Working with graphics in a digital space comes with the expectation that you become familiar with the vector vs raster conversation. Understanding the particularities of both these graphic formats, and how these details impact your deliverables, will help you confidently navigate the world of digital art.
Still testing the waters in all the niches that graphic design encompasses? Then this post should help you get that first bit of second-guessing out of the way. We’d like to take you on a beyond-surface-level journey into the subject. When all is said and done, you’ll be able to effortlessly identify exactly when to use vector vs raster, based on your project’s ground plan.
Table of Contents:
- What Are Raster Graphics?
- What Are Vector Graphics?
- Raster Graphics vs Vector Graphics: The Differences
- Raster Art vs Vector Art: The Similarities
- Vector Animation vs Raster Animation: The Tie Breaker
Let’s get right into it!
What Are Raster Graphics?
Raster graphics are composed of a rectangular array of regularly sampled values, aka pixels. Each pixel will translate into an area of illumination on a display screen, and its color will be dictated by the color code it’s assigned.
Video recordings, digital product photography, complex graphics, and any visuals created using pixel-based software are all ultimately raster files. The web is immersed in raster visuals, from stunning landscapes captured in the wilderness to digital realities brush-stroked into existence.
The detailed nature of pixel-based graphics that makes breathtaking visuals possible is the same reason that they’re not a top choice in terms of scalability, web performance, and by extension, versatility. The number of pixels in any raster graphic is fixed, which means any attempt to resize/scale up will result in distortions and/or a blurry visual, as the system cannot create extra pixels out of thin air. This is a significant factor that tips the “raster art vs vector art” scale in favor of vector graphics when it comes to the digitalverse.
What Are Vector Graphics?
Vector graphics are generated using mathematical formulas that translate into points, lines, and curves aligned on a grid. Vector images aren’t pixel-based, which means they aren’t constrained when it comes to resizing. They are resolution-independent – you can resize vector graphics without quality loss or risk of visual artifacts.
Vectors can help you create performance-friendly UI design elements, infinitely scalable logos, or lightning-fast-loading explainer animations at a fraction of the cost of raster video production. In fact, when it comes to web performance, there’s a long list of reasons why you should use scalable vector graphics!
Raster Graphics vs Vector Graphics: The Differences
Think of choosing between vector vs raster like deciding which paint medium to use for your next masterpiece. Like acrylics and gouache paint, vectors are amazing in terms of versatility, as you can fine tune them to suit your artistic vision, with a pinch of compromise on the finer details.
On the other hand, oil paints, like rasters, are a top pick for capturing the minute details, superb color blends, and textured brush strokes that leave us in awe of the artist’s talent – but they both come at a high-cost (literally and figuratively). Raster graphics often come in at a premium performance “cost” via larger file sizes, resolution-dependency, and other downfalls.
Raster and vector graphics have distinct ways of rendering, and most of the time one will be a better match for a design project, rather than the other. In terms of raster vs vector animation, SVG supports a minimum of 16.7 millions of colors, while GIF uses only 256, which makes scalable vector graphics the ideal choice for web pages (animated illustrations, logos, icons, etc.). Knowing the key differences between the two will shed a bright light on which is better suited for your design roadmap!
How these two formats handle resolution becomes a critical detail in the context of responsive design, especially considering the expectation that users have for fast loading times. Mobile-first design is establishing itself as the norm, which means the tolerance margin for high resolution graphics that carry larger file sizes is getting smaller by the day.
Raster graphics require a balancing act just to fit within the acceptable file size ranges of most platforms (think social media platforms!). Rasters shot in 4K Ultra HD resolution will look amazing on your TV, but they won’t be a viable option on the web. This is why artists working with rasters have a constant tug-of-war with keeping file sizes manageable and preserving a higher resolution to avoid pixelation. Attempting to resize a lower resolution raster will leave you with a grainy, fuzzy, distorted image.
Scalable vector graphics are at a clear advantage in this regard. Vector icons, fonts, illustrations, logos, and animations will all render and display just as crisply and smoothly on an ultra-high resolution screen as they would on a mobile device – without putting a strain on a website or app’s performance – thanks to their smaller file sizes.
Depending on the raster file format you choose to export your graphics as, and specifics like DPI (dots per inch) or PPI (pixels per inch), your raster graphics can amount to a hefty file size. There are ways you can cut back (i.e., reducing the file’s resolution or limiting movement in an animated raster) and trim down the file size, but there will be a noticeable drop in quality.
In contrast, vector files are always lightweight. SVG in particular is a compact-size titleholder, as it’s basically just lines of code describing a combination of elements and attributes to specify how the graphics should be displayed. There are ways to further optimize SVG files, getting complex vector graphics to take up minimal space and improving your page’s speed insights score in the process.
|Raster File Extensions||Vector File Extensions|
|➡️ .GIF - Graphical Interchange Format File||➡️ .SVG - Scalable Vector Graphics|
|➡️ .PNG (.APNG) - Portable Network Graphic||➡️ .AI - Adobe Illustrator Artwork|
|➡️ .JPG - JPEG Image (Joint Photographic Experts Group)||➡️ .EPS - Encapsulated PostScript|
|➡️ .TIFF - Tagged Image File Format||➡️ .DXF - AutoCAD drawing exchange format|
|➡️ .BMP - Bitmap Image||➡️ .PDF - Adobe PDF format|
Different doesn’t necessarily mean better, or worse! Just because one graphic format is better fitted for the web/mobile world, doesn’t mean you should knock it off your radar. Let’s take a look at all the uses of raster art vs vector art, and identify the digital space they each excel in:
|Raster Graphics||Vector Graphics|
|➡️ Detailed digital photography||➡️ Infinitely scalable logos|
|➡️ Subtle / complex color blends||➡️ Lightweight, fast-to-load SVG animations|
|➡️ Posting on social media platforms||➡️ Dynamic website backgrounds|
|➡️ Art with undefined lines and shapes||➡️ Affordable production of explainer videos|
|➡️ Graphics made with digital texture brushes||➡️ Microinteractions (icons, buttons, and other UI elements)|
|➡️ Complex compositions||➡️ Digital line art|
Raster Art vs Vector Art: The Similarities
The data models of both the raster and vector file format is the common denominator of the differences between them – the similarities between the two, on the other hand, are based on how creatives choose (or are able!) to use them. You can choose to master one and simply know your way around the other, or you can broaden your professional horizon by learning how (and when!) to use both proficiently.
Raster/Vector-Based Editing Works For Both Formats
Most raster, vector-based, or mixed-media video editing tools will allow you to work with both vector objects and raster images within the same platform. You can work with vectors in a raster-based graphic design tool, like Adobe Photoshop. And you can upload raster images to vector-based design tools, like SVGator’s asset library, and include them in your SVG projects.
Basic animators will work on them, as well as filters and some blending modes. It’s a given that a raster-based editing software won’t give you the same unmitigated control over vectors, like an SVG creator would. But simply having the possibility to experiment with mixed media digital artwork is great!
Both Vector and Raster Graphics Can Create
Magnificent Digital Experiences
Creativity knows no bounds! Web performance and file size logistics aside, the raster vs vector debate is simply a matter of preference and scope. Just like both acrylic and oil paints can help artists create remarkable pieces of art, so can raster or vector graphics be the mediums you use to create the next fabulous digital artwork that breaks the internet!
Vector Animation vs Raster Animation: The Tie Breaker
The truth is we can’t really put web performance and file size logistics aside for good. Sure, you can optimize and “cut corners” in order to bring static raster graphics up to par with scalable vector graphics, in these respects. But in the animation “arena,” vectors completely outmatch rasters by a landslide!
|Raster Graphics||Vector Graphics|
|Easy to implement interactive animation||❌ No||✔️ Yes|
|Easy post-production editing||❌ No||✔️ Yes|
|Infinitely scalable||❌ No||✔️ Yes|
|Web and mobile-ready animated infographics||❌ No||✔️ Yes|
|Affordable animated advertising graphics||❌ No||✔️ Yes|
|Create a better ecommerce user experience via explainers, providing user feedback, etc.||❌ No||✔️ Yes|
|Able to improve page speed and SEO ranking||❌ No||✔️ Yes|
|Performance-friendly on the web and on mobile||❌ No||✔️ Yes|
Hopefully, this article has equipped you with all the essential information you need to settle the raster vs vector back-and-forth, for your particular circumstances. If vector graphics turn out to be your cup of tea, give SVGator a try here to streamline your creative process with an easy-to-use and intuitive interface!