Vector vs. Bitmap

bitmapvsvectorDrawing and painting programs are not created equally and different platforms perform differently. If you’ve ever used Photoshop and then moved over to Illustrator, then you know this already. But did you know that one of the reasons that these two programs operate so differently can be found in how they read and record information? It’s embedded deep in their DNA and affects the output of the imagery that they produce.

Graphics programs such as Photoshop create images that are called bitmap images. Bitmap images are comprised of tiny dots called pixels. Bitmap formats can also be referred to as “raster” format. The more pixels that are used in images of this format, the higher the resolution. Images saved or created at 300 dpi are considered to have a higher resolution, while images that are created or saved at 72 dpi are considered to have a low resolution.

What is DPI?

“Dpi” refers to dots per inch. It is easier to see the pixels in images that have a low resolution and the details in these images is usually poor. Images that have higher resolutions logically are considered higher quality images. The pixels in these images are harder to notice and the images are usually greater in detail. Bitmap images come in several familiar formats. These formats include JPEG, GIF, and PNG. You can identify bitmap images by the file extension- .jpeg, .gif, and .png. Each one of these file types has an extended name. JPEG is Joint Photographic Experts Group, GIF is Graphics Interchange Format, and PNG is Portable Graphics Network. Because Photoshop is designed to work with these types of files, it operates in a way that is optimal for working with pixels. Most people can “pick up” Photoshop a lot easier than Illustrator. Photoshop works in more intuitive manner. So, let’s take a look at what makes Illustrator so different.

How Vector is Different from Raster

Graphic programs such as Illustrator are used to create images that are called vector images. Vector images use mathematical formulas to store information. Images created with this type of software are not produced by pixels, so they can be resized without any distortion or pixelation.

Many designers choose to work with vector programs because of the scalability of the images. With Photoshop, the brush tool may be your first choice to make a mark. However, with Illustrator, you may find the pen tool to be a better choice. Vector shapes and lines can be created with the pen tool and then manipulated using points and handles. Because they lack pixels, images created in vector programs are sharp and are ideal for printing. Vector formats are less well-known and are used less frequently than bitmap image formats. Vector formats include AI (Adobe Illustrator) and SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics).

This video does an excellent job explaining all of this…

Clearly, the way that these two different program formats differ effect how they are used. People may choose to use one program over the other simply because they find one program easier to use, when the program used should be determined by the project.

Which is Better, Vector or Bitmap?

The reality is that most good designers know and use both types of programs, often using both types during the course of one project. If your goal is to become a marketable and successful designer, then it’s advisable to learn both program formats and become comfortable with how they work and why they work in that manner.

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