If you're new to website or graphic design, you might be unfamiliar with vector files. Vector files make up most of the artwork you see online and in print, but they must be laboriously created in a specialized program. Since most of us only view them, creating and editing them has been the job of the professional graphic designer.
But vectors are getting more and more prevalent. They're also super useful if you are trying to give your website a custom look. Here's a look at what is vector art exactly and how to make vector art in Photoshop.
What is Vector Art?
Once the domain of the graphics design professional, vector graphics have become more mainstream as more and more people dive into making their own websites and graphics.
While probably imperceptible to the end user, vector files is an important part of app and web development. These files help websites load quicker, making your graphics look sharp and professional no matter where you put them. From t-shirt designs to billboards, vector files are used for everything in graphics. Here is a detailed article on graphic design, its various types and software tools for an aspiring graphic designer.
Definition of Vector Art
In the simplest terms, the files that make vector graphics are made up of mathematics instead of pixels. A standard raster photograph is a map of bits - a "bitmap," if you will. But a vector file is made up of coordinates where lines, shapes, and design elements shall appear.
Vector graphics can be as simple as a line drawing or a complex, multi-layered artwork made of thousands of separate elements.
Raster vs Vector Graphics
In the world of computer graphics, there are two types - raster and vector. Most people are familiar with raster graphics. These include JPGs and PNGs - the types of image files captured by our digital cameras.
Likewise, everyone is probably familiar with what happens when you zoom in on a raster image or enlarge it. The image becomes pixelated. Zooming in, you can see each pixel as the image blurs into its components. This is why you can't zoom in indefinitely on a digital photograph - it's made up of only so many pixels. You can zoom in on those pixels, but your image loses quality as each pixels fills up more of your screen.
Understanding Vector Art graphics
Vector graphics files fix this problem by building an image with computer programming instead of pixels. Imagine a computer file of a black horizontal line. A raster file displays a set of pixels side by side that are all black. A vector file tells the computer to display a black line drawn from Point A to Point B that is three points wide. Side by side, the two images look identical when displayed at 100 percent. But zoom in, and the raster image will get pixelated while the vector file continues to display a clean line.
The classic example of vector art is the typical clip-art you'd find in a publishing program. These simple line art graphics can to be inserted into any publication or website and are typically in vector format.
When you hire a professional graphic design artist to make a corportate logo, shirt design, or poster, you will receive a vector file in return. That way, you'll always have the best quality graphics no matter what you do with the file.
But vector art can be a lot more than simple line art. It can include colours, patterns, and gradients. And artists can use vector programs to create beautiful masterpieces - complex artwork of anything imaginable. Good vector artists can take the tools and make a vector image that looks almost like a photograph.
The Importance of Vector Art in Design
On a bigger scale, this has major implications for computer files. Where a low-resolution raster file might look bad on a state-of-the-art 5K monitor, the vector file will look sharp as can be. What if you want to scale your artwork down to fit on a business card? The print shop can take your vector file and scale it however they want. Likewise, it could be blown up and posted on a billboard.
What is a Vector File?
Probably the biggest difference when it comes to raster versus vector files is that of complexity. Most of us have dealt with raster files. If you've ever doodled with a program like Microsoft Paint, you know how to make one. Most of the tools in Photoshop are raster tools.
But making a vector file is more complicated. You can draw a line freehand, but the best results come from using a pen tool to draw perfectly smooth paths on the page. You can control the smoothness or sharpness of each curve and the thickness and color of each stroke.
Photoshop and other raster graphics programs may have some limited abilities to deal with vector files. Photoshop, in particular, has a few vector tools to start with, but it is far from a full-featured vector program.
The better tactic is to use a program specifically for dealing with vector files. The industry standard is Adobe Illustrator. But, of course, there are many alternatives.
Like the raster world has JPG, GIF, and PNG, the vector world has a few standard file types that work across all vector program platforms. The most common are EPS files (Encapsulated PostScript) and Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) files.
EPS files are an older format that has high-resolution details for print shops. They are an output format and not editable. In other words, you create the file in your program's format (.AI for Adobe Illustrator) and then save it in EPS for sending to the print shop. Mac computers can open an EPS for viewing in Preview. However, Windows machines will need a separate application.
SVG files are more appropriate for small file packages used in website design. SVG is used for two-dimensional graphics like charts, illustrations, and infographics. Unlike EPS, it is web-friendly like a JPG photo is. As a result, any web browser will display an SVG file.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Vector Files
So when should you use vector art, and when should you opt for a trusty old jpeg? Here's a look at the pros and cons of vector graphics.
- Scalable--you can make vector files as small or as large as you like without a change in the quality of the product
- Precise--you can make lines, curves, and shapes with razor-like precision
- Smaller files for web use keeps websites loading faster
- Animations are easy to make from vector files and will be smaller, simpler files than a raster equivalent
- Easy to edit with the right program and know-how--you can change one color or shape quickly and easily without affecting the other elements in a layout
- Converts easily to raster image if required
- Requires specialized skillset and time to edit and create--most people do not know how to work with vector files
- Limited number of software applications that edit them
- Less detail for complex things like the natural shading present in photos
- Difficult to make from a raster image--usually requires hours to be redrawn by hand
Best Vector Graphics Software Applications to Create Vectors
There are literally dozens of software programs for building and editing vector files. Here are just a few of the most common.
Just as Photoshop dominates the professional raster image sector, Illustrator is the go-to for professional graphic designers. The program has been around for years and is analogous to Photoshop. It's just as complicated, just as full-featured, and just as expensive. Illustrator is part of the Adobe Creative Suite/Cloud software family.
Since Adobe introduced its monthly subscription pricing, several companies have offered full-featured graphics software programs to compete. Affinity Designer, made by Serif Europe, has 90 percent or more of the capabilities of Illustrator, but for a one-time software license instead of a monthly fee. It can work with PDF or Photoshop files, plus Illustrator AI files.
Inkscape is a free, open-source vector program that uses SVG as its native format. It can also handle many other formats, including Illustrator and CorelDRAW files. While it doesn't have as many features as Illustrator or Designer, it has plenty to create beautiful vector artwork. Inkscape is commonly compared to GIMP, a similar open-source solution for raster imagery.
Corel is an old name in graphics software, but it's still the standard-bearer in sign making and fashion design. It has over 50 filters for import and export file handling. However, it is pretty limited compared to other vector programs. Corel Designer was the company's dedicated vector handling program and was favored in the engineering design sector. Its features have now been rolled into CorelDRAW Technical Suite.
Sketch is only available for macOS. It's primarily used by those making user interface or user experience graphics, so it doesn't include any features for print design. However, if you're a Mac user looking for an app for website vector design, Sketch is worth a look.
Do read our article on the 21 Best Graphic Design Software for Designers in 2023.
Do check out these articles on graphic design
Here are some great tips for Creating Unique Vector Artwork
One thing to ask yourself is, what is vector art to you? Do you want a true vector artwork, or is the vector aesthetic all you're after? Vector files have a unique style, and different designers make it happen in different ways. But an almost comic-like feel of the lines and colours makes it interesting and perfect for graphic projects.
So if you're already a Photoshop user, you might consider breaking down how to make vector-style art into easy-to-accomplish pieces. You don't need to learn it all at once. There are many apps and filters out there that can vectorize an image into a vector-looking art file quickly and easily.
How to Use Vector Art on Your Website
SVG vector files are widely used in modern website graphics. They're used in buttons, icons, and other user interface items and various design elements on the page. For example, company logos are nearly universally vector-based, although it is sometimes common to convert the vector file to a raster JPG or GIF for web use.
Some websites have more graphics than others, so a lot depends on what you want the page to look like. Common webpage elements include text blocks, photographs, and other graphics. If what you aim to do falls into the "other graphics" category, a vector image is likely the way to go. Doing everything in as a raster photo would likely load too slowly and look clunky.
A winning graphic designer portfolio is crucial if you are aspiring to make a successful career in the design industry. Here are some stunning design portfolios on Pixpa that are sure to inspire you to create your portfolio website.
Your online portfolio is the key to attract and impress potential employers, clients or collaborators. Design portfolio websites need to go beyond just showcasing your designs. You also need to think out of the box, uncover your creative genius, find your expression and present your work in the best way possible. We had earlier put together a guide to building your design portfolio, a must-read for anyone serious about graphic design as a career path.
Make sure that the portfolio website builder you choose offers the flexibility, features, and ease of use you need to put together a professional website without requiring any coding knowledge. That's where a bit of inspiration comes in handy. Pixpa is a website builder platform that is trusted by creative pros around the world.
How to Make Vector Art in Photoshop
The best solution for vector artwork is Illustrator or one of the other vector programs, like Designer or Inkscape. If you already have Photoshop, however, there are a few tools you can play with to get comfortable with the process.
The basis of vector work is the pen tool. The pen tool draws a line--or a path, as it is called in vector graphics--between points as you click on the screen. Each point you click becomes a node. You can set each node to control how the path goes through. For example, does the node make a point, as in the tip of a triangle? Or does it make the apex of a curve? You can control the precise angle of the curve using handle controls at the node. You can continue adding nodes with the pen tool until you close the path and make a custom shape.
The path is not visible in the artwork until you program what you want it to look like. A stroke adds a line over the curve, and you can set its width. The shape tool will allow you to put down paths in commonly used shapes like rectangles, circles, or stars. You can set the stroke for a shape, which will be its outline, or fill it with a color, texture, or gradient. On shapes, you can control each node to adjust it any way you need to.
With these few simple vector tools, you can create an entire image. Most vector files are layers upon layers of intersecting elements. Once you have the rough use of the pen and shape tools, you can play around with the software to develop any design you like.
Getting a feel for these basic vector tools is essential before you move on to attempting a final product. They're the basis of every vector program out there, and while they may look a little different, they all function essentially the same.
It's also possible to covert raster images into vector files using a few tools in Photoshop. This seldom leads to perfect results right away, but it provides a great starting place from which you can learn more about how to make vector art in Photoshop. Obviously, this tactic does not get you the benefit of having the final SVG vector file, but it gets you the look of the artwork.
Pen a Path to Your Future, and Fill it With Vector Artwork
When you first start out, vector files can feel intimidating to work with. But as you build experience working with the pen tool, shapes, strokes, a fills, you'll quickly pick up on the foundational building blocks that make these files. If you're new to them, you'll also build an appreciation for artists who work in this precise and beautiful medium.