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Graphic Design Basics

Pixel and Vector Graphics; clear benefits over the other!

What is the difference between Pixel and Vector graphics? How is Pixel different from Vector? A better question would be: What are Pixels? What are Vector Drawings? And why does it matter to create a beautiful-looking piece of artwork? Designers frequently ask these questions the most. If you are one of those people who is looking for answers to these questions, then my friend, you are in luck—I am here to provide answers to these questions (and probably a bit more) for you.

What are Pixel Graphics?

If you have the slightest experience as a Graphic Designer or a Photographer, then you must be familiar with the term Resolution, and more on the Difference between DPI and PPI here. Simply put, Pixel-based graphics are the graphics that are made up of Pixels 😁. Jokes apart, this is the simplest definition I can come up with, and infect it is the most logical one as well. Pixels are also called Raster.

If you have a question like, what is Raster? Then your answer is here: the terms Pixel and Raster are interchangeable. In other words, raster-based graphics consist of tiny colored boxes called Pixels. Since pixel-based images contain a limited number of pixels, they cannot be infinitely zoomed; reaching a certain threshold leads to inevitable pixelation in raster-based graphics.

Where do we use Pixel Graphics?

In today’s world, we consume most of the information on some sort of screen. It can be a mobile phone or a computer monitor. Technically, the screens consist of 3 small colored LEDs emitting RGB (Red/Green/Blue) lights. They combine various intensities of each color to generate different hues that our eyes perceive as colors. Each LED can produce 255 levels of brightness. For example, if R=255, B=255, and G=255, we get the color White. These tiny LEDs are sandwiched together to make a square shape. These Pixels are the building blocks of any raster-based graphic.

Pixel vs Vector Graphics
Extreme zoom in on a digital screen showing a visual of a mouse pointer in Red, Green, and Blue LED colored lights.

The answer to that question is very straightforward. The intended use of a Raster-based graphic is Digital Screens. With advancements in tech space, the display screens we have in the palm of our hands are more than capable of what we need. Back in the day, the screen resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels was considered High-Definition. Now we have packed a stupendous number of pixels in the screens of our mobile phones, making the size of the pixels smaller and smaller. The most common use of Raster-based graphics are Websites, Mobile Applications, Photographs, etc.

Raster-based Graphics File formats.

Raster-based file formats are digital images that store information as pixels and colors. Several file formats offer a wide variety of features and compressions. The most common file formats for raster-based graphics are Joint Photographic Expert Group (JPEG), Portable Network Graphic (PNG), Graphics Interchange Format (GIF), Tagged Image File Format (TIFF), and Adobe Photoshop Document (PSD). We mostly use JPEG, PNG, and GIF on websites because they load faster. Meanwhile, we use TIFF and PSD to produce high-quality print documents.

What are Vector Graphics?

Vector Graphics comprise lines, shapes, polygons, or their combinations. Typically, they store these in the form of mathematical statements and command lines in two-dimensional plans or three-dimensional spaces. Vector graphics generally consist of anchor points or vertices, with straight or curved lines connecting them.

Pixel vs Vector Graphics
A green circle and blue square with rounded corners showing anchor points and handles.

Why should we use Vector based graphics?

The industry standard for creating graphics on 2D plans is Adobe Illustrator, whereas in 3D space AutoDesk 3Ds Max is considered the industry standard. Vector graphics offer a lot of versatility over raster-based graphics. There are many considerable benefits to vector-based graphics over raster-based graphics.

The most notable among them is scalability. If the vector-based graphic application you are using allows it, you can infinitely scale vector graphics. Let me explain: we already know vector graphics are made of mathematical statements and command lines, so it is a no-brainer that they can be expanded to lengths that are not possible with raster graphics. This is the main reason why vector graphics are the go-to choice for creating Logos, Icons, and other marketing materials like Billboards that might be needed to produce in large-scale format for print.

Vector graphics are easier to manipulate and modify; you can easily modify a vector shape by simply moving the anchor points or the line segments between them. It is a lot easier to recolor a vector shape in comparison to a raster graphic.

How many Vector-based File formats are there?

Vector based file formats
A colored background with vector based file format icons on top saying, “Vector-based File Formats are best suited for creating High-Quality Artwork & Print Files”.

Vector-based graphic applications in 2D and 3D space offer several available file formats. These are the most common file formats that you are going to need to understand as a graphic designer.  As an industry leader among graphic designers, Adobe Illustrator offers its native file format (AI). It also offers saving vector drawings to other useful file formats like Encapsulated PostScript (EPS), Scalable Vector Graphic (SVG), and Portable Document Format (PDF). Designers mostly use AI, EPS, and PDF to create high-quality print products, while they typically utilize SVG on websites to display high-quality vector graphics across various screen sizes.

Which one is better, Pixel Graphics or Vector Graphics?

The answer to this question depends on the use case.  In my opinion, Vector graphics are far superior to raster graphics. In my 7 years of experience (as of the writing of this blog post), I have tried, played, and tinkered with pixels, vectors, and their combinations. The best results I get when I combine high-resolution raster graphics with vector graphics. This is a mix made in heaven. Combining these two will surprise you with the high-quality product you can produce.

Both Raster and Vector Graphics excel at what their original designs intend them to do in their respective domains. As we have discussed earlier, features, benefits, and use cases of each. Despite all that, I prefer working in a vector-based environment. You can produce high-quality raster graphics on whichever scale you want, simply by bumping up a few numbers in a vector environment. This is a limitation of raster-based graphics. Once you scaled down a raster graphic, you will witness the loss in quality and resolution if you try to scale it up even the slightest.

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