Two technical terms having to do with design that aren’t as complicated as they sound, anyone having anything to do with logos need to know, yet often confuse one for the other.
While we often try to present stuff on our blog from a designer or a design buyer point-of-view, both these terms straddle both. If you’re in the business of designing logos, you need to know them intimately. If you’re a business or startup owner trying your hand at DIY branding you need at least a passing knowledge of the two words in the title of this post. Judging by the number of times I’ve bumped into both designers and startup owners conflating them – if I had a nickel for every time level – it’s probably worthwhile to drop a short explainer piece that outlines what rasterizing and vectorizing logos means, once and for all. Let’s get to it..
Not going to get into a long treatise on logo formats again (done that) or why you need a vector version (here’s a 3 minute video) only to say that you need two types of image formats to use a logo effectively in print and digital. One is a vector. The other is a bitmap. It could be argued that calling pixel-based files bitmaps is where a lot of the confusion lies (technically, pixel-based images are called raster images while bitmap is an actual Microsoft proprietary format, but I digress.) At some point you’ll need to create one from the other and that’s where our two terms come in. Converting a vector based image to a pixel based one is called rasterization, or rasterizing. Turning a pixel-based image into a vector based one is called vectorization, that process being called vectorizing. That’s it. Let’s look at how each works.
Rasterizing a vector image.
Out of our two terms, this one is pretty straight forward. If we where to make a diagram, here’s what it would look like: Most design software applications – Adobe Illustrator for example – have a “save as” or “export” feature. You can simply export your vector image as a pixel-based one and Bob, as they say, is your Uncle (my Uncle was actually called Roy, but whatever.) There are a few tips to doing this that involve image resolution, but in a nutshell as long as your pixels per inch is at the right level – for the web, and in general terms, that would be 72 – your target color space is correct for where you want to put it, you can convert any vector based logo file into a pixel-based one with little fuss. The converse is not true. Like at all.
Vectorizing a bitmap image.
Just like we did with rasterizing, let’s make ourselves a diagram of how the vectorization of a bitmap image is supposed to go.
In all the blog posts I’ve written about bouncing file formats back and forth, this illustration could’ve saved me a lot of time because it succinctly shows us why this isn’t going to work. The detail in the bitmap image is pixelated as all get out and there’s no way any image tracing gizmo is going to be able to extract the detail in the right image from the picture on the left. We can let it try though.All Adobe’s fancy gizmo has managed to do is turn the pixels from our bitmapped logo into a bunch of vectorized squares (right.) You don’t have to be a design expert to realize that this is a mess, especially when reminded that this is what we’re after.Alas, until Adobe comes up with a fancy Illustrator robot plug-in with all sorts of AI, there’s still only one true way to vectorize logos from bitmaps – by eyeball, from scratch and by hand (FWIW, I pinched the images presented here from all actual logo repair project at our shop. You can read about that here.)
Wrapping it up.
And there you have it. The difference between rasterization and vectorization, Why rasterizing a logo image is a snap and with few exceptions, vectorizing one isn’t. It also might be a good time to remind everybody that this is exactly why every logo should be created in vector in the first place.