Demystifying Raster vs. Vector Graphics

Demystifying Raster vs. Vector Graphics

When we entered the personalization industry, we didn’t really know a ton about graphics. So when we ask our clients if they have good vector artwork, we understand why they look at us like we just spoke to them in another language. If you found this article, chances are that you were asked by someone if you have vector art and you have no idea what that is. Hopefully, we can demystify this topic and leave you with a better understanding of why vector graphics are so important and what makes it different from raster graphics.

Ultimately there are two types of graphics files that exist. There are raster graphics and vector graphics. Each of these image types have very different purposes. If you have ever taken a digital photo or downloaded a photo from the internet you may have created or downloaded a raster image. For most of us, this is what we are most familiar with. The file extensions most commonly associated with raster images are .jpg, .gif, .bmp and .png (the one that can have the transparent background). 

Raster images are effectively lots of colored pixels that come together to form an image. Think of it kind of like coloring a crossword puzzle or a piece of graph paper (am I showing my age now -oh I feel old) to look like a picture of something. 

When look at a raster image in a graphics design program like CorelDraw, Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape;  and you zoom in, you will may begin to see lots of tiny little squares. When you take a raster image and make it larger you will see that they often get blurry because raster graphics have a specific number of pixels

Now that you have an understand of what a raster graphic is, it is important to understand what a vector graphic is. Remember that a raster graphic is composed of pixels. Well… A vector graphic is composed of paths. What on earth is a path? This is so confusing $#@%$#@. Think of a path like a line you draw. Take your pencil (a device that our ancestors used to write with) and draw a circle or a square or even a triangle. When drawing these objects you create a path. Tools used to create paths are commonly known as CorelDraw, Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, AutoCad and so many more. These tools allow you to take different shapes to create nice images. Vector graphics are mathematically calculated from one point to another. When you zoom in and zoom out on vector graphics you won’t see any change. The lines and edges stay nice, sharp and crisp. This means your image will look as good as a sticker as it will on a billboard! 

When it comes to printing, engraving or reproducing artwork, vector art is the preferred method if you want great results. If you are working with a printer or customizer that isn't asking your for or offering to create vector art then you are likely to be very disappointed with the final work product. We don't ask for vector art because we are trying to look smarter than you or one up you, we are asking for it because we want your finished products to be incredibly awesome and high quality. With vector graphics  your image will look good on something as small as a business card and as large as a billboard or building signNow that you know what the difference is, you may be asking yourself “Self, this is great and all but how do I get these people what they need to get my job done”? Great question. I’m glad you asked. There are a few ways. At our studio we like to take the path of most resistance and least cost (wait what did he say?). This involves asking our clients if they have good vector art. I know this is absolutley terrifying to think about but sometimes they actually do have the vector art and you are able to save a few dollars and avoid vector graphics conversion fees. 

If you don't have good vector art, don't worry we can offer some suggestions to help you out. The good news is; there are a lot of ways to get your artwork converted to vector graphics and most of them are fairly cost effective. This is not a task you are going to want to do yourself to save money (unless you are a skilled graphic artist). 

Converting an image to a vector graphic requires patience and the ability to do nice clean tracing in these fancy art programs like Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw and Inkscape (there are lots of others out there too). Trying to do this in Microsoft Paint is just a bad idea and will likely result in a complete waste of time. 

The Time Saver Tip provided here (either above or to the left depending what device you are reading on), is something that should be taken seriously. We like saving money just like everyone else but there is a cost of time spent vs. results gained! Here are a few tips to help you out on your vector graphics journey! 

Tip 1: If you have already hired someone for your project, they may have the resources to get your artwork converted. This is by far the best way to do it because they will need to stand behind the final deliverable and can't blame poor artwork for a less than satisfactory result. You should always request proofs and you should actually look at them to see if the final anticipated product will actually meet your needs! 

Tip 2: You can go out to websites like Etsy and Fiverr; these sites have people that may be able to help. On Etsy you can find some graphics that may be already created and on Fiverr you can find someone to take your graphic and convert it to Vector. Just make sure to read reviews and look at prior work product. There is nothing wrong with supporting the gig economy and there is no shame in asking for help if it will get you a great result! 

One piece of advice. If you are using a company like ours to handle your personalization or logo branding needs and you pay for a design fee; ask for your artwork files. You paid for them and you should be entitled to them. When we bill our clients for artwork, we make those files available to them. This way whether you hire us again later or decide to go another route, your logos or graphic files can be easily replicated in a consistent manner. Hopefully this article helped! If you have any questions; don’t hesitate to comment.
Now That's What's Up! 

Scott Zimmerman is the CEO and Co-Founder of ETCHUS. ETCHUS is your #1 Source for Cerakote, Laser Engraving, Branding, Strategy and Design. Scott is a contibuting author to Our Blog called "That's What's Up". The Blog is focused on everything from super cool projects, interesting collaborations and tips & tricks on all kinds of different topics. Now That's What's Up! 

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