The What, How & When to use Raster VS. Vector Files

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Did you enjoy the Superhero analogy for remembering the difference between RASTER and VECTOR images? (It’s ok if you missed it, just click here).

As promised, today we’re going break down the what, how, and when of raster and vector images. Starting your project with the right kind of image can save you a lot of time and rework. 

What are the pros and cons of raster vs. vector images?

Pros: Rasterized images are capable of rendering true-to-life graphics. They are the preferred format for digital photography due to its ability to create visually-perfect color blends, shades, gradients, and shadows. 

Cons: Unfortunately, raster images are restricted by its resolution parameters, which limit scalability. While these images can be scaled, it is not without experiencing a loss in definition and quality.

Raster images also tend to necessitate larger file sizes as every pixel of data must be captured and saved.

Pros: Vector images are more versatile and easy to manipulate. They are more flexible than raster graphics because they can be easily scaled up and down without any loss to image quality. They also have better file-size efficiency and more robust exporting capabilities because they contain a lot less data than their raster counterpart. 

Another perk is that vector files such as AI and EPS can remain editable when opened in Adobe Illustrator, allowing you to make changes to text or other elements within the graphic quickly.

Cons: The downside is that it is very challenging to create realistic-looking images in a vector format as it doesn’t lend itself to the detailed nuances of blended colors, shading, shadows, and gradients.

Furthermore, vector images are often exported as native files from design programs like Adobe Illustrator, which may not be instantly accessible to everyone (though widely compatible formats do exist).

How do you know if it is a raster or vector file?

The quickest way to know is to look at the file type. Raster (aka pixel) files commonly end in .psd, .jpg .png .tiff .bmp or .gif. Whereas vector files end in .ai .eps and .svg. 

(Each of these file types has its own nuances of how and when to use them, but we will wait to get into that until next time.)

Another way is to zoom in on the image as much as you can – if it starts to become pixelated, blurry or like it was created in Minecraft, then you know you are working with a raster image. If the image scales well and the details remain sharp and clear, then you’ve got a vector image.

When Should I use a raster or vector image?

Raster images are the standard for anything related to digital photography. If you include photos on a digital platform (website, social media PowerPoint presentations, etc.), you’ll likely want to use a raster file. Raster images also work well for scanned artwork and detailed graphics consisting of a lot of subtle color gradation, blended lines, or complex color tones.

Vectors, on the other hand, come into play when you are creating line-art drawings with flat, uniform colors, such as icons, logos, characters, product renderings, and sketches. Text is actually the most common vector use as no matter how much you increase or decrease a font’s size, its proportions never change.

Remember, before you start a project, think about the type of product you are creating, what platform you will feature it on, and how you will incorporate your graphics, and then select your file types accordingly.

Also, don’t forget to follow me on Facebook so you can be alerted when we dive into the nuances of the various exporting file types raster and vector images have to offer!

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