Vector Formats – What Are They and Why Do You Need Them?

We have talked about some of the more popular image file extensions in previous articles – Best Image File Extensions, Other Popular Image Extensions.  However, those articles only talked about some of the more general types of image extensions, raster images. Image files that are vector formats are more specific types of image and that is what we’re talking about here.

vector formats
Image by Theen Moy

A vector file format (sometimes known as EPS files) store the image in a different way than the more traditional image files.  A traditional, or raster, file format stores the characteristics of each pixel in the image file. Vector formats are stored as lines, shapes and colors that are in a mathematical formula.

When Do You Need Vector Formats?

If you are not already familiar with vector formats, you probably need one because you are trying to submit an image somewhere, but were told that you needed to provide a vector file format instead of the one you gave them.  It is typically used for a lot of website work, handling logos and things like that where the quality and ability to scale the image are very important.

There are other instances when you would need to have an image in a vector file format and most of them are related to making it easier to manipulate the image.  If you just have raster images and don’t have any plans to do anything different or creative with them, you probably won’t need to utilize vector formats.

When the image is in the vector file format, the elements are all separate.  This means you can easily change the color for one of the elements, without having an impact on the others.  This comes in very handy when you want to alter the background of the image, but not the main image.

Another big benefit to using vector formats is that they scale very well.  That means your image will look great as a small thumbnail size, but you can also use the very same image and blow it up to a poster or even billboard size without losing any of the detail or quality.  If you tried this with a standard image file, the image would be nearly unrecognizable if it was blown up that large.

Vector Format Extensions

The most popular of the vector formats is the SVG file extension.  The Scalable Vector Graphics file was created as an open standard format. The purpose of creating the SVG file was to provide people with a file extension that was an all-purpose image file that was also versatile, scriptable and scalable. Due to the scriptable nature of the SVG format, it is frequently used in web applications.

Other types of vector formats include the Gerber format (RS-274X), AI (from Adobe Illustrator), ODG (Open Document Graphics), PPT (Microsoft PowerPoint) and XPS (XML Paper Specification).

If you need to convert from a raster image to a vector file format, (or vice-versa), the first thing you should try is to use an online image converter.  This could save you hundreds of dollars vs. sending your files to a professional to get them converted.