Design Dictionary: Vector vs Raster

Knowing the difference between the multitude of file types in existence can be a daunting and time-consuming task, especially when you’re focused on running your business! When it comes to graphics, photos, and logos, most people want to use and share their files quickly, efficiently, and effectively, and it can be really disappointing to spend money on sponsorships, printing business cards, or updating your website, only to discover that your logo and images look blurry and unprofessional. We know how frustrating it can be, which is why we’re shedding some light on the confusing world of file types so you can make well-informed decisions for your business.

When it comes to visual files, there are two primary types of images: vectors and rasters.

Helpful hint: you can easily assess which type of file you’re working with based on the file extension, which refers to the information after your file title (for example: .jpg, .png, .eps)

  1. Vector: graphics that can be scaled and resized infinitely without losing clarity. You will never see fuzziness or pixelation with these files, because they are not pixel-based. For the most part, they are created in designer software like Adobe Illustrator, and you need to have special software to open most vector file types. For this reason, it’s likely that you personally will not be using a vector file. However, you should know where to locate them so that you can share with future designers or printers. Logos and illustrations are created as vector-based files, and having a vector-type file on hand means that when it's time to print your logo at 20' on a billboard, you are prepared. Note: photographs are never vector files, they exist only as pixel-based, rasterized images.

    Vector Cheat Sheet
    The following common file types are considered “vector” graphics: .eps, .ai

  2. Raster: images that are created at a specific resolution. They are pixel-based, and therefore if you scale them larger than the size they were created, you’ll see pixilation and fuzziness in the image. Raster files are used more commonly than vectors, because almost anyone can open them and they can be used in almost any context, digital or print. When working with a design studio or graphic artist, we recommend that you request rasterized versions of your logo at several resolutions. You’ll need copies at 300 pixels per inch, which is considered high resolution. This is the size you need for printing your file. When you’re using your logo digitally, 72 or 150 pixels per inch is better because the screen doesn’t need more information than that to display the file properly, and giving the screen more information than it needs will slow down the time it takes to load the file. We also recommend ensuring your design studio gives you logo files as both JPG and PNG files. PNGs support transparency, which means you can place that logo on a colored background and the background color will appear directly behind the logo and between any spaces in the logo. For example, if you try to place a JPG logo on a red page, you’ll get a white box around the image – which you definitely don’t want.

    Raster Cheat Sheet
    The following common file types are considered “raster” graphics: .jpg (or .jpeg), .png, .gif, .tiff, .psd

    NOTE: A .pdf file can be a combination of both vector AND raster graphics!

Vector image zoomed in at 300% scale

Vector image zoomed in at 300% scale

Raster image zoomed in at 300% scale

Raster image zoomed in at 300% scale

When a design studio is giving you final logo files, they should provide several color versions in several formats. For example, at Toast, we generally provide a primary, full color version, a white version, a black version, a one-color version, etc – and we provide all of these in EPS, JPG and PNG formats.

Additionally, you should always be able to ask your design studio to give you a new file format if a situation ever arises where you need something you don’t have on hand.

Ultimately, if you have questions – ask your designer! They are the experts in what file formats and which logo versions will look best in each situation. They may also have advice for how to save money – for example, if you’re putting a logo on a tee shirt, they can look at reducing the number of colors in your logo from three to two so you save a few bucks on ink.

And we promise your graphic designer would rather you ask than send a low-resolution raster image to a printer for a huge billboard, and have your beautiful logo turn into a blurry mess. Anywhere you implement your logo reflects on your design studio, so they have a vested interest in making sure you look good — not just during the official contract with you but forever after, too.

Any questions? Let us know! If you enjoyed this post, make sure you also read our Design Dictionary post about branding here. And if you have other topics you’re curious to know about, drop us a comment so we can add it to our list of Design Dictionary advice. We’re here to help you.

Tiffany & Emily