This week, I wanted to talk about a word that is very important in the design community: vector. Although it's a term that I use almost every day, I have come to realize that most people outside of the design community don't know what I'm talking about when I use that word. It is really helpful to be on the same page as clients when communicating about my designs, and this is a concept that needs to be grasped for them to understand the importance of a good design. So if you don't know what "vector" is or have heard the term but didn't understand it, allow me to give you a (hopefully helpful!) explanation of what it means and why it is important.
If anyone is familiar with mathematics or physics and related fields, you will know that the term "vector" did not originate in the design world. Traditionally, vector (according to Merriam-Webster) is defined as "a quantity (such as velocity) that has size and direction." You might be thinking, "What does this have to do with art?" A lot, actually. We, as artists, don't use math calculations to figure out how much of our digitally drawn objects to fill in on a daily basis, but that is because we don't have to. Just like a calculator can solve a vector based equation for a mathematician, so our design programs use math to fill in the curves and areas for us as we draw. In a nutshell, that is what vector graphics are: objects that are drawn using math. When I draw a colored rectangle in Adobe Illustrator, the computer is doing math calculations behind the scenes to figure out what area needs to be filled in.
Why is this so important in design?
Because they are drawn using mathematical equations, vector objects are infinitely sizeable, meaning they can be displayed in any size and still retain the same quality. If I draw a rectangle, no matter what the size, the formula to find the area is still the same, width x height, and every rectangle of that ratio will look exactly the same. Text is a great example of vector graphics, hence all sizes of one font appearing the same. This is not true of the other common type of graphic imaging: raster. Raster images are made up of thousands of tiny pixels, and most people are familiar with the concept  (even if not the term) because photographs are raster based images. You might have noticed that when you take a picture with your phone or camera and try to enlarge it, it doesn't look good past a certain size because the pixels get stretched and distorted. This will NEVER happen with vector images. As an example, I took a vector created image and then saved it as a raster image so you could see the difference between the qualities when I enlarged it.
The first image is the original, the second is the enlarged vector image, and the third is the enlarged raster image. As you can see, at a large size the raster image quality is degraded and the lines are no longer crisp. The vector image is still clear, even zoomed in. The ability to resize images digitally is HUGE in the design world, because this means we can create something small on our computer that can then be printed on something massive like a billboard or airplane and not lose the original quality. It is also important on micro scales as well. If you try to print a pixelated picture onto something small like a pen, the same thing happens. The pixels are being squeezed into too tight of a space, and the image will blur together.
For normal printing of pictures, vector images are not needed. The pixels of the raster images look fantastic as long as they are printed within a certain size range. However, vector is essential when printing with logos or text. This is why businesses that want to print their logo on products HAVE to have a vector image if they want to print at a GOOD QUALITY. Most professional places won't accept the responsibility for printing a logo that isn't in a vector format because they don't want to produce a poor quality product. If they say they will print products for you without using a vector image, they are most likely just trying to get your money quickly and run. Don't be fooled. It is always better to pay someone to create a vector logo for you ahead of time or pay the company extra to create one for you if they offer that service.
How do you know if your logo is in vector?
Did you have a designer create it for you? If you did, they probably created it in vector and should have given you a PDF to use for printing purposes. PDFs can retain the properties of the original file they were saved from, be it a word document or Illustrator file, and they are the most common file type to share with clients. PDFs are popular because almost everyone can view them AND printing companies can pull the original vector images from them without issue. (**NOTE: Not all PDF's are vector images. PDFs can be saved from any type of file, including raster images, for viewing in a standard format. However, if your image was created as a vector and then saved as a PDF, then it is most likely still a vector image). Some other common vector file formats are .ai, .eps, .cgm, and .svg.
If you didn't have a designer create the file for you in a special program, then you most likely don't have a vector image, and if your file is in a raster format (such as .jpg, .png, .tiff, .gif, or .bmp) then you can be certain you don't. If you are unsure and would like someone to look at it for you, send me a message and I can help you figure it out. In addition, if you know you don't have a vector version of your logo or need a new logo created, I can create one for you like I have for other local businesses. In addition to the many I have re-created for clients, you can see examples of the vector logos I have created from scratch on my graphic design page under "logos." If you have questions about this or any other design subject, feel free to message me at any time.