An Introduction To Vector Art
If you have an interest in illustration or graphic design you have surely come across the term “vector art”. Whether you are seriously considering a career in the industry or you simply wish to nourish your enthusiasm, understanding what vector art is and how can you take advantage of it could be a major game-changer.
What is vector art?
Vector art is a digital image generated by geometric coordinates. In high school, we learned that a vector is an entity defined by magnitude and length over a plane. Thus, vector shapes are the connection of points through lines called “paths”. Therefore, every shape in a vector image is a number that can be endlessly altered.
It is quite more complex to explain vectorial functions than it actually is to use them to make visuals. In this article, we’ll go through the reasons why “endless” is precisely the most relevant idea when it comes to vector art.
I. Differences Between Vector and Raster
The most relevant consequence of vector art being based on a mathematical function is that every aspect of the path can be modified as many times as needed in as many ways as the program is prepared to do.
This is not possible with raster art, those images based on pixels. When applying a brushstroke in Photoshop, for example, the software allocates certain colors over an area occupied by a certain number of pixels. You can modify this pixel configuration by painting or erasing, but you cannot modify the appearance of any particular stroke once you have applied it.
This has a few very relevant consequences when choosing what kind of software to use for digital art and design. Let us take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of using vector programs.
While you can change the size of an area occupied by certain pixels, this redimensioning will affect the appearance of the artwork. If you are working with a high pixel resolution, let’s say 300 pixels per inch (ppi) or above, and the resizing is not dramatic, you will barely notice the change.
But what if you have drawn a small doodle of a few centimeters and you wish to turn it into a 100 cm document to print?
If you try something like this with a raster image the result will be more than disappointing and completely useless.
Now, imagine you have started to design an icon or logo for a web page and you are using a recommended low resolution for this purpose (usually it's 72 ppi to allow very light files to be quickly and efficiently uploaded into any screen).
You hit the spot: You like it and your client does too. He wants to print it on his business stationary and maybe even on a large scale sign.
If you are using Illustrator or any other vector-based software, no one has to worry about anything: the vector image can be resized to match Godzilla and it will not lose any quality whatsoever.
Let us remain in the same imaginary vector software where we have designed our million-dollar logo. In order to make it a two-million-dollar logo, you realize you need to modify one of its curves.
If you were doing this with a raster program, you would have to erase and redraw, which implies the very obnoxious problem of matching the aspect of the line with the utmost precision.
However, since we are still using vectors, you just have to turn on something called “nods”, which are the turning points in our shape and you can modify them as you please without destroying any section of the path. Voilá, you have an even better design in a fraction of the time it would have taken in a raster software.
Still, if need be, you can cut the line and modify it using the nods… And then you can close it again using the same tool!
It does take practice, but there’s a reason why every graphic designer uses primarily vector applications.
3. Stroke Appearance
And now your client wishes for a grunge version of the logo. Something fresh, almost calligraphic, and maybe with a tad of color on a particular spot.
Once more, thanks to the magic of vector art, you can take your design, select any particular path that needs to be modified and choose one of the ink or charcoal-like brushes on your software's library.
It is possible that this modification doesn’t quite look as you imagined at first. Just go to your stroke control and you can adjust its width (in Affinity Designer you can even adjust several different widths within a single path). There are plenty of professionally made vector brushes you can purchase to achieve precisely the result you want.
Finally, click on the spot your client wishes to be the colored cherry-on-top and choose any color swatch you desire. Duplicate it if you are looking for something reddish but you can’t decide between two or more options.
This is also a very effective and fun way to present several versions of the same idea and it is much easier when using vector art.
1. Flat Color
This is not entirely a disadvantage, but rather a characteristic of vector art. It can even be an advantage depending on the kind of work you are doing, but it certainly tilts the outcome balance towards more comic or graphic-like artwork.
This trait makes vector art ideal for inking or making diagrams.
While there are some very fine-tuned brushes that allow you to achieve marker-like or watercolor-like pieces, the truth is vector art is at major disadvantage with respect to raster art when it comes to digital painting because colors and brushstrokes cannot be smudged or blended with each other. Simply put: vector art is not conceived for this purpose.
This time let us imagine that you want to draw an animal or a person. If you did this with most vector apps, you’d have to deal with the path and nod adjusting we have mentioned before.
We have explained how marvelously helpful this is when making a logo, an icon, or an illustration for a poster, but when it comes to sketching or speed painting, vector workflow is just too loaded with filters and tool operations, even in very user-friendly interfaces.
IV. What Is The Best Vector Software?
1. The Top Spot
In my opinion, which takes into account the wide and old debate in the industry, there is a tough competition between two challengers for the first spot. And I give the victory to CorelDRAW over Adobe Illustrator.
There are several factors to consider which would likely alter your own answer to this question once you have used vector software for a few projects over the years.
Corel is slightly more powerful when it comes to vectorizing images. This means that you can take a photo into the program and convert it into a vector image with a few clicks. Illustrator also has a powerful vectorizing tool, whereas Corel’s engine yields better results.
Corel’s interface is also more intuitive and user-friendly than Illustrator.
Some operations that would take three different tools in AI would only take one in Corel.
Corel is also conceived as a professional print generator, and its presets are flawless. This could save you a lot of headaches when making artwork for textile prints or laser cuts.
And there’s the heavy matter of money and purchase modalities: you can choose between buying or renting Corel for respectively 500 or 250 USD (roughly), whereas Illustrator can only be rented at least 240 USD per year.
A relevant difference here is that the Corel price covers several other design programs, while the Adobe Suite annual subscription (including Photoshop, InDesign, After Effects, Premiere Pro, and many others) costs 600 USD.
So if you’re strictly looking for the best performing vector app, Corel might be the way to go, although we should mention that, in expert hands, Illustrator can accomplish virtually anything Corel does.
Do not forget, however, that the most used and requested vector format in the industry is the Adobe Illustrator (.ai) file.
2. Other Options
A very commendable third place goes to Affinity Designer, a multi-awarded app by Serif that was released in 2014. It has caught up almost to Illustrator’s heels in a very short period of time.
For some people, it has even made the Adobe subscription superfluous. But the truth is that some of the most powerful and advanced features of Corel or AI, such as 3D projections and vectorization maps are not yet available in this software. Nevertheless, at roughly 50 USD without subscription, it is certainly a major value purchase. The iPad version is cheaper and almost as powerful.
There are other free options such as Inkscape and Krita which would allow you to get away with simple projects, but they’re far away from the juggernauts or even Affinity Designer.
A very interesting mobile app which is conceived as a sketching hybrid between raster and vector is Concepts by Top Hatch. It still feels clanky from time to time, but it is the most powerful digital sketchbook in the market.
V. Related Questions
1. What Is Vector Image Used For?
Vector Image is used for logos, typography, infographics, editorial illustration, animation, architecture. I might be missing a few, but basically, anything that does not need to be pictorial. Some very skilled illustration artists even feel comfortable doing comic art, which requires a very quick and fluid workflow, with vectors.
2. Is A JPEG A Vector File?
The Joint Photographic Experts Group file (JPEG) is a raster (pixel-based) file, such as a Portable Network Graphics file (PNG ) or a Photoshop Document (PSD) and not a vector file.