Embracing Vector Elements in Graphic Design

by Verblio Optimize -
A man working on vector element layers of a graphic design project while sitting at a desk with a computer monitor in an office

In the digital art world, there are two kinds of images: Raster and vector graphics. Raster is the old way with stationary pixels that granulate or disappear when scaled. Vectors are the clean, scalable new-kid-on-the-block with transparent backgrounds and impossibly clean lines at any size. For a graphic designer, vector elements are the better option on every technical scale. But, making the change can be unusual if you're used to designing in traditional raster-graphics programs.

Vector graphics are computer-generated. They aren't drawn pixel-by-pixel, but rather point-by-point. This makes them lightweight and ideal for building a graphic design portfolio for any project. They can have clean, transparent backgrounds or sections of transparency. They can be vivid and even 3D in effect. Vector elements also never ever pixelate or lose detail, no matter the scaling. Before you embrace vector elements in your graphic design, no doubt you'll want to better understand what vector elements are and how to work with them. That's exactly what we're diving into today.

Vector vs Raster Graphics

Traditional images are what are known as raster graphics. Designers put raster graphics together pixel by pixel. Each pixel is a square in the hex scale that, from a distance, forms a total image with all the other pixels. In a raster image, each pixel is a permanent part of the image. Blow the image up and there aren't enough pixels to fill in larger details - you get a clunky and "pixelated" image. Shrink it down and there aren't enough pixel-spaces, so pixels get lost and details are permanently lost as well.

Raster images used to be the only available option until vector images came along. Vector images are programmatically generated from color-codes and coordinate points. The computer then draws lines between the points and fills in the spaces in between with color - making the image. When you enlarge a vector graphic, those coordinates (relative to each other) remain the same. The computer fills in as many color-pixels as are needed to create the same clean lines and clear colors. When shrunk, the coordinates stay the same even with fewer pixels to show the image.

The SVG File Type

We save raster images in the familiar image file types, primarily jpg and png. We save vector graphics in Scalable Vector Graphics files. You'll recognize them by the .svg tag. These are extremely light files that you save in data-points and color codes instead of an array of pixel data.

The Benefits of Vector Graphic Elements

So why use vector graphics in your marketing designs instead of staying with the old familiar raster methods? The benefits of vector elements are both widespread and currently vital to graphic marketing priorities.

Scalable: Crisp & Pixel-Perfect at Any Size

Right now, image sizes are scaling more than ever before. Users display your website on anything from a tiny watch screen to a big-screen television. The images will scale and you need them to look good when that happens. Nothing scales better than a vector element; they were designed to solve the pixel graphic scaling problem. Whether you shrink or expand the image, the lines and colors remain clean and crisp at any size.

Lightweight: Image Stored as Color Coordinates

A high-detail raster image fills a great deal of data storage spaces and transfers slowly to users. Why? Thousands to millions of pixels take up a lot of space. This makes them heavy, slowing down pageload or making app files larger.  Right now, a file's speed is key to modern design in web, mobile, and software graphics.

Vector images save their data as a set of coordinate-points (relative to the image) and color codes. The .svg file itself is remarkably small, even for large and highly detailed images. The computer then reads a .svg and locally renders each point and color to recreate the original image. Compared to loading a pixel file, the file size and loading speed difference is tremendous. Vectors are both lighter and faster than raster images.

Transparent Background: Clean Float or Can Be Added to Any Other Design

Lastly, vector elements achieve true transparency. It's true that a raster .png can have transparency (many .svg editing programs save to .png), a vector image has zero background data to worry about. The .svg file defaults to transparent, adding only the points and colors that make the primary design. If you need an extremely clean floating image with no background artifacts, vector is your answer. If you need a complex image with many panels of transparency or semi-transparent color, vector is the best tool available.

A person's hands holding a notebook with a logo design in front of a computer monitor with a digital version of the orange triangle logo

This also makes vector graphics ideal for combining with other images - even editing raster .pngs. Vector elements layer cleanly with no background artifacts and can combine to make perfectly blended or multi-layer images.

Marketing with Vector Elements

What is the best way to use vector graphics in digital marketing design? The purpose of vector elements is to expand your design capabilities. Right now, the demand for graphic design is high with the contact introduction of new websites, apps, and companies. Each function online, where competition has reached a fever pitch for the fastest, most lightweight, and most attractive companies. By using vector graphics in every aspect of your design, you can provide portfolios and campaigns that will both wow your audience and achieve their performance goals in one elegant design choice.

Stand-Out Transparent Images

No-background logos and graphic assets have become a hallmark of sleek, modern design. Users (and companies) expect their website or app to look as clean and clipped-together as possible with elements that can be copied and reused across their many platforms and design projects. Meet their expectations and more using vector graphics that can vividly pop from the screen while also layering with perfect transparency into any design layout or variant that you might need.

Image-Over-Image Layering

Layering is a classic graphic designer's trick, taking two images (or more) and making them into one stunning graphic element. Vectors layer more smoothly than rasters, as there is never any pixel conflict between one layer and the next. Any time you need clean layers - and especially a smooth multi-layer design, look to vector elements.

Lifelike Scalable Photos

SVGs aren't just for clean-line graphics designs. You can even take photos and cure them of the curse of scaling resolution. By transitioning a photo into a .svg with the right program, you can make your photos immune to pixelization when scaled up and maintain detail when scaled down. This creates sharp, vivid photos that load faster than the photo portfolios of your client's competition.

Animations and Cartoons

Vectors shine their brightest when used for drawings, cartoons, and animation. Because vector graphics are precise and vivid with pure, non-pixelated color fill, they make an excellent framework for cartoon characters and animated clips. Some SVG specialist artists have even learned to programmatically animate by adapting the coordinates of each point in the file instead of hand-drawing each new frame.

Vivid Presentations, Lifelike or Surreal

Vector graphics, and especially vector animations, are powerful presentation aids. In the corporate world, which often uses presentations, infographic videos, and slide-stacks, vectors are extremely popular. With vectors, each image used in a presentation is clean and looks excellent on whatever size screen is used for presenting that day. 

Lightweight for Fast and Mobile Assets

Finally, never forget the speed benefit of vector vs raster graphics. SVG files are much smaller than raster files because they store simple coordinates instead of a large array of pixels. For web and mobile assets, this lightweight graphic design is critical to SEO competition, site performance, small download sizes, and more that have a heavy impact on brand success.

Drawing and Designing in Vector Elements

Finally, let's take a moment to talk about the new workflow. Many graphic artists still work primarily with raster graphics. and that's the majority of what's uploaded on the internet or scanned in to work from. However, vector images are a little different. You'll want a program like Inkscape, Boxy SVG, or any other of your choosing. Then, get used to drawing shapes and adding shading with the coordinate-based vector methods instead of the pixel-based raster methods. Each shape in the design is its own editable and deletable element, layered with the others to create the whole picture. 

You will find yourself painting less and shaping more because you will shade by the section instead of by the pixel. You will find out just how many individual shapes are involved in an image and your images may take on a slightly more 'cartoon' appearance compared to hand-drawn art. But it will also be clean, crisp, and every element is individually selectable. Your freedom to edit and tweak is greater than with raster, and you can morph your existing shapes more creatively.