“You want a vector graphic? I don’t know what that is! Do I have one of those? That sounds scary. 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.
You can boil digital artwork down into two basic categories: Raster graphics and 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 on or blown up a .jpg image too large, you may have noticed that the image becomes blurry and the colors turn into little squares or dots. The little dots are called pixels and this kind of image is called 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 graphic? You see hundreds of vector graphics a day and probably don’t even realize it. Most logos are vector files. More specifically, a vector graphic is artwork made up of points, lines, and curves that are based upon mathematical equations, rather than a solid colored square pixels.
This means that no matter how large or small or how close you zoom in on the image, the lines, curves, and points remain smooth. There will never be jagged lines or blurriness with this kind of image, no matter how much it is enlarged. Also colors are separated into any type/size of 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…
So now that you know what a vector graphic is, you need to know why it’s important. In the world of graphic design, vector graphics 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 blown up huge on a billboard or made smaller for your pens and letterhead. Icon and more illustrated looking artwork is also good to have in vector files.
Vector graphics make a design project much easier and faster. If you have these files on hand, they can save your graphic designer a lot of time, which in turn will save you money, and produce a higher quality result.
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. 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 graphic 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.
“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.