Vector graphics are all around us, providing an important way to convey information visually, whether it’s corporate branding, street signs, or a flyer in a cafe window. But vector graphics themselves are even more fascinating when you look behind the shapes and fonts that together convey a message at a glance, recognizing them for what they really are, and why they are such a powerful tool in any designer’s toolbox.
Before we get into what vector graphics are, let’s shed some light on the two main types of computer graphics: vectors and rasters. Chances are you’re already familiar with the latter thanks to many of the most common file formats — JPEGs and PNGs — that fall into this category. The former is less mainstream but is essential for digital design, with the most common file formats being EPS, AI, or SVG, among a number of other lesser-used types.
When we see an image on a billboard or an advertisement in a subway, that image started out as one of these two essential types of images before entering the material world, but the two images down follow the same path from the digital pen to the advertisement on the wall.
Vector graphics are images created from mathematically defined points such as points, lines, and curves. They are naturally 2D, but with the help of colors, textures and layers they can look 3D. Vector images are stored on your device as a series of commands that represent a list of attributes of the saved image, and it is this property that makes them so incredibly useful to a graphic designer.
What are vector graphics used for?
Since vector graphics are essentially just mathematical functions that define a shape, they are easily scalable, editable, and generally easier to work with. They are used for a variety of tasks, but advertising and marketing are by far the best uses for vector graphics.
Vectors are an ideal choice for logos, business cards, posters and other materials used in promotional campaigns. What makes them suitable for advertising is their scalability among a number of other features. You can resize a vector image in any ratio and there will be no loss of quality.
If you took the math function that defines a perfect circle, it doesn’t matter if you enter the radius of that circle, it will always form the same shape at any size.
That’s why companies are turning to vector graphics for images that need to be resized for, say, a billboard and a business card, respectively. As they are not only painless to work with, but also easy to store, they are an excellent choice for both online and print design. This gives companies an added advantage of working with vectors, as it allows them to ensure uniformity between their online and print marketing campaigns.
Vector graphics have the huge potential to make illustrations look appealing. By adding attractive colors and eye-catching designs, lines, points and curves can be enhanced to grab the consumer’s attention. That is why they are also a personal favorite of web designers and app developers. Websites and apps often use vectors for interfaces, fonts, landing pages, and infographics.
Another common use of vectors is the designs you see on products, clothing, or merchandise. Because they are relatively easy to duplicate, brands and individuals choose to amplify their products.
What makes vector graphics different?
As mentioned above, their ability to scale without loss of quality gives vectors the greatest edge over raster images. Because vectors are essentially lines, points, and curves held together through a mathematical equation, they can be scaled down as desired without getting blurry. There is zero chance of pixelation because no pixels are involved in the process, unlike raster images. Because of this quality, vectors are called “resolution independent”.
Another feature unique to vector graphics and closely related to math equations as their building blocks is their small file size. Since vector graphics don’t store pixels, unlike rasters, they don’t require a lot of memory on your device. The images are stored as mathematical relations translated into code. This makes it easy for companies to store some vector graphics on their devices without overloading their systems.
File size and loading time are related. Because vector graphics have a small file size, they also load faster. Therefore, it is easier and faster to transfer and load vector graphics on different devices and programs.
As mentioned, vector graphics are also easy to duplicate, making it really easy for designers to create copies of an existing design, making it easy to mosaic or tile an image. Another interesting feature of vector images is that they can be easily converted to raster images. However, raster images cannot be converted to vectors, at least not easily.
Because vector graphics are not made of pixels, they look sharper and more precise. Have you ever noticed how a JPEG image loses sharpness when zoomed in a lot? With vector graphics, you’ll never get that problem.
How do you create vector graphics?
Of the many programs available for creating vector graphics, Adobe Illustrator is the most popular and also the industry standard. However, you have to spend a lot of money to use it. Among the best free Adobe Illustrator vector alternatives, Vecteezy and Inkscape are some of the best graphic design software, especially if you’re on a budget or just getting started with graphic design.
Learning how to create vector graphics is quite easy once you know how to use these programs. It may take some practice to create complex designs, but you can create a simple image with just a few tools in Illustrator or other alternative vector design software. The most commonly used vector design tools in Illustrator are the Pen tool, the Curvature tool, the Shape tools, and the Shape Builder, and you can create almost anything with these four tools alone.
Let’s see how to create a simple house in Illustrator. If you don’t have Illustrator, don’t worry, Inkscape has pretty much the same functionality, although the interface may be different.
- First, use the Rectangle tool in the Shape tool group in the toolbox.
- Then drag the shape from the base of the house onto the artboard.
- Then select the Polygon tool in the Shape tool group. Make a hexagon with a diameter that is about as wide as the roof should be. After drawing the shape, look along the blue frame of the shape to an anchor point slightly to the side of the center anchor for that side.
- By clicking and holding this anchor point, you can drag the mouse to increase or decrease the number of sides to the polygon. drag it until there are only three sides.
- Use the rotator handles on the corners of the form frame to rotate and position the triangle to form the roof.
- You may need to use one of the handles to make the shape fit on the artboard.
- At this point, the triangle and rectangle are two separate shapes that can be colored separately, separated, to which effects can be applied without affecting the other shape.
- However, if we select the Shape Builder tool, we can turn two shapes into one. Do this by using the selection tool while holding down shift to select the two shapes. With the shapes selected (it helps to click on the lines of the shape instead of trying to click in the center), select the Shape Builder tool from the toolbox. Then click with the left mouse button Outside of the shapes you want to combine and drag the mouse over the two shapes that make up the house.
- When you release the mouse button, the shapes are automatically combined into a single shape, eliminating all borders between them and inheriting all the attributes of the first shape drawn with Shape Builder.
And that’s it. This vector image, while fairly simple, can be scaled to the size of a city block but won’t fade or lose its shape.
There’s a lot more to know about how best to use vectors to add depth and texture to an object, but this little house is a start, and it just might be the start of a new graphic design career.