Vector and Raster: What You Need to Know

  • Pixel art vs. vector art
  • Scalability
  • Real-life graphic presentations
  • Compatibility

Edited by Pat Bitton

December 8, 2020

Raster vs. Vector | What's the Difference?

Raster or vector? This is a dilemma that even the most experienced photographers, graphic designers, or webmasters face every once in a while. So if you're a newbie to the mentioned fields and find yourself in such a tight-spot, fret not. Instead, take time to fully understand what each file format brings to the table. While at it, also ensure you get a high-quality video converter like the one from Movavi for more straightforward file conversion. Having a clear understanding of the perks of each format makes choosing the perfect one for your project seamless. It also makes it easy for you to explain to a client why it's not possible to enlarge their regular family photograph into a ten-foot canvas. Fortunately, you don't need to go anywhere, as described herein is all you may need to know about raster vs. vector images.

Vector vs. Raster: What You Need to Know

Before we get to the differences, what is a vector vs. raster image? Take a look at the breakdown of each below.

Raster Formats

If you use the internet every day, then you encounter raster graphics daily. Also known as a bitmap, a raster image is a graphic made up of thousands or even millions of colored dots known as pixels. In most cases, these pixels are square-shaped, regularly spaced, and each one carries a specific shade, which contributes to the vivid and detailed appearance of the image.

Some of the most common raster formats include:

  • JPEG
  • GIF
  • BMP
  • TIFF

While raster graphics are popular, it's vital to note that due to their pixel-based structure, they tend to be grainy or blurry when resized or enlarged. When you zoom in or enlarge, you're practically forcing your device to create non-existent pixels, hence the pixelation.

The resolution of a raster image is however dictated by the number of pixels in every inch. Thus, the more pixels present per inch(PPI), the better the resolution and vice versa. Therefore, to ensure your raster-based images are of the best quality possible, use more pixels. You will, nonetheless, need a bigger disk as more pixels in an image mean that it'll use more disk space. Thus, if space is an issue for you, it would be wise to downsize.

While on the one hand, it's a downside, on the other hand, the pixel-based structure of a rasterized image is also an advantage as it can be scaled down to fit applications that require small-detailed images. This explains why they are a preferred option when it comes to web applications.

Raster Applications

Rasterized graphics are a more popular choice in non-line art applications, such as digital photography. Again, this is owing to their pixel-based structure. It puts the photographer or designer in control of the end-results as they can edit each of the pixels to achieve whatever effect they desire.

Therefore, you'll find raster images across the internet and on digital publications. When used in print such as magazines and books, they are often printed at a high PPI so the output can be of top-notch quality. An excellent example of a raster image is that selfie you just snapped.

Vector Graphics

Vector-based data is often made up of various lines, shapes, and curves. The resolution of vector images is often dictated by mathematical equations. That is why you'll sometimes hear someone refer to the lines, shapes, and curves of a vector-based graphic as vertices and paths. Nonetheless, worry not as this does not mean you'll be dealing with calculus during editing. It simply means that your image will retain its quality regardless of how you enlarge it. Other than, you also need not worry about extra space because even when enlarged, a vector-image uses relatively less space.

Common vector formats include:

  • SVG
  • AI
  • EPS

Vector images are a more common sight in line-art applications such as logo designs. This is because such projects are less detailed and are often subject to regular changes. For instance, depending on the use, a business logo needs to be resized now and then. This would be impossible with a rasterized format. An example of a vector-based design is the business card you give your clients whenever an opportunity arises.

Difference Between Raster and Vector

Now that you know the key features of each format, what are the key differences between bitmap and vector? Read on to find out.

Pixel Art vs. Vector Art

One of the primary differences between the two formats is the structure. Raster images are made up of a finite number of pixels. Vector art, on the other hand, is deeply rooted in mathematical equations or geometric shapes; hence, its data is more about lines, points, and polygons.

Bitmap vs. Vector: Scalability

Another key difference is in scalability. A raster image, as mentioned earlier, is resolution-dependent. Hence it cannot be scaled without losing its quality. In other words, the smaller it is, the better its resolution and vice versa. If you wish to make a raster image bigger, then you ought to use more pixels and, consequently, more space.

A vector image, on the other hand, is resolution-independent. It thereby displays at whatever resolution capability the printer or output device renders. So you can scale a vector-based graphic to whatever size you had in mind, without compromising on quality. Also, since it doesn't contain countless pixels, a vector file tends to use less space.

Raster vs. Vector: Real-Life Graphic Presentations

As mentioned earlier, each pixel in a rasterized image contains a specific hue or shade, which contributes to the overall yet detailed appearance of the photo. Thereby, when you get the PPI right, a bitmap image often combines an array of visually-perfect color, gradient, shadow, and shade blends, resulting in high quality, detailed graphics presentations.

It's nevertheless, close to impossible to get a real-life graphic representation in a vector-based image. This is because you will need to create a new shape every time you need to make a slight color or shade change. Thereby, while it's possible to turn a vector-image into a photograph, to do that, you'll need to put in hours of hard work and the results won't be as good. So, vector-based data is perfect for when you need to create simple color gradients.

Vector vs. Bitmap: Compatibility

Native vector-based files cannot be edited with any editor you come across. They require a vector-based program or a high-quality video converter like Movavi. Thus, when it comes to compatibility, raster images are a more suitable option as they can be easily shared and edited across many programs.

Vector vs. Raster Comparison Table

Comparison parameterRasterVector
Basis of imagesPixel-based: consists of individual pixelsVector-based: consists of geometric primitives, defined by mathematical formulas
ScalabilityLow: raster images are resolution-dependentHigh: vector images are resolution-independent
File sizeRelatively largeRelatively small

Raster vs. Vector: Which One Is for You?

As seen, both file formats carry their perks and disadvantages and are more efficient in some situations than others. Therefore, whether you decide to use a vector or raster, it all boils down to the nature of your work. For instance, if most of your work revolves around digital photography, then raster file formats are for you. But if your project requires minimal details and may need to be scaled in the future, then vector images suit you better. Whichever format rocks your world, it's also wise to have a high-quality program for media conversion such as Movavi Video Converter.

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