“What is a vector image! I don’t know what this is. Do I have one of those? Do I need one?”
If you have ever had any graphic design done, you have probably been exposed to the term vector graphic and had these kinds of questions. Don’t worry, this is a good thing. Let’s start with the basics and learn “what is a vector image!”.
Raster graphics vs Vector graphics
Raster graphics ( jpg / png / tiff files )
Most people are familiar with .jpg images—like those you would get from your digital camera. If you have ever zoomed in very close, or blown up a .jpg image too large, you may have noticed that the image becomes blurry and the colors turn into small squares or dots. The small dots are called pixels and this kind of image is called a raster graphic. If you have ever had to edit a digital photo, you know how time-consuming changing just the littlest thing can be.
Vector graphic (ai / eps / svg files)
So what is different about a vector image? You see hundreds of vector graphics a day and probably don’t realize it. Most logos are vector files. More specifically, a vector graphic is an artwork made up of points, lines, and curves that are based upon mathematical equations, rather than solid colored square pixels.
This means no matter the size or how far zoomed in the image is, the lines, curves, and points remain smooth. The artwork will never have jagged lines or blurriness.
Also colors are separated into their own shape (vs a bunch of little squares making a colored area), which makes changing colors within these graphics as easy as the click of a button.
Why this matters…
After learning the basics of a vector graphic, you need to know why it’s important.
#1: Vector graphics produce professional looking branding. They are a big part of most printed or published materials. Logos, for example, should always have a vector format. Those smooth lines and shapes produce the best quality printed materials, having a solid, consistent color and crisp, clear text. You can use your vector logo huge on a billboard, small for your pens, or for a screen printed t-shirt. Icons and more illustrated-looking artwork is also good to have in vector files.
#2: Vector graphics will save your graphic designer time. This will save you money and produce higher quality results.
#3: Vector files do not lose quality. Jpg and other pixel based files will loose file data every time they are opened and saved.
For the everyday user, vector graphics are something you will rarely use if you don’t have the software to open them (such as Adobe products and QuarkXPress). Most people will refer to vector graphics as an .eps file. They may also us a .ai extension for Illustrator files or .svg for website applications. While you may not ever personally use these files, or even have the programs to open them, it is very important NOT to delete your vector image files. If you ever plan on having graphic design work done or want your logo placed on promotional items you will be asked for vector graphics files.
“So what if I don’t have a vector version of my logo?”
Get in touch with the original designer of your logo to find out if a vector version of your logo was ever produced and request a copy of it. If there is no vector version available, often they can be recreated from a raster graphic, depending on its complexity and quality. It’s important to have a brand identity kit for your organization that contains this version of your logo among many other things.
“Do I always need a vector file if I’m having design work done?”
Not always. There are ways to use other file formats, but the type of work you are having done will ultimately determine whether or not you will need vector files or not.
Ultimately, if you are having design work done, make sure to talk to your designer about your files formats, so you can collect the appropriate files or have them created if they are not available.
Need a little more help? Check out this handy image guide for the different file formats and what and how to use them!