While working with artwork and imagery that is ultimately intended for use on a device such as a printer or laser engraver, it is beneficial to understand some basic principles about the type of image being used for these purposes. Understanding how to best work with the image as well as some things to avoid will help ensure a successful final image quality for the end product. 

There are two main types of images: 
  • raster-based imagery 
  • vector-based imagery

Vector image, showing points and line segments                                                        Raster image showing color pixels

Here are important points to consider to best understand the differences between these two main types of imagery:

Raster-based imagery
Raster-based imagery means that the image is made up of individual color pixels- thousands or millions of tiny colored blocks. Digital photographs are the most common form or raster-based imagery. Other graphics, especially graphics found on internet image searches are also often raster-based and in many cases, or may have once been vector-based images that were then rasterized and loaded onto a website. Web images are commonly rasterized (if they are not inherently raster already) in order to optimize the efficiency and functionality of the website. There are many other examples of raster-based imagery. This form of imagery typically dominates most "visual" or graphics-based industries and consumer-facing spaces, mainly because they tend to be the simplest to manipulate for consumers and the most compatible with the majority of software and devices used by consumers.

Vector-based imagery
Vector-based imagery means that the image is made up of numerous digital points and line segments, to which colors can be set for the line or stroke color (edges of a shape) as well as the fill color (middle area of a shape that is enclosed by line segments and points). Vector-based imagery is not as wide-spread as raster-based and tends to be found within graphics industries and used heavily among graphics professionals and more advanced graphic hobbyists. One of the most common forms of vector-based imagery are corporate or business logos. However, once the logo is market/consumer facing, the logo has likely gone through at least one rasterization process. Therefore, the actual graphic used on customer-facing media, such as websites, screen graphics, digital media, and print media may likely be a raster form of the original vector graphic. Another common, but lesser known form of vector art is simple fonts and type faces. Technically speaking, fonts and type faces used in all word processing software, graphics software, etc. are all vector-based, which allows the fonts to be scaled to be very small or extremely large, without the loss of image quality on the letters. When working with vector-based artwork, if the final output of the artwork requires rasterization, it is VERY IMPORTANT to save a copy of the original artwork in vector form, as it is MUCH easier to refer back to this original file to make edits and changes if they are needed. 

There are benefits and drawbacks to both types of imagery:
Raster imagery pros:
  • Can be created instantly through a variety of graphic/photographic capturing- high quality scanning, high quality digital photography, etc.
  • Able to produce millions of colors, used in high detail photography, fine art, illustrations, etc.
  • Easily able to manage colors by assigning different color profiles specific to individual printer makes/models and other output devices.
  • Easy to adjust colors, color balance, and other visual effects such as blurring, cloning, full or partial transparency, gradations, etc. through tools used to manipulate pixel color, relationships of how color pixels interact and work together to form the image, etc.
  • The nature of raster pixels makes editing across multiple artwork platforms and programs easy, with minimal cross-compatibility issues.
Raster imagery cons:
  • Confined to using high-resolution to get high quality print results.
  • The final output of the image may not be good quality if the original image starts as low quality (ex. imagery downloaded from websites or online google searches).
  • Image quality can degrade depending on how much the image is resaved, the file type used when saved, etc. and often will result in digital noise and artifacts forming within the image itself. 
  • High quality images are often large file sizes and can slow down image processing power and time. 
  • Limited amount of scalability of the graphic before noticeable image quality loss is seen.
Vector imagery pros:
  • Infinitely scalable since it is not dependent on resolution- the same vector image can be scaled smaller than a business card, or as large as a billboard or more, all without losing any resolution or quality. 
  • Can achieve crisp detailed edges of text, fine detail artwork, and more.
  • File sizes are generally smaller in size than raster-based imagery.
  • Can apply gradients, transparencies, partial transparencies, etc. to the elements of the design.
  • Easier to create and manipulate the shapes and forms of design work through adjusting the points, line segments, anchor points to control line curve, etc. which is much more difficult to do similar adjustments in raster-based artwork. 
Vector imagery cons:
  • Usually cannot capture or utilize millions of colors like raster imagery does inherently.
  • Not always compatible with many consumer-level devices, software programs, and other similar platforms.
  • More difficult and/or time-consuming to create finished artwork.
  • May have compatibility issues even with some output devices that are designed to be able to work with vector art, such as when special effects are used- drop shadows, gradients, transparencies and partial transparencies, etc. 

This illustration shows the difference between a vector image vs. a raster image and what happens when they are both enlarged. the scalability of the vector image is infinite, where the scalability of the raster image is limited. 

Common raster-based file types: JPEG/JPG, TIFF/TIF, PNG, PSD (Photoshop), GIF, BMP (Bitmap)

Common vector-based file types: EPS, SVG, PDF, EPS, AI (Adobe Illustrator), CDR (Corel Draw), DXF

Common file types that can support both raster and vector imagery: PDF, EPS, AI (Adobe Illustrator), CDR (Corel Draw)

It is important to understand the differences of raster and vector images when creating artwork for printing projects. Selecting the best type of artwork for the job will help ensure the highest quality imagery and prevent delays and frustrations while editing or manipulating the artwork now or in the future.

For additional information, questions, product support and troubleshooting, please contact JPPlus Advanced Support Team: