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File Formats Decoded: Vectors vs. Rasters (and Why it Matters!)
When you begin submitting designs for printing, there may be confusion about the type of art files needed. Computer graphic formats can either be vector- or raster-based, and the type of file you use can make a substantial difference in the quality of your final printing.
So, what is the difference, and (more importantly!) why does it matter? Here’s a quick overview.
Pixels, Mathematics, and Scalability
Raster-based graphics are comprised of tiny squares called pixels. A pixel is simply the smallest addressable element of a graphic represented on the screen. Raster-based graphics are resolution dependent, which can present problems when a picture is enlarged. As an image is expanded, you may notice the edges of your artwork becoming distorted; or as you zoom in, the image deteriorates until you’re left with a jumble of colored squares.
Raster graphics can be photos or graphic files created in Adobe Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, and other Raster editing programs, and the basic file types are .jpg, .gif, .png, or .tif. Raster images are best for photos or when you want rich, complex color blends. Raster graphics are typically acceptable for digital publication but may not work well in printed projects unless images are saved at a high DPI (dots per inch), so the quality doesn’t suffer during the printing process.
In vector-based graphics, the image is not described by pixels but by mathematical concepts (points, lines, and shapes). This allows designers to create art that is clean, camera-ready, and can be scaled infinitely without any loss of quality. Vector designs can be printed as small as a keychain or as large as a billboard without any distortion, and the files are often much smaller, so they are easy to transmit between computers or over the Internet. Vector graphics can be created using programs such as Gravit Designer, Affinity Designer, Corel Draw, and Adobe Illustrator, and file types include .svg, .eps., .pdf, .ai, or .dxf. Vector art is preferred for logos, illustrations, insignia, fonts, or high-quality clip art.
What If I Have the Wrong Format?
Most professional designers can save art to both raster and vector graphic file types. If you have a vector format and need raster instead, files can be converted by using the “export” function rather than the “save” function. Here you can select the format you wish to export your design into. Converting rasters to vectors is a rather intricate, time-intensive process, so whenever possible, it’s best to create original art in both formats or to stick with vector-based graphics.
Many projects combine raster and vector images together in one publication, which is especially simple in layout software such as InDesign, QuarkXpress, Illustrator, or Photoshop. Ultimately, format selection boils down to what you’re creating and its intended use.
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by Antonis Tsagaris
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