Let’s face it, not everyone is a designer, but most people know when something looks good or when something looks bad. With today’s technology, anyone with an iPad, tablet or smartphone can create some really cool stuff, but when it comes to printing that really cool stuff, there seems to be a disconnect or confusion on why some things turn out great, and others turn out a little different than you had in mind.
Before going to print, we always have a human (yes, human, you know, the ones that pre-date a computer and automation) check image quality and give you a proof of what your artwork will look like. If we have any concerns, we’ll contact you for a higher-res image or a “vector”. [Insert 1,000 mile blank stare here]
Most people might not know or understand what we mean by these terms or what we are even asking for. That’s why we created this post: to shed some light on the differences between “raster” and “vector” graphics.
The most common type of raster image is a photograph. This can be from a professional-quality camera, or as simple as your camera on your iPhone.
A raster image is made up of tiny little blocks of color information referred to as pixels or dots. What makes each image different and “larger” are how many pixels or data information are crammed into each inch of the image.
Have you ever heard of “pixels per inch”? That is precisely what people are talking about. An image that has 72ppi (or 72 pixels per inch) is going to have a lower print quality than that same image if it has 300ppi (or 300 pixels per inch). The more pixels per inch, the better your image quality.
So how do you know what size your raster image should be when you send your files for print?
Most printers operate at 300dpi (300 dots per inch); this means you would take how ever many inches your final image should be and multiply it by 300 to get your pixel count.
Here is an example: If you want to print an image onto, say a 22in drumhead: 22in (inches) × 300ppi (pixels per inch) = 6,600px (pixels) wide. If your art is square, it should be 6600px × 6600px, ideally.
In other words, your image must be at least 6600px wide for best print results. Anything smaller won’t print well.
A Raster image needs to be created at the final print size or larger for best print quality.
It is always a good rule of thumb to create your raster image larger than you ever plan on printing it. You can always scale down a raster image but you will lose quality the moment you try to enlarge it.
Using the example above: If you’re trying to print an image you saved from the web, and it’s only 1500px wide, it will look shitty when enlarged to the 22in drumhead size (but would print fine for a 4in sticker.)
There are programs like Adobe Photoshop that will allow you to make images larger or smaller, but enlarging an image will lead to pixelation.
Pros of Raster Images:
- Rich Detail (if the resolution is correct)
- Precise Pixel Editing
Cons of Raster Images:
- Not Scalable
- Larger File Size
Common File Formats:
- .jpg, .png, .psd, .tiff, .gif, .bmp, .pdf
Vectors use a different approach to render images. They are made of paths and curves dictated by mathematical formulas. Due to their algorithmic makeup, vectors are infinitely scalable and remain smooth and crisp even when sized up to massive dimensions. This means that no matter what size or resolution you will ever need your artwork at, it can scale without becoming “pixelated” or “blurry”.
A Vector logo can be resized from a guitar pick to a stadium backdrop without any pixelation.
Another benefit to vectors are their ability to be edited without interfering with other elements in the design. Unlike raster images, vector files are not “flattened”.
When you open the vector file, all of the original shapes exist separately on different layers and you can easily change the color, shape or even font (if it has not been outlined or converted to a shape). This is extremely helpful if you have a certain design but want to slightly change certain elements based on your needs, for example different access levels on tour passes, or reformat the logo for a guitar pick or a tee, etc.
When printing, spot colors and white ink require a vector image because you are only trying to apply ink to a very specific area in your design, and the printer needs to know what/where that shape or path is, in your design.
Pros of Vector Images:
- Infinitely Scalable
- Smaller File Size
Cons of Vector Images:
- Limited Detail
- Limited Effects
Common File Formats:
- .ai, .eps, .svg, .pdf (if saved from the correct vector program)*
* It’s important to note here about “native” vector files…you can’t simply take a flat JPG (raster image), open it in your cousin’s Adobe Illustrator software, save it as “file.ai” and call it a day. The file has to be created in Adobe Illustrator as a vector file and be saved that way to actually be a vector file.
There is no right way or wrong way when it comes to design, but being prepared for your future needs is the best way to approach design. Creating something in Photoshop for your 22 inch bass drum might seem like a great idea at the time, but then when you get signed and are put on your first major tour, you will be left scrambling on how to make your design scale to a 20 foot backdrop.
We realize everyone’s needs are different, and depending on what theme you are creating on stage, there is a time and a place for both vector and raster images.
The best rule of thumb is any logos, fonts, simple clean designs, should be created in a vector format. And anything with rich detail or that simply can not be re-created in vector format, can be done using images.
We hope this helps as a bird’s-eye-view of the differences between raster and vector images, and answers some of your questions when asked by the graphics professionals.
Need File Help?
Our in-house design team will come to the rescue.
We push pixels all day long, so we know a thing or two about vectors and rasters. If you need your file cleaned up, recreated, or converted to vector, we’re ready to help! We can also design something fresh for you instead.