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Raster vs. Vector: Why It Matters

In the world of print, design and web, there are two important types of computer graphics that everyone in the field should be aware of and should be able to differentiate between.

Raster

Raster images, also known as bitmap images, have data represented in a grid of pixels, which are small points of color that can be viewed on computer monitors or other display types. A few commonly familiar raster image formats are JPG, TIFF, and BMP, just to name a few. The significant element of raster graphics is the fact that they are resolution dependent. This means that a raster image cannot scale to larger than intended resolutions without a loss of quality. For example, an image suited for a size of 8×10 would look blurry and pixelated if stretched to say… twice its size. Premium raster editing programs include Adobe Photoshop, GIMP, and Paint.NET. Raster is best used with photographs or photo like images.

Vector

Unlike raster images, vectors use more mathematically driven models to represent graphics on a computer. Programs like Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Fireworks use vectors to create images. The significant advantage of vector images is that they can scale to a larger resolution without a loss of quality. With a vector, one could stretch an image to the size of Texas but the quality would not be compromised. Again, this has to do with the fact that vector graphic files store the lines, shapes, and colors that make up the image as a mathematical formula using geometric primitives like points, lines, curves, and polygons. Vectors are best used for graphic and logo design and can complement raster images in the design process. Vectors also provide a good foundation for works that don’t need to include excessive or unnecessary detail in a realistic sense.
The next time you are creating logos or designs for a client, think about and consider using vectors. For photography, consider raster. If you’d like to spice up your photos, create some vector designs for placement on your photo. Adobe Photoshop can easily convert vector to raster. Happy designing!

For more general descriptions of image formats mentioned in this article, visit their respective wikis below:

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