What is a vector file, and why are they important?
Put simply, a vector file is a type of digital image which has no pixels. It can be made as small or large as needed without developing blurry edges, pixel squares, or other artifacts. This is very important when creating advertising material. Using a vector file format ensures the highest quality image, no matter if it’s on a business card or a billboard.
What are vector files?
Vector images have no pixels. Instead, a line is drawn according to a mathematical formula, such as would be drawn on a graph. The artist draws the line, and the mathematical formula and position of the line is saved. By using many of these lines, an image can be built.
This is in contrast to raster files, which are the type of file most people are familiar with. They create an image by dividing it into squares (pixels) and then assigning a color to each square. When zoomed out, an image becomes visible.
The use of pixels means there has to be a set number of squares per image, which is what we call the resolution. For example, a 4k HD image has a width of approximately 4000 pixels. When you enlarge the image sufficiently, these pixels become visible. No matter how much you zoom in on a 4k image, it will never be more than 4000 pixels in width.
In contrast, you can enlarge a vector file as much as you require, and there will be no pixels. This allows you to use the image for any purpose, without losing quality or clarity. That’s why, when developing signs, logos, and posters, professional designers should always be working with vector files. When we work with you through the design process, you can be certain all of the files we use in the final design will be vector files.
During the design process, or when presenting the finished product, your artist may send you a raster image, such as a .png or .gif, so you can open the file using a common image viewing app. Although this image may be high resolution, if any vector files are provided, they should also be saved for later use. You’ll be able to tell the difference by looking at the file name. Files ending in .png, .gif, and .jpeg are all raster files. Files ending in .svg, .pdf, and .ai are all vector file types.
- Always save all files your designer or artist provides, even if you can’t open them on your computer.
- When having logos, posters, and signs designed, let the designer know at the start of the project that you will need vector files.
- Vector files can easily be turned into raster files, but not the other way around.
- Not all images can be vector images. Some complicated images, such as photos and complex digital paintings, will need to be raster images.
Why are vector files necessary?
Aside from the obvious advantage of being able to enlarge an image to whatever size you need without losing clarity, there are a number of other reasons to use vector files.
Many types of machinery, including those we use, require vector files to run. Machines such as vinyl cutters, 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, and many other manufacturing methods all require vector images to function.
Machines such as these can’t “see” pixels. Instead, the lines in the vector image are turned into a series of points, and the machine cuts or alters the material between those points. In this way, the vector image can be translated into a physical medium such as wood or plastic.
Because vector files only contain mathematical formulas, and not pixels, the file sizes of vector images can stay small even when the image itself is very large. This makes the images easier to transfer between computers, upload to the cloud, or send in emails.
Vector files are much easier to edit than raster files. Objects such as circles or text can be moved around an image without changing other parts of the image. If you decide you want a different font later on, it’s simple for an artist to change the font without altering the rest of the image. This is also useful if you update your logo at a later point - the logo can be swapped out without having to redo the entire design.
Changing File Type
Vector images can easily be turned into raster images such as .png, .gif, and .jpeg. However, it’s very difficult to turn a raster image into a vector file. The entire image may need to be redrawn from scratch, though there are some programs which can make the process easier. Therefore, it’s better to save it as a vector file and make a raster copy if and when you need it.
Types of vector file formats
.ai (Adobe Illustrator)
This is one of the most common vector file types used in the design world. You can usually view .ai images in your web browser, such as Firefox or Chrome. However, you’ll need Adobe Illustrator if you want to make any changes to the file.
.svg (scalable vector graphics)
The .svg file format is also very popular, as it can be read by most manufacturing machinery. As well as being able to be viewed in your web browser, it’s also able to be used with free vector editing software. If possible, ask your designer for a .svg file. This will allow the vector file to be opened by all graphic artists, instead of only those who have bought Adobe Illustrator.
.pdf (portable document format)
This is a format that most people will recognize, as it’s commonly used in documentation and paperwork. However, .pdf files can be both raster and vector. This is because you can save a raster image inside a .pdf, even though the file type is for vector images. When it comes to graphic design, this is not good practice and can cause issues later on. It’s best not to mix raster and vector graphics, even if your software allows you to.
.eps (encapsulated postscript)
This is an older type of vector file, but you can still occasionally find it in use. Like the .pdf format, .eps files can combine raster and vector images. However, .eps files don’t allow for transparency. This is not a problem for machinery such as laser cutters and CNC machines, but it limits the type of artwork which can be saved as .eps.
Why should I use vector files?
Vector files allow infinite scaling, can be read by machinery, are easy to edit, have smaller file sizes, and can be changed into raster images when needed. Using a vector image is essential when working with sign making machinery, and the image can be easily edited if small changes are required. By working with vector files, we can provide you with the highest quality signage to make your business stand out from the rest.
If you’d like to know more about vector images and our sign design and rendering processes, contact us via phone or email today. We look forward to hearing from you!