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What is a Vectorized Image?

A vectorized image is a scalable graphic that maintains its quality at any size, using mathematical equations to define shapes and lines. Unlike pixel-based raster images, vectors never lose clarity, making them ideal for logos and print media. Curious about how vectorization can elevate your designs? Discover the transformative power of vectors in our deep dive into digital imagery.
Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

There are basically two ways of representing visual data on a computer: through dots and through geometry. The method using dots, in which each pixel is told where to go, is sometimes known as bitmap imaging, and more commonly known as raster graphics. The method using geometrical formulas is known as vector or vectorized graphics.

Historically, vectorized images were frequently used because they required much less memory than raster images. Most of the oldest graphical computers used graphics that were characterized by long arcs, circles, and other simple geometrical shapes, because they could be represented with only a few lines of mathematics, rather than a detailed description of where each pixel had to appear. As computers advanced and memory became less of an issue, vectorized images became less commonly used in most applications, where they were replaced by raster images. Vectorized graphics still remain, however, and are seeing something of a resurgence in popularity, for a number of reasons.

Woman painting
Woman painting

Vectorized images describe every aspect of their shape in terms of a mathematical formula. To see how beneficial this can be, imagine a simple shape, such as a circle. In a raster image, a circle that is 100 pixels wide will have to store where each of the pixels in that 1,000 pixel area is placed. If one were to zoom in on that image, one would start to see pixelization, since only those 1,000 pixels were described.

By contrast, on a vectorized image, a simple mathematical formula would describe the radius of the circle and the fact that it is a true circle, and the processor could calculate the rest. Not only is this a lot less information to deal with, but if one were to zoom in on the image, it would continue to have a smooth line, since the processor would just keep calculating the arc of the circle. This allows vectorized images to be manipulated much more easily – grown or shrunk, twisted and bent – without any distortion or loss of quality. It also means that higher-resolution monitors will display the vectorized images as higher-resolution graphics, while a raster graphic has a set maximum resolution at which it can be viewed, beyond which point no increase is noticeable.

Vectorized images are commonly used in computer assisted design, in many rendered images for movie special effects, and increasingly for computer animation. The popular Flash format makes use of vectorized images, allowing a much higher resolution in much smaller files than traditional raster graphics, making the images ideal for Internet applications and movies.

A constantly evolving field of computer intelligence is automated raster to vector conversion. Many programs attempt to automate the process of transforming a raster graphic – such as a painting or photograph – into a vectorized version, which can then be more easily manipulated, and in many cases may be much smaller in file size. Many vector-image programs, such as Freehand, include a Trace tool that automates this process, and a number of specialized applications exist, each with its own pros and cons.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a vectorized image and how does it differ from a raster image?

A vectorized image is composed of paths defined by mathematical equations, which allows it to be scaled to any size without losing quality. In contrast, a raster image is made up of pixels, which can become blurry or pixelated when enlarged. Vector images are ideal for logos and illustrations that require resizing, while raster images are better for complex, color-rich images like photographs.

Can vectorized images be used for web graphics and print materials?

Yes, vectorized images are highly versatile and can be used for both web graphics and print materials. Their scalability ensures that they maintain high quality at any size, making them perfect for logos, icons, and other graphics that need to be displayed across various media. For web use, they are often converted to formats like SVG, while for print, they might be saved as PDF or EPS files.

What software can I use to create or edit vectorized images?

Adobe Illustrator is one of the most popular software programs for creating and editing vectorized images, according to industry standards. Other notable vector graphics editors include CorelDRAW, Inkscape (which is free and open-source), and Sketch. These programs provide tools for drawing shapes, paths, and applying effects that are specifically tailored to vector image manipulation.

How do I convert a raster image to a vectorized image?

To convert a raster image to a vectorized image, you can use vectorization tools within graphic design software like Adobe Illustrator's 'Image Trace' feature. This process involves tracing over the raster image with vector paths. Alternatively, online services and software like Corel PowerTRACE offer automated conversion, though manual adjustments may be necessary to fine-tune the vector image for accuracy and detail.

Are there any limitations to using vectorized images?

While vectorized images are excellent for scalability and crisp lines, they have limitations when it comes to representing complex gradients and detailed photographic images. The nature of vector graphics means they are best suited for designs with clear, defined shapes and solid colors. For intricate textures and shading, raster images are typically more appropriate due to their ability to handle a vast array of colors and subtle variations.

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