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Raster vs Vector Files: What's The Difference?

raster and vector graphics

If you've ever ordered products with your logo on them, you've probably been asked to provide it in vector format. But what is it and how do you get one?

Raster Graphics

Raster images are composed of pixels. Each pixel is assigned a specific color and placed in a fixed position. When you zoom in on a raster image, you'll notice that it's made up of tiny squares, each representing a pixel.

Common file formats for raster graphics include JPEG, PNG, and GIF. The primary characteristic of raster graphics is that the quality and clarity of the image are determined by the number of pixels per inch (PPI) or dots per inch (DPI). Basically, that means that the larger it's resized the more pixelated it will become. For example, if a raster file is created at 2"x2" and blown up to 20'x20', it will look pixelated and unrecognizable up close but the further back it's viewed, the more recognizable and less pixelated it will appear.

Raster graphics are perfect for photographs and detailed illustrations. They can capture subtle color gradients, textures, and intricate details.

Vector Graphics

Vector graphics are composed of lines and points to create images. They can be scaled infinitely without any loss of quality. For example, a vector file that is created at 2"x2" and blown up to 20'x20', it will look perfect from any viewing distance. In fact, it could be blown up to literally any size and not lose quality.

Common file formats for vector graphics include AI, EPS, PDF, and SVG. However, that doesn't always mean the graphics in them are vector. A JPEG can be saved as an EPS but that doesn't make it a vector file.

Another bonus to vector files is editability. Individual parts of the file can be deleted, moved, changed color, etc.

It's very difficult for vector graphics to capture intricate details, textures, and subtle color gradients found in photographs but there are definitely some vector artists that can create vector art to look like photographs.

How Are Vector Files Created?

Vector files must be created in a vector-based software program such as Adobe Illustrator. (Not Photoshop; that is for raster files.)

How Do I Get My Raster File Into Vector Format?

Unless you have a vector-based software program such as Adobe Illustrator (not Photoshop) and the knowledge to use it, you'll need a graphic designer to do it for you. Luckily, we can help! We import your raster files into Illustrator then manually redraw it using the tools in Illustrator and decades of experience. This can be a time consuming process which is why we need to charge to do that but it yields the best results. There is also as "Image Trace" button in Illustrator that does a pretty decent job on 1 or 2 color, high resolution raster files but the quality on complex files (especially ones containing text) will suffer.

Be warned: Many "Raster To Vector" online businesses will offer to do this for you extremely cheap ($5) but they are most likely clicking the "Image Trace" button with no regard for the output quality.

While vector files are usually the best option, high-resolution raster files are just as important. We'll be happy to look at your files and let you know what needs to be done to get the best print possible!

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