Graphic Design: Different Kinds of Files

Vector and Bitmap

In the design world there are two main kinds of files: Vector and Bitmap. Knowing a bit about the two can help avoid costly mistakes.


Simply put, stuff that is drawn on a computer is called vector art is made of of lines and the positions and curves of these lines are determined by a mathematical formula. This is important because it means that vector art can be scaled up or down and still look good. The downside is that they don’t do photographic style shading. Logos, graphic elements, type and signage are examples of vector art.


Pictures – also called bitmap or raster images – are made up of pixels, and they do shading just fine. But because they are made of pixels, when you enlarge them past a certain point (120 percent generally) you’re spreading them too fine, and you get a loss of quality. This is why you can’t just take a picture off a website and use it on the printed page; pictures displayed on computer monitors only have to be 72 pixels per inch (they don’t want or need them to be bigger because they will take longer to load on a web page). Fine for a monitor, but the pixels are far too coarse for use on the printed page. More on that in a subsequent post.

The obvious implication here is to take the highest resolution pictures you can when submitting for design. The graphic artist can always make them smaller if he needs to, but it’s pretty hard to make them bigger without it showing.

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