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What’s a Vector, Victor?

I’ve seen it countless times over the years: a company spends a pretty penny on a new logo or branding package and then never receives instruction on which files to use for a particular situation. EPS or JPG? PDF or PNG? If your mind is focused on running your business, it’s easy to let all those different files get buried on a computer somewhere, until the day comes when someone, maybe a sign shop or a clothing embroiderer, asks for the dreaded “vector file.” If all you’ve got handy is a low-resolution jpg, you might be in trouble.

So what IS a “vector” file?

Logos and other types of graphics come in two basic flavors: “raster” and “vector”. At its simplest, a raster graphic is made of pixels, while a vector file is made of mathematical curves. This might not sound like a huge difference, but the implications are significant.

Raster images are made of tiny little dots, called pixels, and each one with a color value. Together, they make up an image. Print graphics typically have a resolution of 300 dots per inch (DPI), while screen graphics generally have a resolution of about 72 DPI. The advantage of raster graphics is a direct result of the way they are constructed; since each tiny pixel is unique, you can achieve a very high level of detail in, say, a photograph.

 Raster C-Paw logo

However, this pixel-perfect construction becomes problematic when trying to enlarge an image, like a logo, because you can’t simply add more pixels to an image. If you try to enlarge, you’ll often wind up with a “pixelated” result, where the image looks blocky and unclear. Common raster formats include jpg, png, and gif.

This is where the (sometimes elusive) vector file comes into play. Vector images are created by connecting points with curves and lines to form shapes. Each point, line, or curve is calculated mathematically by the computer, and as a result, vector images can be scaled infinitely without losing any detail. They’ll stay crisp and precise at any size.

Vector C-Paw logo

Whether on a 30’ billboard or a 2” patch on your work shirt, the same file can be used without concern. The drawback is that vector files are generally less detailed than raster files as there aren’t thousands of individual pixels to control. Common vector formats include eps, pdf, and svg.

So, when should you use your raster logo, and when should you use a vector? If you’re putting your logo on a website, email signature, or social media account, a raster file like a jpg is perfect. If you’re printing your logo, whether on a business card or a billboard, it’s best to use a vector file like an eps. It’ll ensure that your company’s identity is reproduced as accurately as possible every single time.

Lost track of your vector logo over the years? Never had a vector logo to begin with? Need a whole new logo? The design pros at Cassel Bear are here to help.