Chances are if you’ve downloaded enough image files over the years, you’ve probably had a time or two where you ran into a vector file. In those curious moments your laptop, phone, or tablet probably popped up a bunch of different options to try to open it. Chances are also good that none or perhaps only one did a sufficient job of actually opening the image.

This might have left you wondering what the secret is? Why are some files Vector files and why are vectors files so much more challenging to see than a typical JPEG or a Gif.

With so much confusion, we decided to take a look at the mysterious vector file and all its potential uses. This involves asking answering a few key questions.

What Is a Vector File?

A vector file is created using mathematical formulas based on a designer’s established points on a virtual grid. The mathematics behind it is very similar to those used in the world of physics when calculating the vector of an object in motion. Except, in this case, it isn’t tracking the movement of an object through space and time, but rather the path of a line. This can be an independent line, a series of lines, or if those lines connect, it creates a two-dimensional shape.

This also translates into virtually unlimited scalability. You can trust that the vector-generated line or shape will have the same two-dimensional characteristics whether it is 3 inches by 3 inches or 30 feet by 30 feet. All without warping or becoming pixelated, which tends to happen with lower resolution images like Jpegs, Gifs, and even TIFFs.

Who Uses Vector Files?

You might be surprised to hear that Vector files have been in use for a long time. They are especially prevalent with graphic designers and screen printers, though they started out decades ago as part of the US SAGE air defense system as a way to allow operators to plot allied and enemy aircraft’s location on the same map using a series of inputs.

Today they are largely used by graphic designers who prioritize images with high-resolution requirements. In the garment printing industry, they were a technological upgrade from the razor-sharp precision offered by physical cut-ruby Lith.

Today the term “Vector Image” refers to a two-dimensional digital image used in print media and design work. They are created by sophisticated software programs like Adobe Illustrator.

How To Recognize A Vector File Before Downloading?

Chances are you’ve seen images that end with an ending like JPEG, gif, PNG, or RAW. These file extensions describe some of the image’s characteristics inside the specific file and are typically used for raster-based images.

When it comes to vector images you often see files that end in things like .ai for Adobe Illustrator or .EPS for Encapsulated PostScript. Every now and then you’ll see .svg, which stands for Scalable Vector Graphics. This is an XML-based vector image file that is used for rare occasions when vector images need to be used for internet-based graphics.

Can Vector Images Be Used To Create Raster Graphics?

One of the interesting things about Vector images is that they can be exported into raster-based graphics. Special programs like Adobe Illustrator can translate the colors and dynamic shapes of a vector image into pixels like you see being used in Jpegs and other file formats.

The end result is typically an image that has greater clarity and detail than if it was originally created as a raster graphic. It’s also worth noting that the reverse is not true. Raster graphics cannot be turned directly into vector graphics without first going through a conversion program such as Adobe Streamline. This type of software will essentially make a “Best Guess” at what the raster images pixels would look like when translated into vectors. The end result is usually a vector image with a lot of extra points and ragged edges.

What Is The Relationship Between Vector Images and PDFs?

One of the easiest ways to transfer a vector image to another format is to export it as a Portable Document File, or PDF. PDFs can be used to hold a variety of images and information. Things like topographical maps and vector-based designs or masters of a logo can often be exported directly into a PDF file.

This is a great way to let someone view a vector file as it truly would appear on-screen even if they don’t happen to have the necessary software to open the actual vector file. A lot of graphic designers and logo developers will create a design in a vector-based program like Adobe Illustrator, and then export it as a PDF to send to their client as a proof. This lets the client see the razor-sharp resolution that a vector file creates, without having to make a sizable investment in an Adobe software suite.

When Would I Need To Use a Vector File?

Vector images are incredibly versatile, and their stunning resolution makes them a great place to start designing graphics and logos before exporting them to become Jpegs, gifs, or TIFFs. They are also especially helpful in print and design work. Though they tend to be reserved for the world of graphic designers.

If you are going into graphic design, then you would do well to have a vector-based program like Adobe Illustrator in your software arsenal. Then take the time to become proficient with them. If anything, it can come in handy for times when you need to create highly detailed images that you can export for use on a website.

What Is The Best Way To Open A Vector File?

If someone sends you a vector file or you need to use one there is a free image tool called Irfanview that will let you view it. Though to be able to edit it with any proficiency you need a vector editing tool, like Adobe Illustrator.

If you have Adobe Photoshop or a similar free emulator, you might be able to open it directly or use a special “Import” function to open it. This will essentially translate the postscript vector information into raster pixels. You will lose some of the inherent resolution, but you should be able to carefully make edits using the vector tools that are available in some of the higher versions of Photoshop.

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