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Raster vs. Vector: Key Differences and Best Uses Explained
26 May, 2024

Raster vs. Vector: Key Differences and Best Uses Explained

When it comes to digital graphics, two main formats dominate the scene: a raster graphic and a vector graphic. Each has its unique characteristics, benefits, and ideal use cases, making the choice between them crucial for designers, photographers, and anyone involved in creating or manipulating images.

In this blog post, we'll delve into the fundamental raster vs vector graphics, explore their advantages and disadvantages, and help you determine which format best suits your specific needs. Whether you're designing a company logo, editing photos, or creating complex illustrations, understanding the nuances of raster and vector graphics will enhance your workflow and elevate the quality of your projects.

Let's dive in!

What are Raster Images?

Raster images, also known as bitmaps, are the most common type of digital image you'll encounter. They are essentially made up of tiny squares called pixels, which come together to form the complete image. Each pixel stores color information, and the overall resolution of colored pixels in the image is determined by the number of pixels. So, let's see some features of raster format images:

Pixel-based: Unlike vector images that use mathematical paths, raster images rely on pixels for storing information. This makes them ideal for capturing complex details and photorealistic detailed images.

Resolution dependent: The quality of a raster image is directly tied to its resolution. Zooming in on a raster image will eventually reveal the individual pixels, making the image appear blurry or jagged.

Common uses: Raster images are perfect for photographs, digital paintings, scanned documents, and any image where capturing realistic details is crucial. Popular image formats like JPEG, PNG, and BMP are all raster-based. (High resolution image)

Here's an analogy: Imagine a mosaic artwork. Each tiny tile in the mosaic contributes to the bigger picture. Similarly, each pixel in a raster image plays a part in forming the final image.

What are Raster Image Formats?

Raster image formats are like different file languages specifically designed for storing raster images. Each format has its strengths and weaknesses, making them suitable for different situations. Here are some common raster file types formats:

  • JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group): The most popular format for photographs, JPEG offers good compression, reducing file size significantly. However, this compression is "lossy," meaning some image data is discarded, which can lead to a slight decrease in quality, especially with repeated editing or saving. Learn more about JPEG.

  • PNG (Portable Network Graphic): Known for its excellent image quality and support for transparency, PNG is a great choice for graphics with text, logos, or illustrations with sharp lines. Unlike JPEG, PNG uses "lossless" compression, so the image quality remains perfect, but file sizes can be larger. Learn more about PNG Files.

  • GIF (Graphics Interchange Format): GIFs are widely used for web graphics, particularly animations. They support a limited color palette (256 colors) and transparency, making them ideal for simple animations and logos. However, GIFs aren't suitable for photographs due to their color limitations.

  • TIFF (Tagged Image File Format): A versatile format known for its high quality and ability to store additional image data like layers. TIFF is often used in professional settings like photography and graphic design, where preserving image integrity is crucial. However, TIFF files can be quite large.

These are just a few examples, and there are many other raster image formats available, each with its own characteristics. When choosing a format, consider factors like image quality needs, file size limitations, and desired features like transparency or animation.

Where Can You Use Raster Image?

Raster images shine when you need to capture rich details, complex colors, and photorealistic qualities. Here are some common areas where raster images are the go-to choice:

Photography: Digital photographs are prime examples of raster images. They capture the full spectrum of colors and lighting variations, making them perfect for portraying real-world scenes and objects.

Digital Painting and Illustration: While vector graphics can be used for illustrations, raster images offer more freedom for creating realistic textures, brushstrokes, and blending effects, making them a popular choice for digital artists.

Web Design: Raster images are often used for photographs, product images, and background elements in web design. However, it's important to consider file size optimization to avoid slowing down website loading times.

Image Editing and Manipulation: Raster image formats like PSD (Photoshop Document) are the primary file types used in photo editing software like Photoshop. This allows for detailed editing of individual pixels for tasks like retouching, color correction, and applying creative effects.

Scanned Documents and Images: When you scan a physical document or photograph, the resulting image is a raster file. These scanned images can be used for archiving purposes or incorporating scanned elements into digital projects.

Creating Textures and Patterns: Raster images are great for creating textures that can be applied to 3D models or used as design elements. They can capture the subtle variations and imperfections that make textures look realistic.

Overall, whenever you need an image format that excels at capturing intricate details, realistic colors, and photographic quality, raster images are the way to go.

What are Vector Images?

Vector images are a different breed compared to raster images. Instead of relying on millions of tiny of pixels per inch, vector graphics use mathematical formulas to define shapes, lines, and curves. Imagine them like digital blueprints where each element is precisely defined.

Here are several advantages:

  • Infinite scalability: One of the biggest strengths of vector images is their ability to be resized without any loss of quality. You can enlarge a vector logo to billboard size or shrink it for a business card, and it will always maintain its crisp and clean lines.

  • Clean and sharp edges: Because vector graphics are based on mathematical formulas, they always display sharp edges and smooth curves, no matter the zoom level. This makes them perfect for logos, icons, and other graphics that require precise details.

  • Smaller file sizes: Compared to raster images that store color information for every pixel, vector graphics only store the mathematical formulas for the shapes. This leads to significantly smaller file sizes, which is beneficial for web graphics and illustrations.

What are Vector Image Formats?

Vector image formats are file types specifically designed to store vector graphics. Unlike raster image formats that rely on pixels, vector formats use mathematical formulas and paths to define shapes, lines, and curves. This allows for several advantages, such as infinite scalability and smaller file sizes.

Here are some of the most common vector file types:

  • SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics): An open standard format known for its versatility and web compatibility. SVG is ideal for web graphics, logos, and icons as it can be scaled to any size without losing quality and can even be animated using scripting. Learn more about SVG.

  • EPS (Encapsulated PostScript): A widely used format developed by Adobe that offers high compatibility with various design software. EPS files can contain both vector graphics and embedded raster images, making them useful for complex illustrations and professional printing.

  • AI (Adobe Illustrator Artwork): The native file format for Adobe Illustrator, a popular vector graphics software. AI files provide full editing capabilities within Illustrator and are commonly used for creating logos, illustrations, and design elements.

  • CDR (CorelDRAW Document): The native file format for CorelDRAW, another vector graphics software. Similar to AI files, CDR offers full editing capabilities within CorelDRAW and is used for creating vector graphics for various design purposes.

  • PDF (Portable Document Format): While not exclusively a vector format, PDFs can contain vector graphics along with text and raster images. This makes them a versatile option for sharing documents that combine different elements and require maintaining crisp vector graphics. Learn more about PDF.

Choosing the right vector image format depends on your specific needs. If web compatibility and open standards are crucial, SVG is a great choice. For professional digital printing, or complex artwork with embedded elements, EPS might be preferred. If you're working primarily within a specific design software like Illustrator or CorelDRAW, using their native formats (AI and CDR) ensures full editing capabilities.

What's the Difference Between Raster and Vector?

The main difference between raster and vector images is how they store information. Raster images use pixels like tiny squares to form the image, making them good for photos but blurry when enlarged. Vector images use more mathematical equations and formulas to define shapes, allowing them to scale infinitely without losing quality. So, raster for photos and details, vector for logos, and clean graphics.

1. Pixels vs Vectors

Rasters have pixelated image sizing. Pixels are small elements that are placed on a screen. In raster images zooming in can cause some tiny squares (lose quality) to appear. Vector images represent mathematical calculations involving a point or place that form outlines or shapes(maintain quality.). Whenever one zooms over vector pictures, they look the same (infinitely scalable). A raster is a photograph containing pixels in its form. When enlargement of images is performed without change of pixels, it looks blurry. If you add more pixels to the image the image becomes random and produces rarely excellent results.

2. File type and size

Most commonly raster file types are JPG, GIF, PNG, TIFs, BMPs, or PSDs. Vector art files can be of various formats including AI, CDR, and SVG. The raster and vector file formats are both supported by Adobe Photoshop. Here is simply;

  • File Type:

    • Raster: Specific formats like JPEG, PNG, BMP, etc.

    • Vector: Formats like SVG, EPS, AI, CDR, etc.

  • File Size:

    • Raster: Generally larger. File size increases with image resolution (more pixels).

    • Vector: Generally smaller. File size only depends on the complexity of the shapes and colors used.

3. Creation and Editing Programs

The file's design software determines the difference between raster files and vectors. Typical vector programs include Illustrator, Corel Draw, Inkscape, and Corel PhotoShop. The most commonly used raster editors are Photoshop and GIMP.

4. Pros and Cons of Raster Graphics and Vector Images

Raster Graphics: Pros and Cons


  • Rich Detail and Color: Captures intricate details and complex color variations, perfect for photorealistic images.

  • Editing Flexibility: Allows detailed editing of individual pixels for tasks like retouching and applying effects.

  • Wide Software Compatibility: Supported by a vast range of image editing software.


  • Loss of Quality with Scaling: Becomes blurry or jagged when enlarged due to fixed pixels.

  • Larger File Sizes: High-resolution images with many pixels can be quite large.

  • Limited Scalability: Not ideal for situations where the image size needs to change frequently.

Vector Images: Pros and Cons


  • Infinite Scalability: Can be resized to any size without losing quality, perfect for logos and graphics.

  • Clean and Sharp Lines: Maintains crisp edges and smooth curves at any zoom level.

  • Smaller File Sizes: Smaller than raster images due to storing mathematical formulas instead of pixels.


  • Limited Detail for Photos: Not ideal for capturing photorealistic images or complex color gradients.

  • Less Editing Flexibility: Editing individual elements might require more work compared to raster editing.

  • Software Compatibility Considerations: Not all software programs can handle vector editing as easily as raster editing.

How are raster images and vector graphics different?

The main difference between raster and vector files is how they store information. Raster images use pixels like tiny squares to form the image, making them good for photos but blurry when enlarged. Vector images use mathematical formula to define shapes, allowing them to scale infinitely without losing quality. So, raster for photos and details, vector for logos, and clean graphics.

How to Convert Raster Images to Vector Images

There are two main ways to convert rasterized image images to vector images:

  1. Software tools: Programs like Adobe Illustrator or online tools like Vector Magic can trace the shapes in your raster image and create a vector version. (Image trace tool)

  2. Manual tracing: For more control, you can manually recreate the image using vector editing tools in software like Illustrator. This is time-consuming but allows for precise adjustments.

Is high resolution a raster or vector image?

Resolution applies to both raster and vector images, but it works differently. High-resolution raster images have more pixels for sharper details, but zooming in too far makes them blurry. High-resolution vector images can be scaled infinitely without losing quality.

Thank you for reading.


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