Vector vs Raster

Recognize the difference between vector graphics and raster images and when to use them.

A comparison of a vector image versus a raster image. Notice how the vector image on the left is made up of points and lines and appears smooth. Vector graphics are digital art that is rendered by a computer using a mathematical formula. Raster images are made up of tiny pixels, making them resolution dependent and best used for creating photos. This means that if you scale a vector image, it will maintain a smooth, un-pixelated appearance, whereas a raster image will become pixelated.

Vector graphics consist of anchored dots and are connected by lines and curves, similar to the connect-the-dot activities you may have done as a kid. Because these graphics are not based on pixels, they are known as resolution independent, which makes them infinitely scalable. Their lines are sharp, without any loss in quality or detail, no matter what their size. These graphics are also device-independent, which means their quality doesn't depend on the number of dots available on a printer or the number of pixels on a screen. Because they consist of lines and anchor points, the size of the files are relatively small.

Raster images are made of pixels, or tiny dots that use color and tone to produce the image. Pixels appear like little squares on graph paper when the image is zoomed in or enlarged.  These images are created by digital cameras, by scanning images into a computer or with raster-based software. Each image can only contain a fixed number of pixels; the number of pixels determines the quality of the image. This is known as resolution. More pixels result in better quality at the same or larger sizes of the original, but this also increases the size of the file and the amount of space it takes to store the file. The lower the number of pixels, the lower the resolution. Resolution limits the size the image can be scaled up without being able to see pixels. However, a high-resolution image printed at a small size will cause the pixels to "cram" together and will make the image look as unprofessional as not having enough pixels in a large image.

A vector graphic's small file size and scalability makes it uniquely suitable for use in digital and offset printing from business cards to billboards. Their native files are needed for coin and pin designs, laser engraving, screen printed t-shirts, patches, etc.

Raster images are best for digital photos and full color print materials. If your project requires scalable shapes and solid colors, vector is the best choice, but if your project requires complex color blends, raster is the preferred format.

Please note: We do not accept SVG files. This file type is for Web use only and must be saved as a jpg.


The artwork, designs and trademarks shown on products on this site are examples of the products and imprinting services we offer. They do not represent endorsement by the owners of the artwork, designs or trademarks.


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