What Is a Vector Image and Why You Need One for Your Next Design Project

You’ve been working hard gathering inspiration and other materials for your next design project, so don’t let a blunder like choosing the wrong file format or tool stop you in your tracks before you’ve even started. When it comes to design, file types matter, and the right one can mean the difference between a logo that looks great with no artifacts at any size — perfect for today’s various digital devices and print needs — versus one that’s a small, pixelated mess when viewed at anything other than its native dimensions.

Vector files, unlike rasters, are made up of lines and shapes, not individual pixels, so you can stretch and resize them to your heart’s content without reducing quality or fidelity in the source file. Rasters, on the other hand, look best at a specific size or smaller, as they’re made up of hundreds or thousands of tiny dots that correspond to specific colors and their placement within. Because rasters are typically compressed from a raw source file into a lossy format, they’ll likely have artifacts and other visual issues even at their native resolution — and it’ll only get worse as you resize, crop and shift colors for different uses over time.

Before you start thinking about how to make a vector image, it’s important to know the basics of when and where to use vectors versus raster images.

Why Vector Images?

If you’ve ever tried to increase the size of a typical image you find online, you’ve likely encountered the number one use case for vectors. Vectors are perfect representations of the original format — no matter the size — and they scale up or down without issue. This is in stark contrast to rasterized or pixelated images that are best seen at one native resolution or smaller and cannot be manipulated without losing quality and fidelity in the process.

The secret is that vectors are made up of scalable lines and shapes embedded with true colors, not the fuzzy, color-per-pixel matrix you’ll find with raster images. Funny enough, though, most images you encounter online are intended to be unfaithful representations of their sources, mainly for bandwidth reasons — and for specific applications such as on a specific webpage at a specific size. Indeed, a rasterized image’s file size can be a fraction of its uncompressed, full size. Multiply that by dozens or hundreds of images found on a typical webpage and it can mean the difference between a page that loads in a second or two and something that crawls along for 10 or 20 seconds before a visitor hightails it and leaves.

Unfortunately, however, vectors are a bit more complicated to create than your average raster image, which typically limits their use to logos and designs that are frequently resized — even though raster images are popular formats for exported versions of vector images. But regardless of your bandwidth needs or the file type of your image’s final export, working with a vector gives you the most flexibility and maneuverability when it comes time to create that webpage, newsletter or app since you can easily manipulate and stretch a vector prior to a rasterized export — just make sure to keep the original source vector handy.

So, without further ado, here’s how to make a vector logo.

Step 1: Choose Your Tool

Because there are so many image creation tools out there — from quick online tools to full-featured desktop apps that take years or decades to master — it can be hard to know where to start with vectors.

One of the most popular tools is Adobe Illustrator, which is an industry-standard graphics software for Mac, PC and other platforms.

Other solutions, such as our free online logo maker tool, take a lot of the guesswork out of creating a vector logo by providing you with templatized designs and step-by-step guidance that can help novices create vector-based logos with minimal fuss and time.

In general, if you’re new to vectors, you’re probably better off with an online tool that will walk you through the process of creating a vectorized logo quickly and easily. Illustrator and other full-featured desktop tools are better for seasoned designers with their steep learning curves and expensive pricing structures.

Step 2: Pick Your Colors and Decide on a Concept

Whether you’re designing a corporate logo or a little bit of flourish for a social media profile or just something simple for your portfolio, you’ll have to make some decisions before you get to the design bits. For vectors and logos, less is more, so pick two or three colors that work well together and think about the overall direction you want to go with your vector logo. Once you have your colors and concept set, you’re ready to start designing.

Step 3: Sketch It Out

Before you start clicking away, grab a pad of paper, crayons, colored pencils, markers, pens — whatever you have available — and sketch out a handful of ideas. Try different colors, shading and accents; the more ideas you try here the better equipped you’ll be when you jump on the computer. Especially if you’re not well versed in computer design, you’ll save a ton of time and headache with reliable tools before you start fumbling around through menus, keystrokes and clicks. Even a pen and a piece of lined paper is great for jotting down quick ideas that would take you much longer to realize on the computer — and they may not work anyway.

Step 4: Start Designing Your Logo

In Illustrator, create a new blank document (File > New) and start with the shape tool. Pick one of your colors and begin drawing and manipulating shapes while making use of your reference sketches, layering where necessary and arranging everything into the concept and colors you chose in the previous step. Realistically, you’ll need to be familiar with various design concepts and principles (and have a lot of time) to turn your blank canvas into something resembling a completed logo.

Here’s a basic primer that may help you create a basic illustration.

How to Vectorize a Logo

If you already have a rasterized logo or a design that you’d like to turn into a vector to be resized for a specific application, the good news is that you can use Illustrator or other vector-based design tools to trace your existing image and then tweak it from there.

Here’s a great article that goes through just that from our friends over at MakeUseOf, but note that it could take hours or days to properly vectorize an image, especially if you’re new to Illustrator or you have a limited design background. And, unless you’re looking to become a designer by trade, your time may be better spent taking advantage of tools that make the process easier and allow you to start by browsing designs, not staring at a blank screen.

Creating a Logo from Templates

Our online logo making services (and other online tools like ours) take a lot of the guesswork out of creating logos by providing you with various, professional templates and already completed logos for you to modify, tweak and save for your own use.

Start by loading up our free logo creator and choose from a few standard logo styles.

Examples of initial, icon, badge, and text logo styles.

Next up, pick a font that captures the design aesthetic you’re shooting for. In general, serif fonts — which have decorative lines and tapers — look and feel more traditional than sans serif fonts that capture a more modern look. But these aren’t absolutes; there are plenty of ways to make a serif font look more modern or to make a sans serif look more traditional. Even if you’re not sure, or you’ll know when you see it, you can pick multiple fonts and see how text treatment can lend a different character to your design.

Examples of sans serif, serif, script, and display fonts.

After that, simply choose a layout that best represents your intended use, whether it’s a design-y bit at the top with text underneath, text in the middle, text off to the side — or whatever it is that catches your eye.

Examples of four different logo placements.

With all your options selected, we’ll show you various logo concepts that fit your parameters and preferences. If you change your mind, you can easily customize the results from the left-hand bar, or you can search for specific logos as a starting point using our custom logo search.

Once you’ve chosen a design, customize it by clicking the edit button. Here, you can revisit the layout, colors, and text in an easy to use editor that does much of the heavy lifting for you.

Step 5: Save Your Logo

When you’re done editing and tweaking your design, it’s time to save. Typically, this is done in your program’s File > Save or Export menu. But be careful. You’ll want to save your logo in the right format to ensure compatibility and the ability to resize down the line. If you save it as a png, tiff, gif, jpeg or other raster exports (tip: make sure you’re aware of proper file types for image transparency), all your work will be for naught unless you also save a vectorized version.

The good thing is that there are plenty of vectorized file formats, and any one of them are fine to ensure the futureproofing of your design. AI (Adobe Illustrator Artwork) is the native file format of Illustrator. When you go to save your file, it’ll typically default to this file type, and if you only want to work in Illustrator and other systems that open and work with AI files, there’s not much more you need to do.

However, if you want to collaborate with others or pass off the file to the client for additional uses, it may be best to go with a standard vector file type that doesn’t limit your options. EPS (Encapsulated PostScript) and SVG (Scalable Vector Graphic) are two universal file types that work in various programs — SVG also has the distinction of being supported by most web browsers — and it’s not a bad idea to save multiple copies of your logo in AI, EPS and SVG format to cover all your bases.

Our free logo designer does this, and it’s a crucial aspect of vector-based designs — after all, if you don’t have your logo’s source file in multiple, compatible formats, you may be limited in the changes you can do in the future. Once you have your vector saved in the appropriate vector-based formats, you may also want to save out rasterized versions for email or other uses, though you could always go back and create an export whenever needed. Note that many social media platforms still rely on rasterized images of specific sizes, so you’ll need exports for these anyway.

Vector-Based Design for the Win!

With these simple tips, we hope we’ve helped you understand the benefits of using vectors in your important design projects. While there are still many uses for raster images in digital design, vectors are best for logos and images that must work across multiple devices, screens, print applications, etcetera.

Seriously, once you go vector, you won’t want to deal with blurry, pixelated raster images ever again. We don’t blame you, and we welcome you over to the vector side. Better yet, cut some time out of your next vector-based logo project and give our free tool a try. It’s easy for novices, those new to design, and even experts can cut down on design time by loading one of our beautiful designs into their favorite editing tool.

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