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What is the difference between a pixel and vector based graphic

What is a pixel or vector based graphic?

If you’ve ever briefed a designer to create a promotional brochure for you company they may have asked you for your logo as a vector graphic, but what is this?

Firstly we need to define the 2 main formats of how images are digitally created and used in certain software and applications. 

Vector graphics

These images are created using lots of lines or paths (are mapped out using mathematical equations which calculate where the edges of the shapes sit in relation to one another). This format is commonly used in Auto CAD software to create building plans and 3D images, but is also used in design software such as Adobe Illustrator to create logos, icons and infographics. The main benefits in using this format:

  • File sizes are smaller
  • Easily edited, shape and colour
  • They are easily scaled up without the loss of any quality (so are commonly used in exhibition and large format graphics)
  • Can be converted into other formats

Pixel graphics

Pixels are used to create images, these are lots of coloured squares put together to create an image, like you see on a TV screen if you look very closely. Software programmes such as Adobe Photoshop are used to edit this format, this is were the term ‘Photoshopping’ comes from. Qualities of this format are:

  • Create stunning images
  • Apply filters and effects
  • Certain level of editing can be applied
  • Used on all digital devices and software
  • File sizes can differ, the larger the image the larger the file size 

Both formats have their benefits and using the format that suits your needs going forward should be considered before the start of a project. Vector files can be converted into pixel based images but pixel based files can not be converted into vector files so would need redrawing. This point is highlighted when a logo is created in a pixel format (such as a jpg) and is then required on an exhibition stand panel for example. Scaling the logo (pixel based image) up to the required size causes the logo to become blurry or commonly referred to as pixelated.

File formats

Below is a list of vector file formats:

  • .ai
  • .eps
  • .pdf (if created from a vector file)
  • .svg

Below is a list of pixel file formats:

  • .jpg
  • .png
  • .gif
  • .tiff

So what format do I use use?

This largely depends on what you are creating and how this is going to be used. For any logo creation (or artwork you are going to use for printed materials and large format graphics) we would create this as a vector file so that this can be used at any size without the loss of quality. For any on screen use only (such as websites, powerpoint, word etc), then .jpg and .pngs are now the most common formats used.