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Raster vs Vector image formats

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How do vector and raster formats differ in representing digital images, and when should each format be used?

Vector and raster formats are two distinct methods of representing and storing digital images. Each format has its unique characteristics and best suits particular use cases. Here's an explanation of both formats:


Vector Format


Vector graphics are created using mathematical equations to define shapes and lines. Instead of storing individual pixels, vector images store information about the paths, curves, and attributes of the objects in the image. These objects can include lines, curves, polygons, and text. The key characteristics of vector graphics are as follows: Scalability: Vector graphics are resolution-independent, meaning they can be resized without loss of quality. Whether you scale a vector image to be smaller or larger, the smoothness of the edges and overall quality remain intact.

Small File Size: Since vector graphics only store mathematical equations and attributes, the file size tends to be smaller compared to raster images, making them ideal for digital illustrations, logos, icons, and other graphics where size matters.

Editable: Vector images are easily editable. You can modify or manipulate individual elements, such as changing colors, adjusting shapes, or altering text, without affecting the overall image quality.

Not Suitable for Complex Photo-Like Images: Vector graphics are not well-suited for representing complex, photo-like images since they can't store pixel-level details. They are more suitable for representing abstract or simplified graphics.

Common file formats for vector graphics

  • SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics),
  • AI (Adobe Illustrator),
  • EPS (Encapsulated PostScript),
  • PDF (Portable Document Format) with vector elements.

Raster Format


Raster graphics, also known as bitmap images, are made up of a grid of individual pixels, each having a specific color and location. These pixels come together to create the overall image. The key characteristics of raster graphics are as follows: Fixed Resolution: Raster images have a fixed resolution, determined by the number of pixels per inch (PPI) or dots per inch (DPI). If you resize a raster image, you can lose image quality as the pixels get stretched or compressed.

Complex Photo-Like Images: Raster graphics are excellent for representing complex photo-like images, as they can capture intricate details and color variations.

Large File Size: Since raster images store information about each individual pixel, they tend to have larger file sizes compared to vector graphics. This makes them less ideal for certain web applications where smaller file sizes are preferred.

Non-Editable: Raster images are not as easily editable as vector graphics. Making significant changes to a raster image can result in quality loss due to the fixed resolution and pixel-based nature.

Common file formats for raster graphics

  • JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group),
  • PNG (Portable Network Graphics),
  • GIF (Graphics Interchange Format),
  • TIFF (Tagged Image File Format).

Vector formats are best for graphics that require scalability, editability, and small file sizes, such as logos and illustrations. Raster formats, on the other hand, excel at representing complex images with fine details, like photographs. The choice between vector and raster formats depends on the specific requirements and intended use of the digital image.