The raster versus vector graphics file types have confused the best of us over the years. In this post I’m going to explain the difference, explain why it is important to apparel decorators, and illustrate the main differentiator.
To start let’s look at the technical definitions.
Wikipedia Raster: In computer graphics, a raster graphics image, or bitmap, is a dot matrix data structure representing a generally rectangular grid of pixels, or points of color, viewable via a monitor, paper, or other display medium.
Wikipedia Vector: Vector graphics is the use of geometrical primitives such as points, lines, curves, and shapes or polygon(s), which are all based on mathematical expressions, to represent images in computer graphics.
Wow! Those definitions are incredibly useless. Let’s try it in normal people English.
Vector: Graphics composed of geometric shapes that are infinitely scalable without loss of quality.
Raster: Graphics composed of a series of individual colored dots, or pixels. Scaling may cause loss of quality.
Most apparel decorators prefer to use vector files because scaling graphics is often required to achieve the desired effect. Vector art simply produces the best possible result for the customer. If raster art can be created at the final print size, so scaling is not required, it works just as well too.
The image below demonstrates the scaling results for each file type at four times scaling.
An additional reason that screen printers prefer vector art is that many of the fancy effects that are easily created in raster tools like Photoshop are difficult or impossible to screen print. Having vector files lowers the occurrences of printing issues and complications.
Vinyl cutters require vector files because the cutter has to follow a geometric pattern to cut the desired shape.
Let’s not totally discount raster. Direct-to-garment (DTG) printers produce raster output. So, as long as scaling isn’t an issue, raster is the preferred choice for DTG. That explains why photographs and highly stylized art is so stunning when printed using a direct-to-garment printer.
I’d love to hear about your experience and pain in working with raster and vector files. Leave a comment below.
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