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What is a vector file and how do I know if I have one?

What is a vector file and how do I know if I have one?
February 3, 2020

In this article

One critical difference between having a vector file versus a raster file deals with image scalability — vector images will allow you to scale key visual assets (like your brand logo) without pixelation. Why is this important? One allows for your logo to be printed on various different items from shirts, water bottles or even something as small as a sticker. Secondly, it keeps your logo looking crisp and not look distorted. 

Vectors aren’t just a different file format. While raster images are made of pixels (and hence can become distorted with scaling), a vector displays an image through mathematical formulas.

How it works

Vector graphics software like Adobe Illustrator uses the information from these formulas to determine what areas to fill in and in what color. Because a vector uses math to draw shapes using points, lines, and curves, it can be scaled infinitely and still appear crisp.

Vector file types include:

  • .ai — (Adobe Illustrator) This commonly used and popular file type is created in Adobe Illustrator to work with logos, illustrations, and more
  • .eps — (Encapsulated PostScript) An EPS file that also works with graphics and text vectors. They can be reopened and edited, but they don’t support transparency as more modern file types like .ai files do
  • .pdf — (Portable Document Format) Originally intended for exchanging documents over different platforms, a pdf file retains some editing capability of vectors and is often used with Adobe Acrobat. Note that raster images can also be saved as a PDF. If you can zoom in very close without pixelation, it should be a vector file; if it pixelates, you have a raster file.
  • .svg — (Scalable Vector Graphic) Based on the markup language XML, this file type is web-friendly as it can be indexed, searched, and scripted. SVG files are ideal for ensuring a crispy quality to logos, icons, and other visual elements of your brand’s online presence.

Pro tip: Key visual assets to your brand like the company logo and other brand graphics should always be created and backed-up as a vector. From the original file, you’ll be able to adapt the asset for use with business cards as well as larger items like a banner or office decal.

Benefits to using vector files:

  • Can be scaled up or down infinitely without pixelation
  • Smaller file size
  • Completely editable

What about raster files?

If you have a vector file, you can almost always create a raster file from it for use on the web. Raster images will appear crisp as long as they match the exact dimensions needed, for example as a Facebook page cover photo.

Unlike vectors, raster images are a composite of colored pixels (think of these as the building blocks to a picture) that together make up an image. For this reason, a raster image will look pixelated if dramatically resized. 

Raster images that are stretched or compressed to fit spaces they weren’t designed to become compromised as the resolution is affected and the image will become grainy/distorted.

Examples of common raster file types include: .jpg, .gif, .png, .tif .bmp

How do I know if I have a vector file?

Be careful! Just because a file is saved as a .eps, .ai, .svg, or .pdf doesn’t mean it is a vector file. Some online converters may trick you into thinking this is the case — resaving a raster file as a vector file won’t turn it into a vector image.

Do a quick check: Open your graphic and zoom in at least 200%. Do the lines start to seem fuzzy and/or broken up into different colors? Can you tell it’s not as crisp as when you were looking at it normally? If yes, that’s a raster image.

Vector graphics will continue to appear crisp and vivid colors regardless of how zoomed in you are.

What do I do if my art isn't a vector?

First, try asking around. Your marketing/design department may already have the vector files on hand. If the graphic was created by a professional graphic designer, they can also give you the vector files.

Don’t have a vector file? Can’t find yours? We got you, our team can vectorize any logo file you have.  

Reach out to your Swag Expert to get yours professionally created with our design experts — then add it to your assets library forever to make consistent company branding a piece of cake.

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