Raster vs. Vector: What's the Difference and When to Use Which (2022)

Do you know the difference between a raster and vector file? This quick overview will help you differentiate for an improved design workflow.

With so many images to choose from online, it can be overwhelming to determine which file formats to begin with. Do you use raster or vector images? Raster images are made up of pixels, while vector images are formed by mathematical curves and paths.

Being comfortable with the ins and outs of both formats and how they translate when exported is an essential skill for every designer.

Let’s get started.

Raster Images

If you surf the web, chances are you’ve seen a raster image.Raster, or bitmap, images consist of tiny squares called pixels. These pixels contain bits of color and, when combined, they build images. The more pixels in an image the higher the quality, and vice versa. When you zoom in on an image, the pixels become more apparent while the details of the image become blurry.

Notice how the edges of the tropical patternbelow become pixelated and jagged when magnified. This is a key indicator of a raster-based image.

Obvious pixels make an image look unprofessional and unsightly. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to only downsize a raster image to avoid heavy pixelation.

Raster vs. Vector: What's the Difference and When to Use Which (1)

Due to the abundance of pixels in a raster image, the file sizes can be substantial. An illustration with higher DPI (dots per inch) or PPI (pixels per inch) will be larger in size and data, which can be worrisome when there are limits to image storage or restrictions on uploaded file sizes.

Tip: You can quickly cut down file size by reducing the resolution to 72 PPI for online images.

(Video) Raster vs. Vector – What's the difference?

Raster images are used in photography and digital applications. When you take a picture with a phone or a camera, the image is recorded as pixel data. And, when these images are uploaded online, the end result is a raster image.

To edit these images, you need access to raster-based programs like Adobe Photoshop orShutterstock Editor.For design work, it’s best to use these programs for photography and imagery only. Avoid using them to design logos and icons.

File Formats for Raster Images

Raster files are saved in various formats:

  • .tiff (Tagged Image File Format)
  • .psd (Adobe Photoshop Document)
  • .pdf (Portable Document Format)
  • .jpg (Joint Photographics Expert Group)
  • .png (Portable Network Graphic)
  • .gif (Graphics Interchange Format)
  • .bmp (Bitmap Image File)

While all of these display pixels, each file formathas its own distinct display settings. Some files take up additional data and use higher resolutions, while others take up less storage, but tend to be lower in resolution and quality.

Vector Images

Vectors use a different approach to image renderings. They’re made of paths and curves dictated by mathematical formulas.These paths and curves are produced exclusively through design softwares designed for vectors, like Adobe Illustrator or Sketch.

Due to their algorithmic makeup, vectors are infinitely scalable, and remain smooth and crisp even when sized up to massive dimensions.

Even when scaled to substantial proportions, this patternbelow remains clean and exact. Elements like fonts render the same way—when sized up or down, they retain their quality.

Raster vs. Vector: What's the Difference and When to Use Which (2)

A vector image’s formulaic makeup keeps file sizes to a minimum in comparison to its raster counterparts. This comes in handy when there are restrictions to file sizes or image storage. While a vector image file has many advantages, there are compatibility issues when shared. You must have access to vector-based programs in order to edit the native files.

(Video) What is Raster and Vector | Difference Between Raster and Vector

Programs such as Adobe Illustrator or Sketch are best used to create and manipulate vector images. Avoid raster-based programs, such as Adobe Photoshop, when incorporating vector elements that need to be scaled.

Vectors’ scalability make them ideal for design work consisting of logos and icons. Both logos and icons require immense details and many size options, usually depending on their application.

For example, you might use a logo on something as small as a business card or something as large as a billboard. Vectors are ideal for large or small format prints, because rasterized designs will lose quality when resized.

File Formats for Vector Images

Vector files can be saved or edited in these formats:

  • .ai (Adobe Illustrator document)
  • .eps (Encapsulated PostScript)
  • .svg(Scalable Vector Graphic)
  • .pdf (Portable Document Format; only when saved from vector programs)

Shutterstock‘scollection of images includes tons of vector images available for download, like fonts, patterns, and illustrations.To view vector images exclusively, change theImageType located under the search bar and selectVectors.

When to Use Raster vs. Vector

Pros and Cons of Raster Graphics

Raster images are used in many situations, but they’re not the best for every instance. Learning to know when to use raster and when to use vector in specific applications is essential for every creative.

Since raster graphics are made up of square-shaped pixels, they’re best for displaying detailed photographs and subtle gradations in color. Because raster images are more readily available in various file formats, they’re more accessible and easy to view online.

The accessibility of these graphics make them more shareable online in multiple applications, especially on social media and through web image browsers.

(Video) Adobe Illustrator | Raster vs vector, what is vector?

While raster graphics are nice for showcasing detailed photographs and shareable images, they do not scale well. Enlarge a pixel-based photo online and you’ll start to see heavy pixelation, which can appear unprofessional to the user.

In addition, raster images can have large file sizes dependent on the amount of detail that image has. Open up a larger raster image and you’ll notice a hefty file size in comparison to a smaller sized raster image.

Knowing how to best optimize the quality of your graphic, while keeping its file size low, is a crucial skill for every creative.

Raster vs. Vector: What's the Difference and When to Use Which (3)

Pros and Cons of Vector Graphics

On the other hand, vector graphics have their uses. Because vectors are made up of mathematical equations, they’re infinitely scalable and are ideal for logos, geometric designs, and typography. Vector graphics also take up significantly less file space than their raster counterparts.

Raster vs. Vector: What's the Difference and When to Use Which (4)

While vectors are ideal for scalable logos, typography, and design, they’re not ideal when displaying photographic images. Rather than being comprised of square-shaped pixels, vectors are made up of mathematical curves and lines, meaning vectors display visual information differently than raster images.

In the image above, the photograph is best seen in a raster format. The vector version of the image is much more simplified, as vector programs will visualize the graphic in groups of solid colors.

Converting Raster to Vector (and Vice Versa)

Knowing when to use which type of graphic is crucial. But, what do you do when you need to convert a raster graphic to a vector image, and a vector graphic to a raster?

Transferring Raster to Vector

Converting raster images to vector formats can be done, but in specific contexts. For example, converting a raster image to vector is best reserved for simplistic designs rather than photographs and portraits.

(Video) Raster vs Vector: Which is better for design? [ENGLISH]

Adobe Illustrator Image Trace

Converting a raster image to vector in Adobe Illustrator is ideal if you have access to Creative Cloud. In the Illustrator program, open up a new file and then place the image onto an artboard using Shift + Command + P. From there, open up the Image Trace panel by going to Window > Image Trace.

Raster vs. Vector: What's the Difference and When to Use Which (5)

In the Image Trace panel, set the Mode to Color and the Colors to the maximum amount, 30. Hit Trace to allow Illustrator to process the image.

Once the image has been processed, expand the result by going to Object > Expand. The raster image now has editable vector components.

Raster vs. Vector: What's the Difference and When to Use Which (6)

Online Raster to Vector Converters

If you don’t have access to Adobe Illustrator and need a raster image converted over to vector, have no fear! There are several online converters at your disposal that’ll make the process as seamless as dragging and dropping an image.

Some resources include:

Transferring Vector to Raster

Converting vector graphics to raster file formats is something every designer needs to learn. In order to share vector designs to those without vector program access, converting the vector design into a readable raster format is essential.

Saving and exporting the vector design into a raster format is inherent in every vector editing program. For example, in Adobe Illustrator, you’ll go to File > Export > Export As and then convert the design as a JPG, PNG, or TIFF file.

Sharing your vector design in a raster format rather than a vector file ensures anyone can view the attached file.

(Video) Vector vs Raster Graphics | Buddy Media

Cover image via Stilesta.

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FAQs

When should you use raster or vector? ›

Raster files are also commonly used for editing images, photos, and graphics. Vector files work better for digital illustrations, complex graphics, and logos. That's because the resolution of vectors remains the same when resized, making them suitable for a wide variety of printed formats.

What is the difference between rasters and vectors? ›

Raster graphics are made up of orderly arranged colored pixels to display any image whereas, vector graphics are composed of paths using a mathematical formula that is a vector that directs the route and shape.

Why would you choose to create with vector versus raster? ›

Raster images are best for digital photos and print materials. If your project requires scalable shapes and solid colors, vector is the best choice, but if your project requires complex color blends, raster is the preferred format.

What are the main differences between raster and vector graphics What are the most common formats of vector and raster graphics? ›

Raster prefers graphic formats like GIF, JPEG,PNG and PCX, etc. Vector uses graphic formats like EPS, WMF, TrueType, PICT etc. 3. Raster are not that scalable.

Which is more accurate raster or vector? ›

Raster GISs (grid cell) work by storing attribute data as grid cell values. Raster GISs have superior analytical power to vector GISs, but grid cell map presentation tends to be less attractive than vector map presentation. Choosing an appropriate cell resolution can be tricky.

What is vector best used for? ›

Most often, businesses use vector graphics for advertising and marketing, as well as brand collateral. Vector graphics can also enhance mobile apps, websites, infographics, and digital presentations. There are many uses for vector graphics. Hard copy printing (clothing, paper, etc.)

What are three differences between vector and raster data? ›

Vector data are excellent for capturing and storing spatial details, while raster data are well suited for capturing, storing, and analyzing data such as elevation, temperature, soil pH, etc. that vary continuously from location to location. Raster data formats also are used to store aerial and satellite imagery.

What is a raster used for? ›

Also known as bitmap, raster files work best when you need to store and display high-quality photographs. Most photos come in the raster file format, whether they're print or digital. With software like Adobe Photoshop, you can edit individual pixels within a raster file to change the appearance of a photograph.

What is raster data best used for? ›

Rasters are well suited for representing data that changes continuously across a landscape (surface). They provide an effective method of storing the continuity as a surface. They also provide a regularly spaced representation of surfaces.

When should you use a raster image? ›

Raster graphics are best used for non-line art images; specifically digitized photographs, scanned artwork or detailed graphics. Non-line art images are best represented in raster form because these typically include subtle chromatic gradations, undefined lines and shapes, and complex composition.

Why vector image is better than raster image explain with example? ›

Some liken raster images to paintings and vectors to drawing; if your project requires complex color blends, such as in painting, raster is the preferred format; if your project requires scalable shapes and solid colors, such as in drawing, vector is the best choice.

Where would raster images be used? ›

Raster images are often used in digital photography, as well as in web design and other applications where a high-resolution image is needed. Because of the way they are stored, raster images can sometimes appear "blocky" or "pixelated" when they are enlarged.

What do you understand by raster and vector images explain in detail? ›

Raster (or bitmap) images are described by an array or map of bits within a rectangular grid of pixels or dots. Vector images are described by lines, shapes, and other graphic image components stored in a format that incorporates geometric formulas for rendering the image elements.

What is faster raster or vector? ›

"Raster is faster but vector is corrector"

This is a common saying in GIS. More detailed guidelines are: Raster data is useful when: Working with continuous data types: elevation, slope, satellite photos.

What is the difference between vector and raster data analysis explain with examples? ›

Vector data represents geographic data symbolized as points, lines, or polygons. Raster data represents geographic data as a matrix of cells that each contains an attribute value. While the area of different polygon shapes in a data set can differ, each cell in a raster data set is the same cell.

What is an advantage of a raster image? ›

Some advantages of raster graphics include the following: they are easy to use; they provide subtle gradations of color; and they are simple to edit using common programs like Photoshop and Microsoft Paint.

What are the 2 most commonly used vectors? ›

Two types of vectors that are most commonly used are plasmids and bacteriophage.

What are the 5 advantages of vector graphics? ›

Here are the most important advantages of vector graphics:
  • They have “infinite” resolution.
  • They are scalable.
  • They are lightweight (small file size)
  • They are intuitively created.
  • They are easily manipulated.
  • They are easily reusable.
  • They are multipurpose.
  • They can produce very realistic results.

What is the main advantage of vector images? ›

Vector Image Advantages

-Vector images have Smaller File Sizes:Since there are no pixels of information in vector files, just mathematical points, the file size can remain small even when scaled very large. -Vector images are Editable: You can modify individual elements without affecting other objects in the image.

How do you know if data is raster or vector? ›

Raster data and vector data are two types of spatial data in GIS. The main difference between Raster and Vector Data is that the raster data represents data as a cell or a grid matrix while vector data represents data using sequential points or vertices.

What is an example of vector data? ›

Vector data is represented as a collection of simple geometric objects such as points, lines, polygons, arcs, circles, etc. For example, a city may be represented by a point, a road may be represented by a collection of lines, and a state may be represented as a polygon.

What is an example of raster data? ›

Raster data is not only good for images that depict the real world surface (e.g. satellite images and aerial photographs), they are also good for representing more abstract ideas. For example, rasters can be used to show rainfall trends over an area, or to depict the fire risk on a landscape.

Where can vector graphics be used? ›

Uses For Vector Images
  • Printing On Paper And Clothes. There are fundamentally two different ways in which something gets printed on paper or clothes: ...
  • Sign Making. Signs come in all shapes and sizes and many of them are made using some form of vector image original. ...
  • Embroidery. ...
  • General Graphic Design. ...
  • Animations.

What is raster image example? ›

Examples of raster image file types are: BMP, TIFF, GIF, and JPEG files.

What are the advantages of vector data over raster data? ›

Data can be represented at its original resolution and form without generalization. Graphic output is usually more aesthetically pleasing (traditional cartographic representation); Since most data, e.g. hard copy maps, is in vector form no data conversion is required.

Is Google maps a vector or raster? ›

The vector map is the same Google map your users are familiar with using, and offers a number of advantages over the default raster tile map, most notably the sharpness of vector-based images, and the addition of 3D buildings at close zoom levels.

What are the weaknesses of raster data? ›

Disadvantages of Raster Data Structures: • The use of large cells to reduce data volumes means that phenomenonologically recognizable structures can be lost and there can be a serious loss of information • Crude raster maps are considerably less beautiful than line maps • Network linkages are difficult to establish • ...

Is a screenshot a raster image? ›

Whenever you take a photo with your phone, or take a screenshot on your computer, you're creating a raster image. Raster images (or bitmaps) are composed of pixels.

What is an example of a vector image? ›

Examples of vector graphic formats are PICT, EPS, and WMF as well as PostScript and TrueType fonts. These are created with GIS and CAD applications as well as drawing programs like FreeHand.

What is vector image in simple words? ›

Vector graphics are computer images created using a sequence of commands or mathematical statements that place lines and shapes in a two-dimensional or three-dimensional space. In vector graphics, a graphic artist's work, or file, is created and saved as a sequence of vector statements.

What is a vector image in simple terms? ›

Vector artwork is art that's made up of vector graphics. These graphics are points, lines, curves and shapes that are based on mathematical formulas. When you scale a vector image file, it isn't low resolution and there's no loss of quality, so it can be sized to however large or small you need it to be.

When would you use a raster file? ›

Also known as bitmap, raster files work best when you need to store and display high-quality photographs. Most photos come in the raster file format, whether they're print or digital. With software like Adobe Photoshop, you can edit individual pixels within a raster file to change the appearance of a photograph.

What should you use a raster graphic for? ›

Raster graphics are best used for non-line art images; specifically digitized photographs, scanned artwork or detailed graphics. Non-line art images are best represented in raster form because these typically include subtle chromatic gradations, undefined lines and shapes, and complex composition.

Where would raster images be used? ›

Raster images are often used in digital photography, as well as in web design and other applications where a high-resolution image is needed. Because of the way they are stored, raster images can sometimes appear "blocky" or "pixelated" when they are enlarged.

What is raster data good for? ›

Raster data is not only good for images that depict the real world surface (e.g. satellite images and aerial photographs), they are also good for representing more abstract ideas. For example, rasters can be used to show rainfall trends over an area, or to depict the fire risk on a landscape.

What is an advantage of a raster image? ›

Some advantages of raster graphics include the following: they are easy to use; they provide subtle gradations of color; and they are simple to edit using common programs like Photoshop and Microsoft Paint.

Is PDF a raster or vector? ›

*A PDF is generally a vector file. However, depending how a PDF is originally created, it can be either a vector or a raster file. Whether you opt to flatten the layers of your file or choose to retain each one will determine the image type.

When would you not use vector graphics? ›

With many images on the web still falling under the 72-100 dpi (dots per inch) range, raster images may look better than vector ones. Vector image files that contain text can be tricky to edit when working with EPS and AI files. Images with text saved under the file formats GIF, JPG, and PNG may not reopen for editing.

What is the advantage of a vector image? ›

Vector Image Advantages

-Vector images have Smaller File Sizes:Since there are no pixels of information in vector files, just mathematical points, the file size can remain small even when scaled very large. -Vector images are Editable: You can modify individual elements without affecting other objects in the image.

What is an example of a vector image? ›

Examples of vector graphic formats are PICT, EPS, and WMF as well as PostScript and TrueType fonts. These are created with GIS and CAD applications as well as drawing programs like FreeHand.

Why are vectors used? ›

Vectors are used in science to describe anything that has both a direction and a magnitude. They are usually drawn as pointed arrows, the length of which represents the vector's magnitude.

What is an example of vector data? ›

Vector data is represented as a collection of simple geometric objects such as points, lines, polygons, arcs, circles, etc. For example, a city may be represented by a point, a road may be represented by a collection of lines, and a state may be represented as a polygon.

What is an example of raster data? ›

An example of discrete raster data is population density. Continuous data examples are temperature and elevation measurements. There are also three types of raster datasets: thematic data, spectral data, and pictures (imagery).

What are the weaknesses of raster data? ›

Disadvantages of Raster Data Structures: • The use of large cells to reduce data volumes means that phenomenonologically recognizable structures can be lost and there can be a serious loss of information • Crude raster maps are considerably less beautiful than line maps • Network linkages are difficult to establish • ...

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