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What Is a Vector File?

Vector files are much more scalable than bitmap images.
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  • Written By: Page Coleman
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 28 September 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A vector file is a type of electronic file used for computer graphics. Some key features are that a vector file describes graphics in terms of mathematical points, coordinates, and shapes. The graphics within a vector file will be easily scalable images. In addition, the vector image file type is frequently used when creating art for print projects.

Vector files are produced in a variety of file formats. For example, one file format type may be an Encapsulated PostScript (EPS) type, and uses EPS as its file suffix. The file suffix might also be a proprietary file type that is created by a software package specifically designed for creating vector graphics. Some of these other vector file formats are AI, CDR, and WMF.

The graphics within a vector file are primarily created by using geometric shapes such as circles, ellipsis, Bezier curves, squares, rectangles, polygons, and lines. More sophisticated designs are created by joining and intersecting shapes. Each shape is treated as an individual object within the larger image. Vector graphics work most effectively when the design is created from shapes filled with single colors or gradients.

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One benefit of vector graphics is that the images are scalable, and graphics can be increased or decreased without distorting the image. This feature makes the vector file type important in the field of logo design, because a graphic designer can easily scale the image to fit a variety of layouts while retaining a sharp and crisp appearance. Vector images are also used for illustrations, animations, cartoons, and scalable fonts.

Graphics within a vector file differ from a bitmap, or raster, graphic image file. Bitmap graphics are made up of pixels, or picture elements, in a grid format that defines the image. These images excel in displaying gradations of color and so they are useful for photographs, but they do not scale well. If they are scaled down the image will lose information, and if they are scaled up the image will appear pixelated.

Another benefit of vector files is that they are relatively small compared to bitmap images. It is also easy for illustration software to convert the art in vector files to bitmap images. Converting a bitmap image to a vector image is difficult for software, and often requires the designer to work with the image to achieve good results.

More sophisticated vector image software applications can use bitmap images as objects along with the traditional vector geometric attributes. In some cases, the images can be rival bitmap images for photorealism. This functionality greatly increases the usefulness of these applications.

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