Raster and Vector Graphics: Difference and Comparison

Do you know how to differ vector and graphic images?

Are you interested in computer graphics or photography? Are you a graphic or web designer?

Either way, keep reading! Now you will understand what’s the raster and vector graphics difference and their pros and cons. You will also see when you should use each image in your design projects!

Many professionals who are starting graphic or web design studies have a lot of doubts when it comes to these two image types.

Raster and Vector Differences

There is a “best” choice between raster and vectors for certain design types, such as logos, banners, and even photography printing. Starting your design from scratch with the wrong type can compromise your work, but we will solve this in this post!

By knowing how to differ raster and vectors, your future design projects will have better final results because you will choose the right graphic image to develop specific design works!

Let’s get started!

What is a raster image

Raster graphics, a.k.a. raster images or bitmap images, are formed by a matrix of pixels with individual colors, composed of very small squares called “bitmap” images. Each square corresponds to a value that is represented in DPI (meaning “Dots per Inch) or PPI (meaning “Pixels per Inch”). This value is essential to increase the size of the most common types of raster images, such as JPG, PNG, GIF and TIFFs.

Digital cameras (such as DSLRs, mirrorless cameras and compact cameras) create raster images that you can edit in software programs for raster images. Photos you take with a DSLR camera or your smartphone are raster images. However, to get a fairly good quality of raster images for printing projects, for example, the raster image must have at least 300 PPI.

Example of Raster Image Photo of a Rose
Example of a Raster Image: Photo of a Rose

To achieve 300 PPI when creating a background image to cover an area that is 9.5 inches by 12.3 inches, for example, you will need a background that is at least 2850 pixels (9.5 inches) wide by 3690 (12.3 inches) pixels high (2850x1690p).

Raster images are definitely the best choice to work with for designs such as engineer projects, photos and similar designs, just need to remember that the scaling has to be accurate when you’re developing your design if you want to get the best printing results.

Some popular software programs used to edit raster images are Photoshop, Lightroom and GIMP.

What is a vector image

Vector graphics, a.k.a. vector images or simply “vectors”, are made of lines of codes, which are the combination of mathematical formulas (math vectors) that determine the “path” with which the image is shaped and the color that delimits its filling.

The “paths”, as they are usually called in image manipulation software for vectors, are combinations of interconnected Bézier curves. Bézier curves provide smooth curve modeling that can be scaled with no limits and is used to create vector graphics.

Example of Vector Image Rose Vector
Example of a Vector Image: Artistic Rose Vector

That allows designers to calculate from simple images to complex vector illustrations in their projects.

As the vector image is created from mathematical formulas, which delimit the path for rendering the image, its appearance doesn’t lose any quality regardless of the image size.

The most common type of vector images are SVG, AI, EPS and PDF. Some popular software used to create vector images are CorelDraw, InkScape and Adobe Illustrator.

Pros & cons of raster images

Now let’s see the pros and cons of raster images. This will help you decide if you want to use it on your design projects or not.

Pros

  • They can be compressed.

  • Raster images have a capacity for rich and complex colors and can bring many colors together to a single image.

  • Designs with raster images are perfect for painting.

  • They can be edited in details for designs such photography editing.

Example of a Raster Image Photo of an Entrepreneur
Raster Image: Photo of an Entrepreneur

Cons

  • Raster images are limited by the resolution and dimensional size, which means they are formed by pixels that organize and assemble the image. If a raster image is enlarged too much (to twice its size, for example), it completely loses its quality, resulting in blurry images of very poor resolution.

  • Raster images are very large files in terms of storage. That can slow their processing by computers and make them hard to load in web pages. A raster image with a resolution of 1300×600, for example (which is considerably small) will contain 780,000 pixels! The larger the size and resolution, the larger the file will be.

Pros & cons of vector images

Now let’s see the pros and cons of vector images to help you choose when to use it on your design projects.

Pros

  • They are infinitely scalable and files have smaller size in terms of storage.

  • Vector images are perfect for drawing and sketching (artistic or other).

  • Although less detailed, vector images offer more precise paths because they are constructed by mathematical formulas.

Example of a Vector Image: Illustration Vector of an Entrepreneur
Vector Illustration of an Entrepreneur

Cons

  • Vector images are made of shapes and each shape contains a color. Therefore, the main disadvantage of vector images is that they don’t deliver shading and gradient colors, limiting the color grading possibilities a lot when compared to rater images.

  • The development of vector images is constructed from “line art”, so they’re not the best option for any design that demands more curved details instead of linear details in its development.

When to use raster images

Raster images are the best for photography (printing and editing) and general printing, such as scanned files. When you’re working with photo layers in a software like Photoshop, for example, raster images are the best choice. Also, if you’re developing a graphic project and need to include a photo to illustrate something, a raster image will give you better painting and color distribution options, then you should definitely use a raster image instead of a vector image, this way you can  combine colors and reproduce the natural quality of light in physical objects.

Artistic Collage Made with Raster Images
Artistic Collage Made with Raster Images

When to use vector images

Vectors are used by designers to create logos, product art, banners, prints and sticker printing because they are infinitely sized. You can also create a vector out of a real life photo. Just remember that although vectors can be used to imitate true-life photography (create a vector of a photo), this type of design, a.k.a. vectorization or vectorizing, is more suitable for works with simple solid colors. Also, if you want to create digital drawings or sketches, vectors are the best choice to work with because they give you more mathematical references to build your design.

Company Logo Vector Image
Company Logo Vector Image

Conclusion

Great! Now you’re ready to start your next design project knowing what’s the best image type for it! You also know the definition and theory behind raster and vector graphics, plus the benefits and disadvantages of raster and vector graphics!

So, don’t hesitate to choose your favorite image type depending on what you’re designing!

You can also share your thoughts in the comments below!

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