What is the Difference Between Vector and Raster Images?

Vector vs Raster Images

Graphic design can be confusing for some folks. Especially if this is your first foray into creating a graphic representation of your product or brand.

One of the most common choices to make is: in which format will you create your design? Will it be a raster image, created in a program like Photoshop; or, a vector image, created in a program like Illustrator?

So, what is the difference?

Vector images are made up of various vector elements. Vectors are shapes with a color descriptor attached whose size and shape is determined by a mathematical formula. For instance: a rectangle with ratio of 2 x 1 units that has a color of 0,100,100,0. This would be a set shape, and could rescale endlessly to be 1″ x 2″, 0.5″ x 1″ or 100″ x 200″. ¬†With vector images, you can submit artwork without worrying about resolution. The printer or press will interpret the image and maximize the possible resolution on the fly.


Raster images are made of pixels, which are the individual dots of color that make up an image. If you zoom into a picture close enough, you will see blocks of color that when seen from a distance, look fluid and create the impression of a photograph or natural eye sight. A design in pixels has a set number of colored pieces that have a determined value. For instance, an image designed in a raster program might have dimensions of 200 x 400 pixels. That means there can only be 80,000 total pieces of information to describe the image. The more pixels, the more detailed and smooth an image will appear. We recommend using 800 x 800 pixels per inch of print (called resolution). If you are printing a nutraceutical label that is 2″ x 5″, you would end up with 6,400,000 pixels of detail to describe your image. However, if you used our minimum pixel recommendation, you would only have 900,000 pixels to describe your image. That is a drastic difference.

Landscape Raster Stack

Basically, we’re saying

Vectors describe in general terms. Raster describes in exactness.


  • Great for simple shapes
  • Great for scalable design (used on multiple sizes of labels)
  • Keeps details clean at all sizes
  • Not great for highly detailed design work (you have to manipulate too many individual shapes)


  • Great for highly detailed design work
  • Not great for scaling up, but scaling down works
  • Great for incorporating photographs
  • Great for applying effects (blur, shadow, posterize, etc.)

In the end

Keep in mind, when talking about printing, everything ends up being produced with a set resolution. Every press has a certain number of dots (physical equivalent of pixels) per inch that it can lay down. Printing plates, inkjet droplets or electo-ink drawings all rely on dot patterns to produce your design as a physical label. So, regardless of using raster or vector artwork, it all ends up being interpreted as dots in the long run.

Using the highest specific resolution of a press for raster images is always the best idea. Doing so maximizes the crispness or cleanness of your design when printing. Using resolution that is below our minimum standard can result in blurry and hard to read text or unattractive images.


If you are designing a small of artwork, consider using vector. This allows for the resolution to be finalized as the piece is printed or displayed on a screen for proofing. If you choose the resolution, or total number of pixels, early in the process, if the size needs to be tweaked, it will change how the image is presented visually. The more pixels present per inch of print or screen, the sharper the image can be.

If you need help or any further explanations, give us a call at 877-277-4682 or click the “Live Chat” link at the bottom of this page. We love helping people in any way that we can.

Link to live quote page

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