Art in the Professions
In 2008, I started working for my father's company in the oil business as an IT Assistant while going to college. I never intended to make a career out of working for my father. However, a year after I started working there the company was in desperate need of a new website and complete revamping of our branding. My father was well aware of my hobby with digital art and experience coding so he asked me if I would take on the website and re-branding inbetween working on IT jobs and I agreed. A few weeks later, I presented my ideas for the site and branding, which he approved and I immediately began working on the implementation of both.
Once everything went live I received a promotion that essentially put me in charge of all future advertising for the company. Basically, everything from email signatures, business cards, brochures, to animated presentations are designed and/or reviewed by me before they are seen by clients. Currently, I am one of two IT Administrators as well as the lead Graphic Designer and as of October 2014 I have my own assistant. As a graphic designer, most if not all the design work that I create for our company are vectors created using Adobe Illustrator and a Wacom Intous Tablet.
Most people that I come across do not know that there are differences between digitally created images. However, there are several mediums used to create digital imagery. For the purposes of this article, I will be focusing solely on vectors and slightly comparing them against raster images. So, let's dive right in shall we?
Vector & Raster Defined
Vector images are made up of paths, each being made up of a mathematical formula (vector) that provides the path with the information on how it is to be shaped, what color it is filled with, and what the border color is.
DeviantArt Logo Vector Example
Raster images are bitmaps, which consist of a grid of individual pixels that collectively compose an image. Raster graphics render images as a collection of countless tiny squares. Each pixel, is coded in a specific hue or shade. Individually, these pixels are worthless. Together, they join forces to deliver a picture worth looking at.
DeviantArt Logo Raster Example
The major difference is that tiny pixels that make up a raster image do not
retain their appearance as size increases. This is why when you open an image in Adobe Photoshop and increase the size beyond a certain point it will become blurry. Also, if you were to keep zooming in on a raster image in Photoshop the image would eventually look pixelated (like a bunch of tiny boxes - think of what the swatches panel in Photoshop looks like). Unlike raster images, vector images do
retain appearance regardless of size
and not lose any image quality!
Vector vs Raster: Visual Comparison
DeviantArt Logo Vector in Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 size 500x150 zoomed to 600% with no quality loss or pixelization. DeviantArt Logo Raster in Adobe Photoshop CC 2014 size 500x150 zoomed to 600% with visual pixelization and quality loss.
DeviantArt Logo Vector in Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 increased size from 500x150 to 4500x1350 zoom 100% with zero visual pixelization and quality loss.
DeviantArt Logo Raster in Adobe Photoshop CC 2014 increased size from 500x150 to 4500x1350 zoom 100% with visual pixelization and quality loss.
As you can see, a vectors ability to retain appearance regardless of size makes them ideal for logos, which can be small enough to appear on a business card, but can also be scaled to fill a billboard. Common types of vector images include Adobe Illustrator, Macromedia Freehand, and EPS. Also, most people do not realize this, but many Flash animations also use vector images, since they scale better and typically take up less space than their bitmap (raster) counterpart.
In simple terms, if I were to create a logo as a raster and the client came back to me saying they needed the size to be increased for a banner I would have to recreate the logo from scratch at a larger size! This also means the file size is going to be larger (more on this below). However, if I had made the logo as a vector I would just need to change the image size using my software's settings and the client would have the larger logo ready for print within minutes rather than hours. Make sense? Great!
You must always remember raster images are resolution-specific, meaning that raster images are defined and displayed at one specific resolution. Resolution in raster graphics is measured in DPI, or dots per inch. The higher the DPI, the better the resolution. However, the better the resolution of a raster image does come with its price. The larger your raster image's resolution is set at the larger your file size is going to be.
When should I use Vectors?
Honestly, determining when to use vectors over raster images comes down to knowing which one is better suited to the client's needs and the project itself. Personally, when I am working on a client's project if I know it's only going to be for web, I work mostly with raster even if I make the logo as a vector first. Now, if I know they will be printing their design or constantly needing to use the design in various sizes, I will work strictly with vector.
Overall, compared to vectors, raster images are slower to render and print, less versatile, and ultimately more unpredictable to work with. Despite this, there are some projects that will always be better suited for working with raster over vector such as photographs. Raster will remain the web standard until in a few years when vector is likely to surpass raster in preference, prevalence, and popularity among users.
I have included a list of software used to create vector graphics below. Please note, that there are more software options available for creating vector graphics than what I have listed. So, if you do not like any of the options I have listed do not fret! You can look for one that fits your personality by conducting your own search for vector software.