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The Difference between Vector and Raster

For many people, the difference between Vector and Raster is as obscure as the sunset on a stormy evening. However, the difference between the two is relatively simple and easy for anyone to understand. To begin with, it is important to understand that graphic files can take different sizes, shapes and formats. If you have been observant enough, you may have noticed that there are certain logos which appear clear and crisp while there are others that appear blurry and pixilated. The differences in appearance are due to the fact that one was saved as a vector image and the other saved as a Raster image. So how exactly do you tell between the two?

Raster Graphics

Raster is the commonly used type of graphics. They comprise of tiny continuous of colored boxes known as dots or pixels. When creating images or graphics for print, Raster graphics are usually measured in dots per inch (dpi), but when the images are meant for use in the web then they are measured in pixel per inch (ppi). These measurements allow the designers to measure the amount of color information contained in a specific image. The most popular file formats for Raster graphics include jpg, png, tiff, gif, psd and bmp. In the creation of Raster graphics, there are lots of tools which can be used, with Adobe Photoshop being the preferred one by the majority.

Pros and cons of Raster images

One of the greatest advantages of Raster graphics is that they offer greater color detail because they are pixel based. With this, Raster images have a finite number of pixels. Therefore, should you attempt to enlarge the graphic; the computer will try to fill in the gaps of the missing pixels with the colors which it thinks matches the spaces. This interpolation of data is what will make the images appear blurry or pixilated, since the computer cannot guess correctly the exactly colors which ought to be in those spaces.

The second advantage of using Raster is the precise editing that they allow the editors to have. When working with Raster graphics, designers have more precise editing control over the details and the color information. It will interest you to know that all the individual pixels with the color information in Raster images can be edited one by one, therefore, if you are a perfectionist designer, then Raster images gives you the highest levels of customization possible. The editing possibilities are simply endless.

On the other hand, there are certain characteristic of Raster images that are not admirable at all. The first con of these graphics is that they are blurry or get pixilated when enlarged. This is because the images are made of a finite number of pixels and when they are enlarged, the computer tries to guess the right color that should be in the additional gaps. The image will thus appear blurry because the computer has no way of telling the right color which should be filled in the gaps.

The second con for Raster graphics lies on their size. They are large in nature and might sometimes compromise the processing powers of the computers, even for faster machines.

Vector Graphics

Unlike Raster graphics which are comprised of individual pixels, vector graphics uses math to draw shapes in form of dots, curves and lines and they are infinitely scalable. The graphics uses the original math equation to create consistent shapes irrespective of whether they are being scaled up or down. This is why vector graphics are preferred for logos and large scale printing. For creating graphics meant for the web, you are free to use vector or Raster graphics since it is possible to export vector images to popular Raster formats such as png, jpg, etc.

Pros and cons of vector graphics

As indicated earlier, one of the pros of vector graphics is that they can be scaled infinitely without them compromising the image quality in any way. With them, you don’t have to worry about missing pixels, since the original mathematic equation will be applied to the shape consistently at all times.

Secondly, vector images are relatively smaller thus easy to work with and will not affect the processing power of computers as is the case with large Raster files. And finally, unlike their Raster based counterparts, vector graphics are never flattened and this simply implies that the original shapes exist in different layers, giving you the power to modify each element individually.

One of the limitations of vectors is their unsuitability for complex images that might require exact coloring. This is owing to the mathematical nature of how data is remembered by vectors. Though it may be possible to create basic color gradients with vectors, it will not be possible to match the color details available in Raster images, where you can edit each individual pixel.

Learn more common file formats for graphic designers here!

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