Digital images can be broken down into two categories: Vector and Raster. What’s the difference?
The main thing to remember is that vector images can be enlarged to any size and raster images can only be enlarged as much as the resolution allows (or it will get pixelated).
Photos are always raster images.
Logos and icons are usually vector…
At least, they usually start out as vector, but can easily be converted into a raster image. If you download a logo from the internet, 99% of the time it’s going to be rasterized—which means made from pixels and you won’t be able to enlarge it.
Raster images cannot easily be converted to vector. Vector images can be converted to raster, but pay the price of losing image quality.
Having the original vector image is invaluable because it never gets pixelated, you don’t have to worry about low and high resolution versions, and it has a lot more versatility than a raster image.
But vector images aren’t so great because a lot of people don’t have the software to open and edit them. You’ll usually need a graphic designer to help out. Adobe Illustrator is the main software used for making and editing vector images.
Vector images are made from points and paths—lines connecting the points. The locations, angles, curves, colors, etc. are all tracked with mathematical equations. This way the image can be blown up to the size of a billboard or down to the size of a business card with no quality loss. The equations are the same. The file size also stays relatively the same no matter how big the image is. Nice!
Vector images usually are in one of these formats: .eps, .ai, .svg, or sometimes .pdf. PDFs are tricky because they can be either vector or raster depending on how they are saved.
If you’re getting a logo or icon designed, make sure to get the vector file from the designer. Even if you can’t open it on your computer, it’s really important to get and hold on to this file. Think of it as your “master copy” of the logo. Any designer you work with in the future will need it. And if you get any promotional products made with your logo, you’ll need the vector version.