The Guide to Vector Design

Develop your edge as an artist and designer with CorelDRAW’s Guide to Vector Design. Learn the basics of vector graphics and design, and feel empowered to tackle any challenge that comes your way.

What is Vector Art?

What is Vector Art?

In this first chapter, we're breaking down the definition of vector art, what vectors are, why designers should use them, what you can make with them, and more. As you work your way through each chapter of this series, you'll learn about the history of vector art, its role in pop culture and business, careers as a vector graphic artist, and more.

Using design elements defined using a sequence of mathematical statements or commands, users can create stunning two or three-dimensional vector graphics. Called vectors, these lines, points, curves, and shapes in these graphics allow designers to create artwork that can scale almost anywhere and at any size without losing quality.

Even though they're primarily in the digital space, vectors are in the world all around us – when you see a bus wrap or a company logo on the side of a building, those are vector art designs. If you're looking for designs with clean edges and a clean look, vector graphics software allows you to create these stunning pieces of artwork.

Vector illustration is a valuable design skill for digital designers because it allows them to resize designs infinitely without sacrificing quality. We will discuss that and a deep dive into what vector graphics are, why you should use them, what you can make, and who uses these designs in this guide.

What are vector graphics?

In simple terms, a vector graphic is defined by math and considered the exact opposite of raster images. In other words, raster images store data as a map of pixels and vectors are a service of mathematically defined lines and shape. If you were to zoom in on a vector, that wouldn't affect its clarity. No matter how far you zoom in or out, you'll always see crisp edges – that's where these graphics differ from raster images. You'd see pixels if you zoom in on a raster image, whereas a vector is infinitely scalable.

You can find examples of vector designs on everyday things like bus wraps or large-scale print items like billboards. Think of it this way – if you're looking at a flat design, it's most likely a vector design. Keep in mind, though, that if you see something that's photo-real, that's a raster image.

If you need something like a logo, an icon, or a flat illustration, vector graphics are ideal. The main reason is that they're small files despite their infinite scalability. Vector graphics are also much easier to manipulate if you need to make a new shape, join two points, or adjust a curve.

Why use vectors when creating art?

Why use vectors when creating art?

Vector art is a technical term for using mathematical algorithms to create simple illustrations using geometric shapes, lines, and curves. These math-based designs use geometry and are stored as a series of formulas rather than pixels as in photography.

Vector graphics show up in many different formats. You might see file extensions showing .eps or .svg or .ai or .pdf. Each has a different use.

  • CDR: These vector graphics files store as digital images encoded and compressed so users can open and edit them using CorelDRAW.
  • EPS (Encapsulated Postscript): This image consists of bitmap and vector data whereby the vector information is editable using graphics software. This file format is a standard requirement for high-quality and professional image printing.
  • SVG (Scalable Vector Graphic): XML-based images render two-dimensional graphics that allow these image files to be searched, indexed, scripted, and compressed.
  • AI (Adobe Illustrator Artwork File): Native vector files created by Adobe systems. You'll find it in print media and logos. Though similar to EPS files, their syntax is compact and restricted.
  • PDF (Portable Document Format): Create files using vector image software to exchange documents like brochures, flyers, and other assets where you don't want designs to shift.

Vector graphics can make things appear with deeper dimensions than just a flat image. For example, a 2D image like a circle, triangle, square, rectangle, or pentagon can become a 3D cylinder, pyramid, cube, or prism using vector graphics software.

What can I make with vector art?

Professional and non-professional designers and illustrators in all genres use vector art in many ways to create bold, crisp graphics to use anywhere ‒ for example:

  • Web Design and UX (User Experience design): Because of the scalability of vector graphics, it's a perfect creative tool for web design. One image can appear on different devices of varied sizes without distortion or loss of quality.
  • Logos: You can design a logo using simple shapes that can be blown up to infinity, and your design will never lose quality. Logos must be high-quality and consistent, and the flexibility of vector graphics allows them to be both in almost every application imaginable.
  • Billboards, posters, and flyers: Vector art sings on billboards, posters, and flyers because it's so clean, clear, consistent, and sharp, no matter how big or small.
  • Apparel: Vector artwork is a must-have for embroidery and sublimation processes used in custom clothing manufacturing so the machinery can follow clean, crisp lines. And if you want to design t-shirts, blankets, ceramics, or other custom gifts, print-on-demand companies prefer vector art.

You can learn more about what you can create with vector art by reading this chapter in our series: What can you make with vector art?

So what sort of people create and use vector art?

So what sort of people create and use vector art?

The emergence of "flat design" between 2010 and 2020 serves as a catalyst for who creates and uses vector art. Previously, brands preferred designs featuring drop shadows, embossing, or highly detailed. Then, a shift occurred during this decade, leaning toward cleaner and crisp designs. Instead of designs featuring a lot of "noise," like textures and ornamental features, brands wanted to see minimalist, clean, and crisp designs.

Digital artists predominantly use vector art to enhance digital presentations, infographics, mobile apps, and websites. You'll also find these graphics in advertising and marketing assets and other brand collateral. Other examples of who creates and uses vector art include:

  • Web/UX designers: These designers prefer vector graphics because they look great regardless of your device. The scalability of these graphics makes them responsive, so even if you're looking at them on a handheld device or a large monitor, the images are clear. As a value-add, vector graphics support transparency, expanding a web designer's capabilities exponentially.
  • Print industry: Graphic designers use vector art in the print industry because they provide higher-quality, crisper designs than raster images. For example, if the designer wants to print on apparel, there's no loss of clarity or quality.
  • Illustrators: These professionals use vector art software to produce outputs similar to if they weren't using a digital tool – crisp lines, organic images, and realistic drawings. For example, if they need to create an image featuring color, lighting, and shading techniques, they can achieve that with vector graphics.
  • CAD/Engineers: CAD is a 3D mapping tool that uses similar logic as vector design software. For example, if you want to make a cube, you'll use the same design principles whereby you map specific points and join them with lines, and that's the same geometry you'd use to create a vector. When engineers need to map complex images, they can use that math to create those designs. For example, if they're designing a hillside with a cool-looking slope, that's all vectors and tiny polygons.

Beyond the ways vector art appears in business mentioned above, you’ll also find vector art in popular culture, including comic books, animation, video games, fashion, and tattoos.

How long have we been using vectors for?

We can trace vector graphics to the 1950s in early computers because they took up less space than bitmap or raster images. In their earliest days, these graphics were ideal because they featured simple displays that didn't require a significant amount of memory. Because early computer systems had far less memory, vector-based displays were a better choice.

In 1963, a scientist at MIT, Ivan Sutherland, created a program called Sketchpad. It was the first implementation of digital image editing and is now considered the early beginning of CAD programs and computer graphics. Sketchpad organized geometric data, or what we refer to now as GUI, ultimately leading to CorelDRAW and similar image editors.

In the 1970s, the video game industry sprang to life. Earlier games had been text-based, but vector graphics were a game-changer that led to using better consoles and, ultimately, home computers with more powerful processors.

Previously thought of data processing machines for businesses, the 1980s changed that by bringing personal computers into the home. Their early introduction of graphic arts to home computer users made it possible for users to play games, input data, calculate budgets, and create designs. That was an important step as users shifted from print to digital.

We have a more-detailed vector art timeline in this chapter of our series: Vector Art in History.

Final thoughts: What is vector art?

Of all the benefits of using vector art, scalability tops the list. Because they’re math-based, that places vector graphics at the forefront of design assets in the digital world. Professional and hobby artists can use these images to create a body of impressive work that’s crisp and features clean lines no matter the device they’re using. CorelDRAW’s functionality allows digital artists to create powerful image files no matter the size or application.

In the next chapter of this series, you'll learn about the history of vector graphic art.

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