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High Quality Art: Vectors

Second of a three-part series discussing the quality of digital art we need to make our clients look their best. We’re carving these blog posts into three parts: Dots, Vectors, and Caliber. Welcome to “Vectors.”

Vector files aren’t well known outside the design world. That’s a shame because vector files are quite useful. Vector art describes shapes, colors, and transparency with mathematical formulas. Data is used to plot dots that make clear, crisp lines when displaying the image. This means they’re scalable and typically require less space and bandwidth.

Scalable

Pixel art top, vector art below.Unlike the pixel-based images discussed in Part 1: Dots, vector images are resolution independent: They can be scaled as large or as small as needed with no loss in quality.

Sure, in the end, all images are composed of dots on our screens or paper, but the information in vector files draws those dots at the size they need to be for how they’re being used.

File Size Matters

A benefit of that scalability is reduced files size compared to their resolution equivalent, pixel-based version. For example, we created these billboards with the NCSU Center for Clean Technology. All four delivered in a 479 KB vector-based PDF file. For reference, all four billboards could be delivered on a 3.5″ floppy drive from the 90s.

Following the guidelines for raster art, each of these files would be around 4.7 GB each. In contrast to the PDFs, that’s nearly an entire DVD for each billboard—or an hours-long download over an average internet connection.

Just for bandwidth efficiency, it makes a lot of sense to use a vector file when it’s appropriate.

Why not use vectors everywhere?

Steer Shirt in Gulf Blue, showing off vector art for the logo.So, vector-based files sound pretty great. Why not use them everywhere? They’re fantastic for logos and illustrations. However, their nature makes them—potentially—worse for photos or any other sort of continuous tone image.

The subtleties of photos—the shading, the lighting, the nuance can be lost when rendered in the data vector files use to carry the information. Of course, you could do a highly detailed vector file—enough to carry those nuances but then the file size becomes prohibitive.

The short version: Photos are dots, vectors are lines.

Uses

Since vectors are used to describe lines, they are great for logos, trademarks, graphs, and charts.

Common File Formats

  • PDF
  • EPS
  • SVG
  • AI

Challenges

Steer Identity Package Deliverables Folder showing common file names between pixel and vector art.The biggest challenge the Registered team faces with vector files is that a raster image can be saved in a vector format. Literally wrapping a plain old raster image as a vector file. The wrapping doesn’t hold up when we go into production. The result: Same as a JPEG or PNG file from a web page.

A challenge our clients face: Unless you work as a graphics professional, you likely don’t have the tools to properly view a vector file. Most vector file formats require specialized software, such as Adobe Illustrator, to view.  Understandably, it can be uncomfortable forwarding a file that you can’t see yourself. Registered Creative delivers a full complement of logo files to our clients as part of brand assets to our clients. We use common file names to alleviate that concern of sending a mystery file.

Say the volunteer who’s making a shirt for the softball team you’re sponsoring is asking for the logo as an EPS file. You should be confident that “my-logo-file.png” delivers the same image as “my-logo-file.eps” just in a format suitable for commercial use.

The people’s vector file.

There is one type of vector file that is viewable in readily available applications: PDFs. Developed in the 1990’s by Adobe, the Portable Document Format (PDF) was designed to retain precise layout and typographic information. Adobe released the technology as an open standard in 2008.  In addition to Adobe Acrobat, there’s a wealth of options for PDF viewing. Even, some web browsers will let you view a PDF file.

So far, in our series, we’ve covered the basics of what it takes for two, broadly, different kinds of files to “work” for your image needs. In the next piece, we’ll review the more subjective aspect of art.