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Vector vs Raster – Which Do You Prefer?


When it comes down to it, which would you prefer to work in: vector or raster? Why do you prefer one over the other and is it just a matter of time before vector art rules the digital art and design world?


It's fair to say that if you're a regular visitor to Vectortuts+ that you hold some favor towards vector. For a lot of us, it's our preferred medium to work with and create with – and rightly so. We know its benefits compared to other mediums and we know its pitfalls. To the vector obsessive, the pros outweigh the cons significantly.

Vector Benefits

So let's imagine you've never used vector before and you're interested in knowing what these so called benefits are. Some of them are medium specific, that it's actually the medium itself which holds this benefit. Others are application specific, which is dependent on the program you use to create your vector work.

  • Scalable – it's the reason we love it and the reason many work with it, that it's scalable to any size without pixelation or quality loss.
  • Easy to edit – it's resizing elements, changing shapes by moving points… it's a medium which seems to be made to be easy to change. If you consider if this was done in Photoshop (or any other raster program), the edges may not be as crisp, or you may even need to re-do elements.
  • Color – changing colors at the click of a button… OK, I exaggerate here but being able to select a shape, maybe a group of shapes, maybe selecting a group of the same color and being able to change the color so quickly is definitely a benefit for those who have an indecisive mind. Not to mention being able to modify the color scheme of a piece to the clients desires in no time at all makes this a huge benefit.

I do feel as if I'm trying to sell ice to the Inuit's here, but what do you see as the main benefits of using vector over raster? Why do you personally prefer to use vector over raster?

Vector Drawbacks

So why would a person prefer raster over vector? Surely there are some drawbacks to using vector over raster, as hard it is to conceive.

  • Speed – for highly detailed work, it's possibly quicker to use a painting program such as Photoshop.
  • File size – linking in to the high detailed aspect, if you have a piece which is high in details, a Photoshop file is maybe a smaller file size if it contains a lot of blurred pieces. Especially if you consider using many blends to create an object with blurred edges. The file size in Illustrator could be potentially large.
  • More effects – for the Photoshop user versus the Illustrator use, they may have a wider range of effects and filters at their disposal.

What do you see as the drawbacks to using vector over raster? Is there an occasion you'd prefer to use raster over vector?

Vector Art and Vexel Art

There are a lot of artists out there who prefer to use vector as their medium, mainly because they like the appearance. Although vector is a medium and not a style, we can say a lot of vector art has a cell shading appearance with crisp lines. However there is another art form out there which takes on the same appearance but is not actually vector, this is called vexel art.

Vexel art has been created for a long time, but it has only been the past decade that it has been given any recognition or a name! Consider using the Pen Tool to create a shape and this shape isn't vector but a raster shape. This is one way of creating vexel art. It's art created using the layering of raster shapes, which can often be mistaken as vector art.

“Why would an artist choose to create raster art which mimics vector art?” I hear you cry. I used to create vexel art and from a personal perspective, financial reasons are the main reason. If you're working with a mix of different styles of raster work, for example photo manipulation, airbrushing, painting and more, it's more cost effective to use a single program to create the work. If you're wanting to venture into the cell shading style, the cost of another program on top of this might be out of your budget.

You could beg to differ that there are many free programs out there such as Inkscape and Gimp which are capable of creating amazing pieces of vector art, however some people expect more with their applications and would like one which does everything. This is especially so if you're a hobby artist, rather than a professional artist.

Artists on Vector and Raster

I spoke to some artists who have experience in both vector and raster, be it professionally or as a hobby. I asked them about their preferences and why they chose to work in the mediums they do.

John Kelly aka Joke-Art

Q In what capacity do you use vector and raster?

I use vector in all my work, but I still use raster images for reference (unless photos are supplied by the customer). The reason why, is because I work in the design and print trade and I want my work to be the best it can be. It can be from logos to roller banners and signs. Doesn't matter what the job is, I have the graphics ready to be scaled to whatever size I need it.

Also with the vector graphics I can add and remove anything I need quickly and easily. For example, I am currently working on a roller banner. That needs vector portraits of a man and woman, in Royal Mail uniforms. Now these images don't come up on image bank websites in the positions and size that I need. So I have taken photos of people in the position I need and then I have drawn the logos and uniform onto the people I have taken photos of. This gives me the best print quality I can get, and I get a happy customer.

Q So which do you think is best to work with?

In my experience, vector is best, but I think it's still a skill that is not recognized in the UK as much as the States. Mainly as people do not understand what goes into it, and think its a Photoshop application. But saying this, it won't put me off trying to convert people from scaling up poor photos onto a poster and then complain that it's all pixelated.

The benefits of vector in my trade are key. If a customer comes to me and wants a logo designed, I can design the logo in one or two Pantone colors, and save he/she money when it comes to having his printed stationary done. As its more cost effective.

So one vector logo, can then be used for multiple tasks. Like when he/she expands the business, they can have signs and vehicle graphics done. The same logo can be scaled up and taken apart to create the paths for the vinyl cutter. Which having a one or two color design would keep costs down to a minimum.

Anne Elster aka Pica-ae

Q In what capacity do you use vector and raster?

I work full time as a web-designer, so I mainly work with raster based elements in Photoshop. Photoshop is the leader when it comes to web-design simply because the web is pixel-based and so is Photoshop. Everything you create is produced in the exact same size as it is used in the finished product. Also photography is an essential part in web-design and, as the name indicates, Photoshop simply is the best tool to handle photos.

This doesn't mean that I don't work with vector elements in web-design. Photoshop supports vector elements and vectors created in Illustrator can be easily imported into Photoshop. For some processes/elements in web-design vectors are easier and quicker to use than pixel layers. But this depends on the designer's preferences, as I see it a lot with colleagues that are afraid of vectors and don't use them. Mostly, to their disadvantage.

For personal projects I love to work with vector, or to be precise Illustrator. I am a big fan of the look you can achieve with vector. Art Noveau and Pop Art are only two examples of styles that are easily achievable/comprehensible with vector and can be a great inspiration for new digital art.

Q So which do you think is best to work with?

When it comes to interface and usability I prefer Photoshop over Illustrator. I started in Photoshop, so I am more used to it and quicker to finish what I have in mind. It just comes naturally, I don't have to think about how to achieve something, I just do it. Illustrator is more of a challenge in that regard.

When it comes to "when to best use vector" a few things immediately come to mind: Logos, Typefaces and anything else that needs to be scalable in both directions. This leads to the two big pros of vector: small file size and endlessly scalable.

Another thing, not as obvious, is the extraction of elements from photos. From my experience the best and cleanest way of doing so, is to create a vector path around the object you wish to extract. This is great for another reason: JPG's can save paths. You don't have to save a PSD or TIFF for your file to contain a path around an object. You can save a JPG and keep the original file size.

When it comes to using pixels my first thought always is photo retouching. Of course easier in Photoshop than in Illustrator. A part of this is preparing reference for vector illustrations, if it is based on stock images or a scanned sketch.

Using textures is easier in pixel programs as well. Of course there always is the option to Live Trace a texture so it is 100% vector, but it is the most common reason for my computer or Illustrator to crash. Putting a texture over a vector illustration is quicker and easier than using Live Trace as a step. If you are dependent on scalability overlaying a texture is not an option then.

In the end I would say I always use the program that I know will do the quickest/best job. I don't want to end up frustrated on a project because I picked the wrong program to work with.

Justyna Biryckaaka Jussta

Q In what capacity do you use vector and raster?

I used to make more vexels in the past, before I got to know what vectors are. I still make them from time to time, but if a certain work is meant to be sold/is made for a client, then obviously vectors are better for one simple reason - they are resizable. At work (I'm a graphic designer) I work with both mediums.

Q So which do you think is best to work with?

To be honest I like both and it's hard to pick which one's better. I will always have a sentiment for vexels, since that's how my adventure with digital art began. They are like a good old teddy bear that you have for years - you can buy new toys that are way cooler, but you'll always come back to the one you had a lot of fun with back in the day.

Like I mentioned before the use of a vector or vexel depends on the project. Some of them require vector format and some of them can be made in raster.

Marleen Weijman WomanWithAGun

Q In what capacity do you use vector and raster?

I have to admit, I mostly do raster (vexel) works. I didn't have any education in graphic design or any graphic program.

Around 2003 I started to hang around on blend challenge websites to blend photographs into collages and started out with Paint Shop Pro. That's when I discovered vexel art. My first ones were rubbish and very unoriginal because of me trying to do techniques that weren't really my own. I slowly started to find my own style and I began to develop the kind of work I do now.

I don't use Paint Shop Pro anymore, since about 2005 I switched to Photoshop and I'm so used to it that I can't let my dear Photoshop go that easy! Recently I got Adobe Illustrator and I am still struggling with this, because I see the advantage of vector work above vexels when it comes to printing for example, I really want to do this! But when I do something, I want to do it good. So I guess that will be a struggle for awhile.

Q So which do you think is best to work with?

I think in the end Illustrator and vector works are way easier to work with and the quality is of course better. But for me it will take a lot of time to get rid of my old Photoshop habits and the things and techniques I can handle in Photoshop. I really hope I will get this far in Illustrator also, but I have the feeling this is gonna be a long way! A long challenging way though!


There are many reasons to favor vector over raster, as well as raster over vector. For now it can be a matter of preference of program or the scalability factor.

The key element of vector that raster and it's programs will never be able to mimic is it's scalability. With other elements within digital art and design, they may well be just application specific, but the true key to vector is one which sets it apart from it's non-scalable counterpart.

For those who get the latest versions of Illustrator on every release of a new Creative Suite, you may notice more and more new additions to the program that could be mistaken for raster effects... the bristle brush addition in CS5 comes to mind straight away.

With the development of computers becoming more powerful and how capable our applications are becoming, will there be a time when raster art will become redundant?

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