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Raster vs. Vector: What’s the Difference?

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Raster vs. Vector: What’s the Difference?

Raster and vector are two common digital image formats that you can use to create outstanding high-resolution images. However, there are massive differences between the two and the applications where each format will work best. If you’re wondering about the differences between raster vs. vector, then this article will explain everything you need to know. Keep reading to decide which images to use in your next creative project.

Raster vs. Vector: Side-By-Side Comparison

FeatureRaster graphicsVector graphics
What it is:A type of digital image that is composed of pixelsA type of digital image that is composed of solid polygon shapes
Primary use:Digital video, Photography,
Graphic design, Computer graphics, Gaming, Printing,
Web images
Graphic design, Computer graphics, Gaming, Printing,
Logos, Fonts
Scalability:Loss of image quality and resolution when an image is scaled beyond its actual sizeInfinitely scalable
Convertibility:Can be converted to vector (but with loss of image quality)Can be converted to a raster
Lossy or Lossless:Lossy or losslessLossless
File formats: JPEG, PNG, RAW, TIFF, GIF, PSD, WEBPSVG, AI, EPS, PDF, CGM, CDR
File size:Large for high-quality imagesSmall
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03/01/2024 10:49 pm GMT

Raster vs. Vector: What’s the Difference?

Knowing the key differences between raster vs. vector images means that you will be able to pick the most suitable format for any graphics project. Here are the key differences between raster and vector:

Composition

Raster images are made up of a grid of individual pixels that each carries a specific color and brightness related to the overall image. The image resolution of raster images is determined by the number of pixels that make up the image. 

Conversely, vector images are made up of layered polygonal shapes that are colored and scaled to create a larger, more refined image. Dimensions and locations of the shapes, as well as their lines and points are plotted on the Cartesian plane (x, y-axis).

Properties

Because vector and raster formats are composed differently, the images created using each format have different properties and applications. For example, raster images can achieve extremely high resolution by having a high number of pixels in the image. However, if scales, a raster image quickly loses its resolution, becoming pixelated. 

On the other hand, a vector image offers limitless scaling with zero loss of resolution. This is because the data about the image composition is in the form of coordinates and mathematical formulae that can be infinitely scaled to reproduce larger versions of the original images.

Applications

Because of the limitless scaling with no loss of resolution, this makes vector an ideal format for logos and other images that have to be highly reproducible.

However, only the raster image format is appropriate for photography and video. Of course, the viewfinder of a camera consists of millions of individual pixels that each record a tiny aspect of a captured image in raster format. The same pixel grid can also be used in image sensor technology. 

Undeniably, a downside of raster images is the large file sizes that come with high-resolution images. Compression of raster file types like JPEG can lead to deterioration in image quality. Accordingly, vector file types like SVG are almost always smaller. 

What Is a Raster Image?

Raster images are two-dimensional images that are composed of square pixels that can be rendered on a digital display. The name “raster” is derived from rastrum, the Latin word for rake.

In the print industry, these images are called contones (continuous tones). The characteristics of raster images are determined by:

  • The image height and width in pixels
  • Pixel hue
  • Pixel color intensity
  • Number of pits per pixel

Pixel image data can then be used to store raster images in a wide range of image file types. 

How Raster Images Are Created

Raster images have a tessellated image plane (or visual field in photography), with a grid where each cell is a pixel. The size of each pixel determines the resolution of the image and is kept constant across the grid. 

Each pixel carries a single numeric value which is stored. The value can encode a color, color channel, or color depth. Raster image file formats encode pixel data using 24 bits in RGB format. 

Applications of the Raster Image Format

Storage of digital images: raster images are compressed and stored in a variety of popular image file formats including JPEG, PNG, and GIF. The tessellation of 2D raster images makes it easy to store and reconstruct the data precisely.  

Image compression: High-resolution raster image files are large. To reduce the amount of storage they consume, the data these files can be compressed into smaller files using the following methods:

  • Scaling down the pixel values
  • Storing a parameterized form of the images using trends and patterns in the original data. 
  • Using a range of compression algorithms for lossless or lossy compression, since compression may compromise image quality and resolution. 

Image conversion: Raster images can be converted into vectors or PDFs, but image data may be lost in the conversion process. 

Image display: A raster approach is used to display images and video on contemporary LED TV screens and computer monitors. The pixels of the screen are mapped to bits in the image data. Then, the GPU manages the delivery of packed image data and optimizes the image refresh rate. 

Printing: Commercial laser and inkjet printers routinely render images on a raster grid. Vector images are also routinely rendered as raster images for printing using specialist software like PostScript.

What Is a Vector Image?

Vector images are a type of computer graphics where the images are composed of a variety of geometric shapes plotted on a Cartesian coordinate system (x/y). Vector graphics emerged in the 1960s and were used in Ivan Sutherland’s Sketchpad, an early computer drawing program. They have persisted despite the wider adoption of raster graphics and computer monitors and printers using the raster format. 

How Vector Images Are Created

Basically, the composition of vector images uses mathematics, with shapes being plotted as points on a 2D or 3D Cartesian plane. The images are made up of the following fundamental geometric primitives:

  • Single points
  • Lines
  • Polygonal chains or polylines
  • Polygons
  • Parametric curves
  • Bézier curves
  • Fractals

Vector 3D shapes can also be rendered with irregular 3D surfaces and textures created by creating polygon mesh or serial parametric surfaces. The data set for vector images can also include key visual characteristics like color, dash pattern, or line weight. 

Benefits of Vector Images

Vector images are useful for images that require a high degree of spatial and geometric precision. Because this image format is extremely mathematical, it allows complex information to be encoded using geometric principles. 

Vector images are also highly scalable. Because of their polygonal composition, they can be scaled indefinitely with no loss of resolution. This property makes the vector image format preferred by industries like architecture, surveying, typography, and 3D design.

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We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
03/01/2024 11:19 am GMT

Raster vs. Vector: Must-Know Facts

  • Pixel is an abbreviation of the term Picture Element.
  • A. Michael Noll, a software engineer and pioneer of computer graphics developed the raster image format while working at Bell Labs.
  • Raster-based image editing software programs include Photoshop, GIMP, and the Photopea website which provides image editing tools online for free.
  • Inkscape is a popular vector design program.
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS) use vector and raster images.

Raster vs. Vector: Final thoughts

Overall, raster and vector image formats are foundational to the digital images and media we encounter every day. However, as you can see, they are completely different! Raster images have the added advantage of being able to render photos and video accurately, while vector images are at the cutting edge of computer-aided design.

  1. Adobe Photoshop | 12-Month Subscription with Auto-Renewal for PC/Mac
    $263.88
    • Electronic download of a 12-month subscription with auto-renewal
    • Compatible with Windows and Mac
    • Create and improve your photographs, illustrations, and 3D art
    • Edit your videos and design websites
    Buy Now on Amazon

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    03/01/2024 10:49 pm GMT
  2. CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 2021 | Graphic Design Software for Professionals | Vector Illustration, Layout, and Image Editing | Amazon Exclusive ParticleShop Brush Pack [PC Download] [Old Version]
    $549.00
    • File support for common formats including AI, PSD, PDF, JPG, PNG, SVG, DWG, DXF, EPS, TIFF, HEIF
    • Create HDR photos from your RAW images
    • Enhance your image's quality with AI
    • Available for Windows and Mac
    • PC download
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    03/01/2024 11:19 am GMT

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a pixel?

Picture elements or pixels are the smallest elements of a raster image that can be addressed and manipulated.

What is lossy compression?

Lossy compression is a type of image compression, where some of the image data and detail is lost from the image and cannot be recovered.

What is lossless compression?

Lossless compression is a type of image compression that preserves the image data without any loss of information or picture quality.

What are bitmap graphics?

The bitmap image format is an alternate image format where the pixels in an image are mapped to bits of data. It is exactly the same as a raster image.

How do you convert a JPEG into an SVG?

Converting a raster-based JPEG image to a vector-based SVG file is possible but not straightforward. You can learn how to turn a raster file into a vector image file in the helpful article, “How to Convert JPG to SVG in Easy Steps“.

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