What is a Vectorized Image?

In this handy guide, we've outlined the basics of vectorization, so that you understand the difference between vectors and pixel-based (raster) images, the mathematical work involved in converting images to vectors, and the software required to make it happen. 

What is a Vectorized Image?

When we enlarge or zoom in on a raster image, we start to see pixels and artifacts, so this image style cannot be used for large-scale projects. On the other hand, vectors are composed of mathematical shapes and lines, which can be expanded (or contracted) thousands of times without running into problems. This makes vector graphics much more versatile than raster graphics. 

"Vectorizing" is the process of converting a pixel-based image (ex. JPEG and PNG files) into a vector-based version (SVG, EPS, and EMF files), with every facet of the image treated as a line or shape. This includes any text, symbols, and other tiny details. With a quality vectorization, the two image formats should be indistinguishable to the naked eye. 

Which Images are Suitable for Vectorization?

Not all raster images look great when converted to vectors, especially detailed photographs that feature people and animals. On the other hand, logos, cartoons, schematics, and other images that rely on geometry are ideal for vectorization, because they can be replicated easily with lines and shapes.      

How are Vectors Used in the Real World?

  • Graphic Design: Converting a raster graphic to a vector graphic allows for easy resizing, without loss of quality. 
  • Geography: Today, geographic systems scan aerial images and then vectorize them to create detailed, accurate maps. 
  • Architecture: Paper blueprints are scanned and converted to vectors, so they can be manipulated and shared in digital form.
  • Pattern Recognition: Optical technology converts signatures and handwriting into vectors, so that they can be digitized (and easily searchable). 

What Software Programs Can Vectorize My Image?

Perhaps the most popular graphic editing program with vectorization features is Adobe Illustrator, which has a "Live Trace" function that can detect curves and create vectors from them. Other options include Corel PowerTRACE (which is accessible through Corel PowerDRAW) and Potrace (an open-source program). 

However, the best vectorization results are achieved manually. By loading a raster graphic into a program like Illustrator, tracing each shape separately, and then combining them as a new vector file, you have way more control over the final graphic. 

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