple, flat images.

Jesse is our Creative Director. He splits his time between the Art Department and Creative duties, looking to innovate and push the company in both areas (unless he overslept.)

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