Vector or Raster graphics? What's the difference? What are these words?


Unless you have some experience with design software or the design process for computer and print graphics, you probably don't live with the technical concerns enough to know why the company putting your logo on a shirt needs all these different files for one logo.  And if you've ever seen the list of file formats some of these Print-On-Demand places ask for, you might be wondering which is the best for what you're trying to do.


First, a little definition list:

  • Vector graphics - graphics drawn by mathematical equations. Basically, your graphic file is telling the software "draw a circle at this center with this radius and make it green".  Adobe Illustrator is a pretty popular piece of software for creating these.  If your file is .svg or .eps, you've got a vector graphic.  
  • Raster graphics - graphics drawn by mapping out each pixel.  Your graphic file is telling the software what color each pixel is, and doesn't really know or care whether it's supposed to be drawing this shape or that line.  Adobe Photoshop creates these all day.  If your file is .jpg, .gif or .png, you've got raster!

Ok, so why all the distinction?

Vector graphics (being basically a set of equations and all) scale really well and are often smaller file sizes, especially when compared to high resolution raster graphics.  If you're looking for your crisp, clean logo to stay looking crisp and clean at any size or magnification, you're going vector.

Raster graphics (basically a map of every pixel in your image) are great for digital photographs.  You're basically telling the computer exactly what color each dot in your image should be.  If you want that family photo to look like an actual photo of real life, raster is the way.  

I work with both a lot, whether I'm doing website development, getting business cards printed, or cutting a design to press on a shirt.  Part of my job is to know which format is going to work best for which application I'm using it in.

Time to go prettify something!

Xin-min Lai

I started life as a web developer like any other, but I’ve since morphed into this business owner who dabbles in graphic stuff on the side.

My name is a conversation, apparently the face doesn’t match the Chinese-ness, but there it is.

Embrace the strange, but buy it dinner first.