Raster vs Vector

Raster vs. Vector

Before we get into the specific formats, we first need to explain the difference between the two major types of images: raster and vector.

Raster images contain pixels for detail. Think of pixels as individual dots or points in a two-dimensional array. The more pixels in the image, the more detail that image will have. When you zoom in or blow the image up, however, the quality will eventually degrade and become “pixelated”. Digital photographs like those taken by a digital camera or scanned electronically are raster images. You can use our "Image Converter to convert almost any image extension to whatever you want totally free!

Vector images do not contain pixels. Instead, they use mathematical formulas to determine the shape and color of lines and areas between points on a 2-dimensional landscape. The detail is determined by the number of points and complexity of the curves between those points. This way, when the image is blown up, the quality is not compromised in any way. Simple graphics such as logos and illustrations are generally created as vector images so they can be blown up to any size without sacrificing quality. This is usually the preferred format for printers (like us) whenever possible.

Raster Formats

JPEG – Joint Photographic Experts Group
Extensions: .jpg, .jpeg, .jpe, .jif, .jfif, .jfi

The JPEG is one of the most common raster file formats. It’s a format often used by digital cameras as it was designed primarily for electronic use. The main drawback with JPEG compression is that it is lossy, meaning each time the file is edited and re-saved in JPEG format, the quality degrades. In fact, images with such JPEG degradation are common on the web today. This degradation, however, is not a result of copying and sharing the file without recompression (a common misconception).

While JPEGs can be used for printing, they are best suited for electronic display. And because the compression keeps file sizes small it makes an ideal format for sharing and publishing photos on the web. However, JPEGs do not handle text rendering and other sharper lines such as illustrations as well as other electronic formats.

What it is best used for: Sharing and displaying photographic images electronically and on the web, printing photographs.

Advantages: Compatibility, smaller file sizes, good color range

Disadvantages: Lossy compression degrades image quality when edited multiple times, not great for text, simple graphics, or illustrations

GIF – Graphics Interchange Format
Extensions: .gif

GIF was one of the first formats to be widely used to share images and graphics on the web. Today, the format is still widely used for simple web graphics as it has a lossless compression for simple lines and solid colors for electronic display. Though it is slowly being replaced by the PNG file format, GIFs have remained relevant through its major advantage: support for animations.

PNG – Portable Network Graphics
Extensions: .png/strong>
The PNG was a file format designed specifically for web graphics as an improved non-patented replacement for the GIF. It supports lossless compression as not to degrade when edited as with JPEGs. While this can create larger files for complex images such as photographs, simple images with larger areas of solid color and sharper lines can be compressed to a smaller size with limited loss of quality.

One of the other major advantages of PNG files is the ability to contain transparency either full or partial (using an added alpha channel). This gives webmasters and designers more flexibility to create dynamic graphics and layouts on the web. Though unlike GIFs, PNG files do not support animation.

What it’s best used for: simple web graphics like logos, illustrations, or raster text rendering

Advantages Lossless compression, small file sizes for simple graphics, smooth rendering for sharp lines, transparency support

Disadvantages: More complex and larger image files can be large, only supports web colors (RGB), limited compatibility

BMP – Bitmap Image
Extensions: .bmp, .dib

In computing a bitmap is quite literally the mapping of bits, or small pieces of information in its simplest form: zeros and ones. A bitmap image generally refers to the array of pixels in any image. If you’re going to be technical about it, other raster formats (when fully rendered) are displayed as bitmaps.

BMP files, then, are essentially images without compression: containing data for every individual pixel on the image. And since the file format is so widely compatible, it makes an ideal format for working with in image editing programs. Though some BMP formats support compression (lossless and loss), in raw formats (uncompressed) the biggest drawback is its relatively massive file sizes.

What it’s best used for: Image editing, everything

Advantages: Uncompressed for perfect images, near universal compatibility, efficient compression (ZIP, etc.)

Disadvantages: Massive file sizes

TIFF – Tagged Image File Format
Extensions: .tif, .tiff

TIFF is an image file format generally used to work with raw image data. It was initially developed in the 1980s for saving images of documents, a bit like the way many people use PDFs now. Today, TIFF remains a preferred file format for people who need to work with high-quality images, like visual artists and archivists.

Unlike JPEG, TIFF has lossless compression. Please don’t freak out on us. All that means is that when the file is edited or saved, the editing program you’re using doesn’t toss out little bits of information to make the file smaller.

While some digital cameras use the TIFF format, JPEG compression is still more widely utilized. However, many of these cameras also can save using raw image file formats, which can be rendered as TIFF files in order to preserve image quality.

What it’s best used for: Working with photographs without image quality loss, printing

Advantages: Lossless compression, high-quality images, compatible with both PCs and Macs, multiple images and multiple pages can be saved in one file

Disadvantages: Large file sizes, not great for web graphics, minor software compatibility issues

Vector Formats

SVG – Scalable Vector Graphics
Extensions: .svg, .svgz

SVG is a vector graphic format that was created primarily for use in web graphics. Images can actually contain vector & raster images as well as render text. Additionally, SVG supports animation and even interactive features making it an ideal format for the web.

Support for SVG files is somewhat limited, particularly with older web browsers, although most modern browsers do have some support. And though SVG files can be used for print, because they can contain features intended for the web, they are not generally the format preferred by printers.

What it is best for: web graphics, particularly for simple interactive features and animations

Advantages: Scalable (vector), interactive while keeping file sizes relatively small

Disadvantages: Support growing but still limited, not intended for print