Understanding the difference between Vector and Raster

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Kathryn Faulkner

13th September 2018

Kathryn Faulkner

When it comes to digital imagery, there are two major types of results that get generated. Even though users of each type use them on various platforms. Most of the times, people are confused between the two types of digital imagery, let us shed some light on how and why they are different.

Here is a compare and contrast of their differences (ad similarities), together with a verdict as to what should be used where.

The Scalability Test

One of the most obvious tests that help differentiate vectors from raster is scalability. Vector files are very elastic, in the way that they do not lose their clarity and sharpness, no matter how much (or how many times) you increase or decrease them in size.

However, in the case of a bitmap (or raster) they get blurry or pixelated as soon as you resize them. This can be demonstrated perfectly well by the help of an example. The images below are two separate versions of the same picture. One is a raster and the other is a vector. The smaller images are the originals in either case. Look closely as one image loses out its sharpness.

Understanding the difference between Vector and Raster

The Game of Resolution

The resolution falls different by a huge margin when it comes to compare vector formats and rasterized formats.
The resolution of a raster graphic forms its basis on squared pixels in millions known as DPI (Dots per Inch), this means the size of the pixels remains the same. This means when you increase the size of a raster the value of the pixels remains the same, resulting in a decrease of quality. Therefore, when you want to resize a raster, only go for smaller size so that the same sized pixels re-pack into a concentrated area giving a crisp look.

Parallel to the above, a vector image is made of various paths that are systematically defined by numbers and figures in terms of width, height, length and etc. So no matter how you resize the image (increase in size or downgrade) your image resolution gets recalculated and adjusted accordingly. The result, of all this, means that the image maintains its sharpness and clarity at the end of the adjustment.
Understanding the difference between Vector and Raster

The Creation Process

The two types of these digital images vary tremendously in terms of creation. A vector image can easily (without a doubt) be created into a raster. As opposed to this, creating a vector from a raster will take some serious rework.
The creation of vector graphics is done through specialized software, namely Adobe Illustrator. Therefore, in the absence of the software on cameras, it is impossible to take a photo directly in vector format. Furthermore, all images printed and taken from digital cameras are automatically saved in raster formats. Therefore, the vector photos that you see on the internet or elsewhere are actually vectors created on a software manually and not the other way round. In the image below you can see how distortion takes place on a raster image while a vector image remains in perfect shape.
Understanding the difference between Vector and Raster

Ease of use

As stated earlier, vector images can be resized without losing their sharpness and clarity. This sinle handedly makes vectors the perfect choice for use in various places be it online, social media or even print media where you can increase the size to fit any length/width of a page. On the contrary, if you are sing a raster image, you can use it in the only size that it was originally taken in, or a smaller size. For if you increase the size, the image quality will deteriorate.

Understanding the difference between Vector and Raster

Storage Space

You might think that vectors maintain their size, their clarity and the overall appeal no matter what size, so they must be the heavier ones. Wrong! Since the vector files are based on mathematical calculations that get calculated every time the image gets resized, and not thousands or millions of pixels in specified sizes, vector files are light weight and do not take up much of the system storage space.

However, raster images vary in size and the larger the image, the heavier it will be since the file will contain a higher number of pixels (DPI or PPI) with specific image data.

The Compatibility Issue

For vector files, compatibility remains an issue. For if you are a designer or someone related to the design field other than a designer (printer maybe), you will have access to a software such as Adobe Illustrator that can open vector files. But the same cannot be said to a regular person, trying to access a vector file on their system. They most probably will not have a suitable software (or an idea where to get one) to open the file at hand.

Raster on the other hand are files that are easily available on all system types be it a JPEG, PNG, BMP and the likes. Every system has many software (some default ones as well) that open these raster image files easily without the user even bothering to look for an opener online.

Understanding the difference between Vector and Raster

Getting them Printed

Default raster image files that have a pixel value of 72DPI work fairly well for printing and most printers use these files. The same cannot be said for vector files, since the printer may not have the software to open the file in the first place. A problem that hinders the process further is the print quality for vector files, that is, they don’t turn out too good when printed. Therefore it is better to use a 300DPI format for your raster image file so that even if you increase the size the quality does not get (read terribly) pixelated.

The final verdict

Come to think of it, both tyes of digital image files have their pros and cons. It is only important for you to know where and why you are using these images and you will be good to go. However, if you ask us for a verdic, we will go for vector files only not in the case of printing. The rest is up to you to decide. We hope we made a perfect case for you to make an informed decision as to which files to use in what case.

If you wish to learn more about the design file types or want to add to our story, feel free to comment below, its always fun to learn something new.

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