What is a Vector File?

Why this format so important in brand identity management.

In the simplest terms, a vector version of your logo is a specialized image format that you can use in certain applications when creating brand identity artwork and media. From a technical point of view, this format is vastly different than pixel based image formats, photographs and logos that you are used to seeing on websites.

Vector Files: Technical

In technical terms, a vector graphics file is your logo artwork, broken down into a series of geometric shapes, consisting of outlines that are curved and joined at X Y coordinates or points. These coordinates and shape outlines are stored as mathematical equations, creating small and portable file sizes that are infinitely editable. This is what a vector file looks like in preview mode (left,) wireframe mode (right,) and without vectors visible (inset.)vector-logo-artwork-exampleThe blue and black lines represent the outside edge of vector shapes while the little blue & black squares are control or vector points.

Like Rubber Bands Around Nails

In the simplest terms, you can imagine a vector shape as a rubber band, wrapped around nails that have been pushed into a pegboard. The vector shapes work pretty well the same way. Move the nail and the ‘rubber band’ shape will change. The idea of vector formats also applies to and typography that’s featured in your design. When type has been converted to a vector shape, it is no longer editable as type (but is editable as artwork) and doesn’t require the font used to be installed in the computer that’s opening up the file. These are referred to as outline fonts.

Vector Formats:

Vector formats can generally be identified by the following file extensions –
.EPS (Encapsulated Postscript.)
.AI (Adobe Illustrator proprietary format.)
.PDF (Portable Document Format.)
.SVG (Small Vector Graphics – a vector based web format that requires browser support.)
.CDR (Corel Draw proprietary format.)

Pros of Vector Files:

✓ Editable in terms of basic design or colors (globally or isolated elements.)
✓ Unlimited resolution allows for enlargement and use at very large sizes.
✓ File sizes do not increase when a vector based image is used at larger size.
✓ Can be background agnostic. Vector files sit on a transparent background by default.
✓ Can be used to create pixel based raster images at various resolutions.
✓ Small file sizes makes vector files easy to transport and to send via email.
✓ Can be set up using Pantone spot colors.

Cons of Vector Files:

✘ Requires specialized design software to view or edit (with the exception of PDFs which can be viewed with most internet browsers, PDF viewers and in modern mail platform programs and applications.)
✘ Requires a degree of technical knowledge to manage.

Resolution Considerations:

Vector files have unlimited resolution and can be enlarged or reduced to ANY size without any issues. Vector files print at the highest resolution of the device that’s printing them.

Vector File Uses:

Vector files can be used for anything that’s being printed – letterheads, stationery, business cards, brochures, etc. They can be used for silk-screening – T-shirts, collateral marketing material (mugs, key chains.) Can be imported into some office software applications but not all. Vector files are consider “source files” – these are formats that include the proper color, aspect ratio and “look” of the logo, so any pixel based raster images created from these “source” files should be consistent.

Not Appropriate For:

✘ Vector files are generally not for website use (requires a raster or pixel based image) or for addition to some office software like Microsoft Word or Excel (while you may be able to insert the file as a “picture” the software will create a pixel based image of the vector art, colors may shift and the artwork may change appearance.) Some office supply shops that offer printing cannot use vector based files as their imposition software requires a pixel based image such as a .JPG.)

Vector Files – Frequently Asked Questions

Can I edit Vector Files myself?

In the purest sense, anyone can edit a vector file version of their logo. It does require professional level design software such as Adobe Illustrator (there are free versions of comparable software available online) or similar. This software has a a steep learning curve and requires a certain level of experience to operate. It’s highly advisable that if you require editing of your vector files, you employ the services of a design professional, or at least someone who has experience with the software and concepts related to your requirements.

If I change the extension of an image file, does that make it into a Vector File?

No. Changing a file name extension – .JPG for example – to a vector based format name – .EPS for example – will not change the contents of the original file. On certain operating system versions, if you double click on the icon of a file, it will attempt to open up the appropriate software if available on your system. Changing the file name may interfere with that procedure.

If I "save as" an image into a vector format does it become a Vector File?

No. If you save a pixel based raster image – a .JPG for instance – as a vector format – .EPS for example – what will happen is the file will contain an embedded .JPG image. This image will not have any of the properties of a vector file, nor will it be able to be used as a typical pixel based raster image. Embedding an image inside a .PDF has no effect on its properties, nor does it make editing any easier.

Can I import Vector Files into Microsoft Word?

You can import Vector Files into Microsoft Word by using the “insert picture” function BUT Word will create an image file of the file and it probably will not appear as expected – certain elements of your logo may appear bolder or even a different color. This is particularly true if your logo art features Pantone spot colors. You can insert some vector based files into Microsoft Word (or similar) using the “insert object” function – .PDFs and .EPS’s are advised – but even then, there may be some distortion and vector abstracts created in the insertion. It is always advisable to use pixel based raster images with Word, .JPGs and .PNGs are sufficient, but .BMPs are best for optimum clarity. Always remember that ANY pixel based image can be no larger that 100% or less of the original image size or individual pixels will become visible and your logo will appear “fuzzy” or “blurry.”

How can I convert a pixel based raster image to a Vector File?

There are software solutions that can convert pixel based raster images into vectors. The Image Trace function in Adobe Illustrator is one such application. There are also online vector conversion tools such as Vector Magic that offer economical stand alone solutions. Results on automatic conversion are usually not very precise as the software has to compensate for the pixels in the source image. Results are better with higher resolution images. It is always preferable to redraw the image from scratch and replace any typography with original type that can be converted to pristine vectors. This will require the services of a designer who can accurately interpret the original logo art by eye and utilize the tools available in professional design software to ensure that the new logo is precise to the source material.

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