What’s the difference between Raster and Vector?
Have you been asked – possibly by us – to provide a vector version of your logo or artwork and you’re not sure what that involves? If so, you’re not alone. This is one of the most common problems people run into when ordering branded items like hammocks, coffee mugs, custom screen printed t-shirts and trucker caps, just to name a few. It’s the dreaded vector art dilemma!
At this point, many people find themselves screaming at the top of their lungs for HELP!! All too often, the sales rep at the other end of the phone or email hasn’t been properly trained to explain this dilemma in a way that puts the client (you) at ease. They throw around words like .ai files, EPS, raster, vector, bitmap, jpeg (this one you probably know), pixel, and the list goes on. In this article, we’re going to break all of this down in a way that will empower you to tackle this issue head on. Let’s get started.
Watch the Raster VS Vector video.
What’s wrong with the logo I sent you?
Let’s start by taking a look at the name of your logo file. Before you open the document you should see the name, a dot, and the file extension.
The last part of the file name is what we’re interested in at the moment. In the example above, we used the file extension “.jpg”. This tells us that the file in question is a jpeg. Jpegs fall into the raster category of file formats.
Raster VS. Vector
Raster images are the most common and they are found everywhere from your digital camera images to your website. Let’s take a look at each of these two categories a little closer.
Raster (sometimes called bitmap)
Raster images are made up of thousands of little squares called pixels. Each of these pixels has a color assigned to it. They are then lined up from left to right, row after row to form an image. When you look at these little squares all bunched together with the naked eye, you see a smooth seamless piece of art.
These versatile images work well for small thumbnails on the web and on the bottom of an email to the huge wallpaper image on your iMac. They can be universally transferred from person to person and can be opened by most people without high-end graphic designer level software.
Due to the versatility and popularity of raster files, most people have their logo in this file type. When they need custom screen printed t-shirts with their logo on them, they reach for the best-looking logo they can find. This is far too often the one in the top left corner of their website. The assumption is that since the logo looks great on the website, it will look great elsewhere. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
As a rule of thumb, the more pixels in an image, the more hard drive space it consumes and the longer it takes to load on a website. For this reason, web developers remove as many pixels as possible to keep the image looking good at the size it will be displayed on the screen.
“While PhotoShop does a good job of guessing what the missing pixels should be, going from 90,000 pixels to 1,440,000 pixels is more than any program can do perfectly.”
It takes a minimum of 5,184 pixels to look good in every 1 square inch of screen (excluding retina displays). If you were to take just one row of pixels, you would need 72 pixels in a line for every inch of screen (72 DPI). If you want to print this same image, you need 300 pixels per inch (300 DPI). I know there’s a lot of technical stuff going on here but this is the important thing to realize. When you take the jpeg logo from your website (let’s say it’s 300 pixels wide) the maximum size you can print it is 1-inch wide.
At this point, you may be thinking, “just put it in PhotoShop and make it bigger. In order to make a 4-inch wide decal for your car with your 1-inch (90 thousand pixels) logo from your website, PhotoShop needs to generate 1.35 million additional pixels! And by generate, I mean guess. While PhotoShop does a good job of guessing what the missing pixels should be, going from 90,000 pixels to 1,440,000 pixels is more than any program can do perfectly. To drive the point home, If you want that same logo placed on a t-shirt at 12-inches wide, it will take just shy of 13 million pixels.
What a website logo looks like when you zoom in.
ENTER the wonders of VECTOR images! Some really cool, smart, calculus-type people put their heads together to figure out that you can create just about any digital image using nothing but straight lines and curves. All the mathematical calculations combine to create the image without the need for pixels. Since there are no pixels and the art is made up lines, this format can be infinitely enlarged without losing clarity.
— TIP —
If you don’t have a vector version of your logo, Ask the designer who created it. There’s a really good chance they have it on file.”
In addition to the ability to enlarge or reduce the art without compromising the integrity of the design, vector art is easier for designers to manipulate. This gives graphic designers the ability to change colors, add / remove elements, etc. without spending a lot of time on the project.
When a client asks us to print from their raster image, nine times out of ten we have to recreate the logo from scratch. This can take up to 2 hours or more depending on the detail of the logo. If the client truly doesn’t have a vector version of their logo then we are happy to do this. However, it’s always best if we can start with an original vector file.
Are you a vector lover yet? Tell us in the comments section below.