What Is a Vector File?

  • Definition of vector files
  • The difference between vector and raster
  • Editing in vector file format
  • User-friendly interface with tips

Edited by Pat Bitton

November 25, 2019

What Is a Vector File and When Should You Use One?

Suppose one of your advertisers, one of your company subsidiaries, or the printer of your annual report requests that you send a file of your logo. The logo is going to be printed considerably larger than you ordinarily use it. Your best bet (and a printer probably will ask for it, specifically) is to send a vector image and file.

The reason is that if your logo (or any other graphic, for that matter) is to be resized larger—blown-up—then you want to be sure it does not lose its sharp definition. You want to be sure that graphic art remains hard-edged and does not become fuzzy. We all have seen online images that are fuzzy and low-resolution. We've also been warned against the problem when creating an online ad or even posting our profile. The warning is not to use a photo less than a certain size (reckoned in DPI or PPI).

A file that is composed of pixels, of dots of colors, when it is blown up can look grainy or "pixelated." That is because it is not a "vector" image but a "raster" image. Making the contrast with the familiar raster file, composed of pixels, is the easiest way to understand a vector file. So, although our primary focus, here, will be on vector files, let us pause to ask: What is a vector file? And how is it different from a raster file?

Definition of Vector and Raster Files

Raster Format

As noted, raster images utilize colored pixels, individual building blocks, to form an image. The extremely well known and widely used JPEG file is a raster image type. Indeed, the great majority of photos that you see on the web and in print are raster images. It is safe to say, in the comparison of the two types of files, that there are many, many more uses for raster images and files. But just because they are composed using a fixed number of pixels, any attempt to greatly enlarge the raster image, to resize it, is going to compromise the quality of its resolution. The pixels are being stretched to fit a space for which the image was not constructed and the pixels will become individually visible, giving the image a distorted, grainy aspect. This is also called "low resolution" or "pixelated." So, as useful as raster files are in many contexts, if you use a raster file it is vital that you save a raster file at precisely the dimensions needed to avoid complications.

Vector Format

When it comes to issues of resolution and successful resizing—as of your logo by the printer—the vector file permits far more flexibility. A vector image is not constructed of pixels. It is constructed using mathematical formulas that retain their precision and relationships when the image is resized and does justice to your logo, brand graphics, and other such applications. Specifically, vector images are constructed of lines (called "paths") by software programs that employ mathematical calculations to decide the size, shape, and color of each and every line. By combining straight and curved paths and various colors and shading, illustrations can be created with great detail. Given the mathematical precision of the construction with all parameters 100 percent specified, vector files can be resized without loss of the vectorized pictures and other images.

Most of us have long been familiar with "Portable Document Format" (PDF) files and the phrase "saving the format." PDF is usually a vector file. The PDF file was developed in 1990 by Adobe specifically to present documents, including the text format but also the images, in a manner independent of which software, hardware, and operating system are being used—that is the power and potential of the vector file. Other vector file types, somewhat less well known, include EPS and AI, for example. A common file extension for a vector file might be ai and .eps.

Keep in mind that even when using a raster file, which you almost always do in any web application, you can and should control the resolution to fit the purpose. That means you should check the pixel density (measured in dots per inch or DPI) or pixels per inch (PPI). The measurements become relevant when you are using raster images such as JPEGs in specific places. The web historically has maintained a relatively low pixel density, but now a user can elect to create a display with a much higher pixel density.

But returning to vector images and files:

For high-quality print, you should consider an EPS file of a graphic, text, or illustration. As a vector file, it can easily be resized to any extent required.

For creating logos, graphics, illustrations, and print layouts a good choice is an AI file, a vector file type created by Adobe that can be created and edited only with a special illustrator device.

Editing in Vector File Format

When it comes to vector files such as AI and EPS, they can remain editable, enabling you to open them up and edit text or other elements within a given graphic image. Images containing text that are saved, for example, as a JPG, cannot be opened to enable you to edit the text.

When you are asked to send files to be printed, say by an advertising medium, you may be asked to save it in "outlines." The reason is that a printer may not happen to have the particular font that you used in your design. If the vector file is not saved in outlines, then when the file is opened the text won't have the look that you wanted and, in fact, default to a different font. Saving with "outlines" only means that you are locking your text so it no longer technically acts as a font, but is constructed of vector shapes that form the letters. It all arises from the nature and capabilities of the vector image and file.

When You Need to Edit Files

When used for the purposes intended, vector files have impressive advantages and vector file formats such as AI and EPS are used throughout the world of printing and graphics. For others uses, such as the web, you rarely would think of using a vector file.

To edit any photo file to perfection, the Movavi Photo Editor employes artificial intelligence to optimize your images and you can edit any part of your photograph to improve low quality or add color, for example. The Photo Editor can add custom frames to your photographs to make them stand out.

Whatever your photo file format, the Movavi Photo Editor can handle it with accuracy, power, and the ease of equipment designed to be intuitive for the user. The Movavi Photo editor can enable you to achieve professional editing perfection every time on the photos that you cherish. And other Movavi equipment for every aspect of multi-media can make your multi-media projects an adventure you always will enjoy.

When you edit with Movavi Photo Editor, you are taking advantage of our years of experience in encountering and resolving troubleshooting issues so that you won't have to deal with them. The more information, insight, and experience that you gain about different types of images and files, the more you will appreciate the versatility, professional quality, and value of all Movavi multimedia products.

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