An introduction to vector images
What they are and how to use them well in your digital content.
Vector images are everywhere these days — and for good reason. They look great, they’re versatile, and they make it easy to change the size or colour of an image without losing any quality. But if you’re not used to working with vector images, they can seem a little daunting at first.
In this article, we’ll give you the ins and outs of vector images, so you can act like an expert in front of your designers, developers, and colleagues.
- What is a vector image?
- The difference between raster and vector images?
- The main types of vector image
- Benefits and downsides of vector images
- How to edit a vector image
- Some vector image FAQs
Let’s dig in!
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What is a vector image?
A vector image is an image created using mathematical formulas to represent the image, rather than using a grid of pixels.
This type of image is often used for logos and illustrations because it can be scaled to any size without losing quality. In contrast, bitmap images (also known as raster images) are made up of pixels, which can become blurry or distorted when they are enlarged.
Vector images are created in software programs such as Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape. While creating a vector image requires more time and effort than creating a bitmap image, the results are worth it—a well-designed vector image will be crisp and clear, no matter how big or small it is.
Learn more about the main file formats for creating content on the web.
What is the difference between raster and vector images?
Vector images are made up of lines and shapes that are mathematically defined. This means that they can be scaled up or down without losing any quality. They are often used for logos and illustrations.
The most common vector file types are SVG, AI, EPS, PDF, and CRR. We talk about them, below.
Raster images, on the other hand, are made up of pixels, which are small squares of colour. Raster images can't be scaled up without losing quality, but they can be scaled down without any problems. They are often used for photos and other complex images.
The most common raster file formats are JPEG, PNG, GIF, WebP, and BMP.
The main types of vector file formats
SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics)
An SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) is a vector format that uses XML to define its graphics. SVG files are resolution-independent, meaning they can be scaled up or down without losing image quality. This makes them ideal for responsive design.
SVGs can be created in a vector editing program like Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, or Sketch. They can also be exported from other software like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Once created, they can be added to HTML files using the <img> tag or the <svg> tag.
AI (Adobe Illustrator)
An AI (Adobe Illustrator) file is a vector graphics file that is created in Adobe Illustrator. It uses the file extension .ai. AI files are commonly used by graphic designers and artists to store images and graphics. AI files are typically created using vector-based drawing software, such as Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW.
EPS (Encapsulated PostScript)
An EPS (Encapsulated PostScript) file is a file format used to represent a vector image. EPS files can be opened in many different vector editing programs, like Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, and CorelDRAW. EPS files are made up of a series of instructions that define how to draw an image. These instructions are written in the PostScript language, which is a page description language used by printers.
PDF (Portable Document Format)
A PDF (Portable Document Format) is a type of vector image that uses the file extension .pdf. PDFs are created by Adobe Acrobat and can be opened in many different programs, including Adobe Illustrator and Inkscape.
PDFs are often used to create high-quality print documents. They can be scaled up or down without losing any quality, and they support transparency and colour management. However, print documents are not well suited for publishing and distributing web content, as they are not optimised for phones, SEO, or accessibility.
CDR (CorelDRAW) format
CDR (CorelDRAW) format is a vector image file format used by CorelDRAW. It uses the file extension .cdr. CDR files are commonly used by graphic designers to store images and graphics. CDR files are typically created using vector-based drawing software, such as CorelDRAW.
Benefits of vector images
Vector images are scalable
Vector images are scalable, meaning that they can be enlarged or reduced in size without any degradation in quality. This scalability is a huge advantage over raster images, which lose quality when they are scaled up. Vector images can be used for a wide range of purposes, from creating large-format prints to including on a website.
Vector images are easy to edit
Vector images are easy to edit, meaning you can change the colour, shape, and size of the image without losing any quality.
Vector images are resolution independent
Vector images are resolution independent, meaning they will always look good no matter what resolution or screen size they are viewed on. This is because they are composed of mathematical points and curves. This makes vector images a good choice for logos and other graphics that need to be displayed at a variety of sizes.
Vector images tend to be smaller in size
Vector images are composed of mathematical formulas rather than pixels, so they have a small file size when compared to traditional bitmap images. This makes them ideal for use on the web, where download speeds and bandwidth limitations are a concern.
Vector images can be used with a wide range of software programs
Vectors can be used with a wide range of software programs, making them a versatile tool for graphic designers and other professionals. For example, vector graphics software such as Adobe Illustrator can be used to create precise illustrations and logos, while vector-based mapping software such as Esri's ArcGIS can be used to create detailed maps. Additionally, many 3D rendering programs use vectors to create smooth, realistic 3D models.
Downsides of vector images
Vector images can be difficult to create
Creating vector images from scratch can be a challenge. Unlike bitmap images, which are made up of pixels, vectors require a great deal of precision and planning. As a result, vector images often take longer to create than bitmap images. Additionally, vector graphics software can be expensive and difficult to learn. For these reasons, vector images are generally created by experienced graphic designers.
Vector images can be difficult to edit
Vector images are difficult to edit for a number of reasons. First, they are often created in proprietary formats that can only be edited with specific software. Additionally, vector images often contain a large number of anchor points, which can make them difficult to select and edit. Finally, vector images are often composed of complex shapes and curves, which can be difficult to manipulate without distorting the image. As a result, vector images can be time-consuming and frustrating to edit, even for experienced graphic designers.
Vector images can be difficult to use
Vector images can be very difficult to use. One reason is that they often have a lot of small details that can be hard to see at a distance. Another reason is that they can be tricky to align properly, especially when printing on uneven surfaces. Finally, vector images can sometimes be difficult to colour accurately, especially if they contain complex shading.
How to create and edit a vector image
If you're looking to edit a vector image, there are many different apps that you can use — some of which we’ve mentioned already in this guide. Here are five of the best. Rather than give you a step-by-step guide on how to create and edit a vector, we suggest following the tutorials and documentation provided by your chosen app.
- Adobe Illustrator is a software application used to create vector illustrations. It is frequently used by graphic designers, web designers, and illustrators. The software allows users to create and edit vector graphics, including logos, illustrations, and diagrams. It also offers a wide range of features for creating complex artwork.
- CorelDRAW Graphics Suite is a software application that enables users to create vector illustrations, page layouts, and logos. It offers a wide variety of features, including drawing and painting tools, photo editing capabilities, and typography tools.
- Inkscape is a vector graphic design program that works similarly to Adobe Illustrator. It may be used to make or edit vectors, such as images, logos, and icons. Inkscape can also be used to make or modify raster graphics such as photos, bitmap pictures, and scanned documents.
- Affinity Designer is a vector drawing and illustration software program for macOS and Windows developed by Serif. It is designed for creating illustrations, logos, icons, and user interface designs.
- Sketch is a vector drawing and image editing application that supports layers, masks, gradients, and blend modes. It also includes powerful tools for creating and editing shapes, typography, and illustrations.
Frequently asked questions about vector images
Are JPEGs and PNGs vector files?
JPEGs and PNGs are not vector files. They are raster images, which means that they are made up of pixels. This can cause problems when scaling them up or down, as the image may become blurred or pixelated.
What are the main uses for vector images?
One of the main uses for vector images is creating illustrations, logos, and other kind of vector art. Vector images are often used in advertising and marketing, as they can be easily printed in a variety of sizes without becoming distorted. Additionally, vector images are often used on the web, as they can be scaled to any size without losing quality.
How do I convert a JPEG to a vector file?
There are a number of ways to convert a JPEG to a vector file.
- Use vector editing software, such as Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape, to open the JPEG and then save it as a vector.
- Use a software program designed specifically for this purpose. Adobe Illustrator, for example, has a “trace” function that can be used to convert a bitmap image into a vector graphic.
- Use an online service such as VectorMagic. This type of service uses algorithms to automatically convert JPEGs into vector files. In most cases, the results are quite good, although it is always advisable to check the results carefully before using them for any critical applications.
- Finally, it is also possible to hire a professional graphic designer to manually create a vector version of your JPEG. This option is usually quite expensive, but it can produce excellent results.
How do I know if an image is vector or raster?
One way to tell if an image is vector or raster is to zoom in on it. If the image becomes blurry or pixelated, it is a raster image. If the image remains clear, it is a vector image. Additionally, you can check the file extension. Vector files typically have an .svg, .ai or .eps extension, while raster graphics files have a .jpg, .png, or .gif extension.