Pop quiz: You’re having a garage sale and want to print off some colourful images to put on signs to advertise it. You go online and find a cute pic, and copy and paste it into Word, but it’s too small. So you drag the edges to make it a full page. What happens?
If you answered “It becomes blurry/distorted/pixelated” you’d be right.
But do you know why?
Chances are the picture you used had a file extension of either JPG/JPEG or PNG. You probably recognize those as two of the most common file types for images (along with GIF, TIFF and others). What you might not know is that these file formats are known as “raster” graphics or images.
Raster images are made of millions of tiny squares known as pixels, which you can actually see if you zoom in or look very closely.
The most common type of raster graphic is photographs. When photos are used in print media like books, magazines and newspapers, the images are saved at a high DPI (dots per inch) so that quality will not suffer during the printing process. A higher DPI can give images rich detail and allows for precise editing right down to individual pixels. On the flip side, a higher DPI means a larger file size, which can become an issue online, since it can slow down upload times.
Raster images are the standard in digital photography and are commonly used for all graphics that are published digitally. But even though the majority of images you find online are raster images, they were likely saved at a much lower resolution, which keeps them looking great for most digital applications but renders them not suitable to reproduce in print. That’s because raster images use a fixed number of pixels, so enlarging them substantially will compromise their resolution and they’ll end up distorted and grainy.
That’s why the image you try to use for your garage sale signs won’t be as crisp as you’d like it to be when you try to enlarge it.
It’s also why we would never simply pull your current logo from your website to use on a print brochure, say, or on the side of a bus. And we certainly would never use it as a starting point to refresh your old logo or design a new one; it just won’t work. That’s where “vector” files come in.
If you vaguely remember the word “vector” from high school math, you’re on the right track. Unlike raster images (which use a finite number of pixels), vector images are made of thin lines and curves and are rooted in mathematical theory. Because these images use a formulaic approach, they can be limitlessly resized and rescaled without compromising the quality of the image. No matter how large you make it or how closely you zoom in, the quality of the image and smoothness of the edges will not change.
The most common vector file format extensions are EPS, AI and PDF. Because these files use formulas instead of pixels, their file sizes tend to be smaller, which makes them easy to transmit. However, since they are usually saved as native files from the program they were created with, not everyone can access them. That’s why vector images are often converted into raster images for specific purposes.
Now, no one expects you to create a garage sale sign using Adobe Illustrator. But when it comes to your business, designing and creating your logo as a vector file is the only way to go. It offers great flexibility and can be resized or rescaled as necessary for any conceivable print or digital project. Having a master vector file is invaluable, since it means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for every new marketing strategy. Your master vector file can then be used to create any kind of raster images necessary for any kind of marketing project, from your website to that brochure or yes, even the side of a bus.
Got any questions about image files? Give CP Business Solutions a call.
(And if you’re planning a garage sale, let us know… we love a good bargain!)