Knowing the difference between a pixel and vector graphic may save your life.
Ok, maybe not but it can save your organization. Appearances are important and if you make a bad impression at a crucial moment, your potential profits can be gone before you know it.
I was discussing the difference with a client recently and my normal response is something like “Pixel-based graphics use blocks of color to create images and vector-based graphics use points, lines and math”. This makes sense to me but I wasn’t fully satisfied with the explanation so I went looking for a better one. I found the article “What’s the Difference Between Pixels and Vectors?” and it does a good job of going into the history and giving a little more depth to my answer.
So, why is this so important? It is important to know because they work in different ways and can do things the other can not.
The Bad — Pixels
Pixel graphics are not good at being scaled up and down. There is a loss of information or an addition of information not previously provided — a best guess. This can lead to jagged edges or a blurring effect. Basically, little color squares are being added to or taken away from the original.
If you take an image from a website, it is going to be too small for print. Increasing the size will lead to very poor quality graphics in most cases. Having your logo terribly pixelated on a major industry publication will provide some problematic issues with looking credible in the future.
The Bad — Vectors
Vector images are not great for showing “realism”. Very cleverly crafted vector images can look realistic from a distance but, on further inspection, it is clear they are not. It is like the difference between looking at a physical photograph and looking at a photo realistic painting. Both can look like photos from afar but upon further inspection, the painting reveals the brush strokes.
The Good — Pixels
Pixel graphics are great for photography and very complex shapes and images. They are good at using all those little squares of color beside each other to represent something. Our eyes don’t see the pixels, they see the combination of colors that create the illusions of a solid visual.
Pixel graphics make up the photos you see online and in print. They also make up most of the graphics used on electronic devices.
The Good — Vectors
Vector graphics are great at creating very crisp and clear images. They can also be sized up or down with no loss of quality. Every time the size is increased or decreased, the math behind the shapes is recalculated to make the image as it was — only larger or smaller now.
Fonts are generally made of vectors and you can see the concept just by increasing the font size in a text program. Logos are also vector based since they are a visual that will be used in the same way often but at a lot of different sizes.
Knowing when to use these and what is being asked for is very important for anyone that will be in contact with any design elements.
Luckily, you just read this so now you’re prepared.