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Different Types of Images Online: Vector and Raster Explained

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In the modern world of the internet, graphic design and visual content have never been more critical.

Graphic design is a vital part of any fast-food restaurant or local business you’ve ever encountered in this age.

Designers utilize a wide range of digital tools to produce the displays you face daily.

For example, Image file types are vital tools for graphic designers as each type provides a specific benefit over other file types.

In this article, we’ll discuss types of images, precisely vector and raster digital images, to better understand different digital image files.  

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The Basics of Images (A Primer)

We experience images on a daily basis, and nearly at a constant for those of us who frequently use the internet.

Digital images are a staple of the modern media that we all consume.

However, many people who don’t work with many image formats may be unaware of their differences and usages.

Images you find on the internet, billboards, and other forms of advertisement come in a wide range of file formats.

Raster image formats are designed to take up less digital memory space on a hard drive because they are considered complete and will likely not be edited or reformatted.

Vector formats are the opposite, allowing you to edit and resize an image seamlessly with no loss in quality or resolution, but the file size is much larger.

Furthermore, specific image formats are designed to be ideal for web pages as they don’t use up a lot of data on your web page’s server, thus preventing them from slowing it down.

What Are Digital Image Files?

Digital images can fall under several categories with critical differences between them.

To start with, all image falls fall under two main types, raster, and vector imaging.

Raster and vector images are further defined under subcategories that share overarching traits but still have critical differences from other file types.  

Vector and Raster Explained

In simple terms, vector files are images that can change in size without losing quality.

Vector files lose no quality because the image data is composed of points that allow seamless editing.

Graphic designers and artists can use vector images as assets on their projects because a vector file can be resized and morphed to fit the specific needs of the person working with the file.

Vector files are best for simple graphics; the more complicated they are, the more memory space they take up.

The average person commonly uses raster images with a cell phone or a camera.

These images are composed of tiny points of color called pixels; this is why a raster image gets blurry when you zoom in on the picture.    

Due to the static resolution and dimensions of a raster image, photographers or people who upload photos to social media will often use image enhancers to increase the quality of their pictures.

There are several uses and benefits to each image type and their subtypes for designers and consumers alike.

What Are the Different Types of Images?

When designing a web page or just dabbling with digital images, it’s good to know the difference between different types of pictures and what they’re used for.

In this section, we’ll go over several types of images that fall under vector and raster file types and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

An excellent resource for any artist or graphic designer is a stock image archive.

Stock image applications can carry several file types for all purposes.

Raster Images

Raster images are 2-dimensional images composed of an arrangement of pixels that make up the whole image.

For example, printed media and complicated photographs are composed of pixels, which is why if you look closely at them, you can see little points of color; these are the pixels that form the entire image.

The dimensions of a raster image determine the number of pixels used to make up the image and directly affect the overall resolution.  

Raster images often operate like a grid map, linking their dimensions directly to linear algebra.

Furthermore, raster images are compatible with most software and respective devices due to their static simplicity.

However, this simplicity does not mean they are great for an image map on a non-graphical web page, don’t use image maps.  

Vector images can be turned into rater images through a process called rasterization.

Rasterization is commonly used by graphic designers when inserting a vector asset into a raster image.

Rasterizing a vector image sets the resolution to its current position, meaning that resizing it will cause alterations in resolution like any other raster image.

1. PNG

PNG images are one of the best formats to use for the internet as they possess good resolution while maintaining a small file size.

Business logos or other iconography are some primary uses for PNGs.

Furthermore, PNG images can be transparent, meaning that portions of the image’s ‘canvas’ are invisible or transparent, allowing what is underneath the PNG to be still visible.

  • Great for web use
  • Lower end of file sizes
  • Retains a moderate amount of image quality

2. TIFF

Artists and other professional designers commonly use TIFF files.

These raster files have fantastic image quality, but that also means that these images take up far more space than different raster image types.

TIFF files are composed of layers, which is why they are so helpful to artists.

Image layers, in essence, are copies of the image’s dimensions.

Artists can use layers to separate components of an image to make them easy to identify and edit.

For example, many artists put their line art as the top layer on the TIFF file and then do all of their coloring on a layer below the line art layer.

  • Great for artists and other designers due to layers
  • Significantly larger file size
  • High image quality

3. JPG

JPG images are comparable to PNGs in many ways. However, there are several key differences between the two image formats.

Firstly, JPGs are not transparent like PNGs. In addition, JPGs are far more compressed than PNGs, making them great for storage purposes.

Still, there is a loss in overall image quality when compared to PNGs.

Like PNGS, JPG images are great for web use.

However, when designing a web page with several images, you still need to be wary of hotlinking.

  • Great for web use
  • One of the smallest file sizes
  • Lower image quality

Vector Image Types

Vector files comprise a cartesian coordinate system that forms geometric shapes that make up the whole image.

This coordinate system allows vector images to be resized easily with no loss in quality.

Since vector files are significantly more complicated than raster files, they have numerous formats for specific uses.

1. SVG

SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) files utilize an XML text format for visual description purposes.

This format is ideal for frequent resizing and editing.

  • Relatively simple vector format
  • Ideal for simple, frequently edited logos
  • Can be suitable for a web page’s featured image

2. EMF

EMF (Enhanced Metafiles) is designed to hold vast amounts of image data to facilitate the highest image quality possible.

High image quality is ideal for professional-level printing.

  • Massive file size
  • Extremely high image quality

3. EPS

EPS (Encapsulated Postscript) is usually used for storing drawings and other assets; it can be challenging to open and view when not using the correct software.  

  • Great for artists and designers
  • Difficult to open without specific software such as an art program

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are more clarifications on specific nuances about different image file types and what they can do.

Which Is Better for Printing PNG or JPG?

There are pros and cons to using PNG or JPG image files when printing or working on the web.

Typically, JPG images are better suited for physical printing as you can control the file’s overall resolution and compression rate more than a PNG.

What Is the Highest-quality Image Format?

TIFF files, or any layered image file, retain the highest image quality.

This makes TIFF files challenging to open but makes them ideal for editing.

Furthermore, programs that can open TIFF files can usually also save a copy of the image as a PNG or other image format.

What Is a Good Quality Image?

A good quality image is an image that has a high amount of clarity and definition.

The file type of a digital image has a major impact on the overall quality of that image and its resolution or quality.

Furthermore, the image quality you’re looking for will majorly depend upon the digital image format you’re working with.

For example, if you’re an artist creating a digital painting, a TIFF file with layers is the only answer, but if you’re just looking to download or print a photograph a PNG or JPG is perfectly serviceable.

Wrapping Up

Different types of images can seem complicated and daunting initially, but with knowledge comes understanding and application.

Raster and vector image formats get used constantly in our day-to-day lives to deliver all forms of content and visual stimuli.

Without image formatting, the artists and designers that produce all of this content would have an even more significant challenge with finishing their work.

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