It's Not Your Eyes Playing Tricks

Example of a raster graphic


If you are new to working with digital graphics -- welcome! You are going to enjoy the freedom to use and build your creative and technical skills. 

While the amount of information and skills you need to know to successfully run a sign or design business may seem vast, you will learn just like you eat an elephant: a bite (or byte) at a time!

Raster vs. Vector Graphics

Example of a vector graphic


One of the first set of facts it's important to know is the differences between raster and vector graphics. Without that knowledge, you could find yourself wasting time by trying to use the wrong type of graphics. Time is money, vinyl is money, and we want you to save both!

Simply put, vector and raster are two primary types of digital graphics. However, they differ significantly in how they store and represent images, so which one to use for a project will differ. You may use one format or both, depending on the graphic. 


Contrasting a vector and a raster graphic


Vector Files/Graphics

Vector graphics are created using mathematical formats, defining shapes through points, lines, and curves. They significantly differ from raster files in their construction, usage, and characteristics.
Scalability and resolution: They are resolution-independent, meaning they can be scaled to any size without losing quality or becoming pixelated because they are resolution-independent. They're suitable for both small icons and large-scale designs like billboards. Whether you enlarge a vector graphic to a billboard size or shrink it to a tiny icon, it maintains its sharpness. 
File Format: Common vector file formats include SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics), AI (Adobe Illustrator), EPS (Encapsulated PostScript), and PDF (Portable Document Format). Proprietary formats like .FS and .VE are especially popular in digital signmaking.
Creation and Editing: Vector files are designed and edited using vector graphic software like Adobe Illustrator or  CorelDRAW. Vector design programs popular in the sign industry include FlexiSign, SignLab, and LXI. All of these vector design apps allow for precise manipulation of individual elements.
Usage: Ideal for logos, illustrations, fonts, typography, signs, banners, fleet and custom vehicle markings, diagrams, and other graphics designs where scalability and crispness are essential.

Raster Files/Graphics

You may know raster images by the term bitmap graphics. They are composed of a grid of pixels with each pixel containing color information. Raster files represent images as a collection of tiny squares, and changing the size can result in a loss of quality. Photographs are the most common type of raster images.
Scalability and resolution: Raster files have a fixed resolution which is determined by the number of pixels. That's why when they are enlarged, they can lose quality and appear pixelated or blurry. There is a loss of sharpness and visible pixels. (Haven't we all gone a step too far to blow up a photo, just to see it lose its quality? Or seen pixels on our TVs and wondered what was going on?)
File Format: Common raster file formats include JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP, and TIFF. These formats store information about the color and position of each pixel.
Editing: Raster graphics are edited using image editing software like Adobe Photoshop, GIMP, or Paint.NET. Editing involves altering the color, contrast, and other pixel-based characteristics. 
Usage: Raster graphics are best used for photographs, detailed images, digital paintings, web images, and any image that does not require frequent resizing or scalability. 

Now What?

Now you have the facts about the differences between raster and vector files.  What does this mean in practical application?

Two examples of when you will be working with raster or vector files:

Text Logos: Text logos need to be resized frequently across various mediums. Businesses use them in their print and digital material, from signs to car wraps to business cards. In this case, a vector format is your best bet. 
Graphics Logos: What if your customer's logo includes or is exclusively a photograph? In that case a raster format would be more suitable to preserve details and colors so the photo can be used on a large and small scale.

Depending on your project, you will be working with raster or vector formats -- or both. It is vital to know which one to use to determine how much time you will need to complete your project, which will help you give an accurate estimate for the job.

Knowledge is power, and knowing the differences between raster and vector graphics gives you the power to choose what is best for each of your projects.