The Difference Between Vector and Raster Based Vintage Clip Art

So, I’ve mentioned a few times lately how hard I have been working on putting together more vector clip art image collections in my Etsy shop – but I know I’m losing some of you when I say the word ‘vector’. While there are quite a few different ways to save an image file, the two main image categories are vector and raster.

Comparing Raster Based Pictures to Vector Based Pictures

Vector Images are created by creating shapes based on angles and points. They are created in a drawing program like Adobe Illustrator (although full versions of Photoshop are getting some limited vector abilities lately as well). These images can be scaled to any size and retain their perfect appearance because enlarging them is only moving the angles and points, like this:

Close Up of Vector Clip Art

Close Up of Vector Clip Art

The obvious advantage is that no matter how you want to reproduce a vector image, you will always have high-quality art. The drawback is that it is difficult to create vector images that look true-to-life, and can never really approach the complexity and depth as a photograph. The most common vector file formats are EPS, AI or WMF. PDF files MIGHT be vector or might be raster – it depends on the files the author used to create the PDF.

Raster Images are what photographs are made of, and are based on a set number of pixels (little squares of color). These images can be scaled to a smaller size and retain their clarity, but if you try to blow them up too large, your images get blurry and ‘pixelated”:

Close Up of a Raster Digital Photo

Close Up of a Raster Digital Photo

The obvious benefit of raster images is the depth of color and shading that can capture realistic images (from a camera) or create/reproduce art that looks like a painting (like blended watercolors or oil paints). But you’re stuck if you want to make a poster out of something that is only sized for a regular piece of paper. Also, in order to be seen on the web in a browser, you HAVE to use a raster format (JPG, GIF or PNG). Vector images aren’t web compatible.

So, almost all of the free images I post here are raster based images, and aren’t super-high resolution. That’s because they are easier to make, and don’t overload my server by hogging up too many resources and disk space.  Which means if you wanted to enlarge one of my free images for a large scale project, you wouldn’t be too pleased with the results:

Scaled Raster Based Vintage Clip Art

Scaled Raster Based Vintage Clip Art

See how she looks like she’s made up of a bunch of squares? Well, that’s because she IS made up of squares! :) But if you had this gorgeous 1917 woman from a fashion magazine in a vector format, she would look like this:

Scaled Vector Based Vintage Clip Art

Scaled Vector Based Vintage Clip Art

Lastly, you don’t have to have special expensive illustration programs to get the benefits of vector files. If you have Photoshop Elements, you can still open up vector files. As you open them, there will be a dialog box asking you to determine the pixel dimensions of the image you want to open. The program will convert the vector image to a raster image as it opens, and will automatically create a crisp, clean image at whatever size you need. If you find you need it larger than you originally intended, just go back and open up the vector image again at a higher resolution (just make sure you save the file after you convert it to a NEW file, because you lose the ability to scale once the file is converted.

Phew! I hope that all makes sense!

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