What is a vector art file?

Or…what art vector files?

When we’re starting a new design project, we often ask our customers for a vector art file—usually when we’re working with a company logo, diagram or clip-art illustration. This post will tell you what a vector art file is, how it’s different from other art files, and why we request this type of file.

There are two basic types of electronic image files: vector graphics and raster (pixel-based) graphics:

Vector graphics are created from points, lines, shapes and curves that are based on mathematical formulas. These elements are filled with color, blends, tints or gradients, and lines have a stroke attribute such as a solid or dashed line with different thicknesses and colors.

A vector graphic is made up of points, lines and curves related to one another using mathematical formulas.

A vector graphic is made up of points, lines and curves related to one another using mathematical formulas. From there, the illustration can be styled with outlines, color and blends to complete the graphic.

Vector file extensions: EPS, AI
Vector based programs: Adobe Illustrator, Macromedia Freehand, Flash, Corel Draw

Raster graphics use pixels (small dots or squares of color) to create an overall image. A raster graphic is also referred to as a bitmap file.

Illustration of a raster graphic, magnified to show the pixels that make up the image.

A raster (or bitmap) graphic, magnified to show the pixels that make up the image.

Raster file extensions: BMP (bitmap), JPEG or JPG, TIFF, GIF,
Raster based programs: Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Paint, most default image editing software (View a list of raster programs on Wikipedia)

Benefits of using a vector art file

The benefit of vector art is that it is resolution independent—meaning it can be scaled to any size, from a large billboard to a business card, with no loss of detail or sharpness.

The challenge when using a bitmap image file—and the reason we often request a vector art file—is that each time a bitmap image is manipulated, information is lost, changed and recalculated by the computer as it redraws the altered image. This can result in blurriness, jagged edges and loss of detail. If we tried to double the size of a raster image such as a JPG, the result would be blurry and low quality. But since a vector image is based on mathematical formulas, it can be doubled—or tripled—in size and still retain crisp, high-quality details. Vector images can also be edited to change color or shapes of a section without affecting the whole image.

A vector image can be enlarged without loss of sharpness and detail. Enlarging a raster image results in blurry and distorted edges and details.

A vector image can be enlarged without loss of sharpness and detail. Enlarging a raster image results in blurry and distorted edges and details.

Vector images also take up much less file space than bitmaps do. In a vector file, for instance, a square box of any size contains the coordinates of the X & Y starting point plus width and height. But a filled bitmap image that is 100 x 100 pixels must store 10,000 pixels of information.

In addition to the flexibility and smaller file size, a vector can also be converted or saved as a bitmap file—but a bitmap file cannot be saved to a vector file. It must be recreated using a vector based application.

If you’ve had a request from a graphic artist for your vector logo or another illustration, first check with the designer who created it. If you find out it’s only available in bitmap format, give us a call for more information on recreating it in vector for more flexibility and higher quality graphics projects.

About Matt Marrinan
  • http://www.instantimprints.com Laurie Shook

    Matt, This is the best explanation of vector art I have seen! Instant Imprints does T-shirt printing and embroidery, and we constantly have to explain this to customers. Just one question–is VISIO considered to be a Vector-based art program? I got a sample today and it looks like it is.

  • http://20.myvisionstage.com Matt

    Although I have not used MS Visio, to the best of my knowledge I would say it has vector capabilities.

  • http://www.jimmysdressing.com Bruce Lund

    Thanks, this was really helpful.

  • Melissa Mueller

    Great and informative :) Thank you!

  • bob

    didn’t help a bit