Raster and Vector Graphics — What’s the Difference

Design is not only creativity and practice but also theory. To achieve success in this area, you need to keep much information in mind. For example, it is crucial to know the hex color names for working with computer graphics (you can find this and other information on VistaCreate). However, the difference between raster and vector graphics is the most essential and basic information. Let’s take a closer look at this matter.

Raster images

Raster images are any files depicting the world from nature, such as scanned drawings, photographs, pictures made in computer programs, etc. The elementary unit of such files is the pixel, a very small square filled with a certain color. The number of pixels per unit length (mostly inches) determines dpi, the resolution of a raster image. Such images have the following characteristics:

  • for websites, the minimum resolution is 75 dpi – if less, the quality is too low, if more, the page takes much time to load;
  • printing requires a resolution of 150 to 300 dpi – with fewer pixels per inch, the image will be blurry and grainy;
  • scaling of the image is undesirable – pixels become visible when the image is enlarged, and it is divided into color squares;
  • reducing images is less problematic, but if you make a very small file from a large one, the contours and small details will be very deformed.

Raster is used in a design, decoration, illustrations, and other similar areas when you want to convey a complex natural object more realistic and complete. There are almost no limitations on the types of images for raster graphics.

Vector images

Vector images are files created in special programs using complex tools. They consist of objects and contours, and their mutual position is described by mathematical formulas. Complex multicolor and multi-component images can be formed in vector graphics editors. Such images have the following characteristics:

  • they can be scaled in any direction – either zooming in or zooming out doesn’t decrease line sharpness; 
  • when scaling vector drawings, it’s important to turn outlines into objects or activate the scaling function; 
  • vectors can be exported into raster formats by specifying the desired size in different units, such as pixels, centimeters, inches, etc.; 
  • a vector image, unlike a raster one, can be changed at any moment – you can delete or add details, repaint it, or change its proportions.

Vector is used in the same areas as raster, but when qualitative and quantitative changes are more important than the realistic nature of the surrounding world. Vector forms simple elements, emblems, crests, advertising products, hand-made objects, interiors, geographic maps, etc.

Comparison of raster and vector images

High realism, photographic quality, ease of getting, natural colors, and tone transitions are advantages of a raster image. Their disadvantages are large file sizes with high resolution, limited editing, the undesirability of scaling, and loss of quality when zooming in or out. Raster images are used for amateur and professional photography, digitization of paintings, and creating book illustrations.

The ability to change the image, unlimited scaling without loss of quality, small file size even with a large and complex image, and ease of exporting to raster formats are the advantages of vector graphics. The primary disadvantages are their schematic nature, simplified colors, and the complexity of creation (you need to work with a special program). However, these disadvantages are compensated by creating a vector with a graphics tablet. Drawing in the editor by hand rather than with the mouse simplifies the work, but it is still difficult to build a real detailed object.

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