What Are Vectors and Do You Need to Use Them?

What Are Vectors and Do You Need to Use Them?

If you just started drawing and designing on your iPad, you may have heard that you need to “vectorize” your drawings or that you need to learn how to use vectors to be a professional designer. In this post I want to dispel some of the myths about vectors, and help you decide whether or not you need to learn about them at all!

In the post I’ll answer all of these questions:

-What is a vector anyway?

-Why would you need a vector based image?

-What iPad apps allow you to work with vectors?

-Can you convert raster images made in Procreate to vectors?

What is a vector anyway?

Vectors are shapes based on points that connect to each other, whereas raster images (like the ones we make in Procreate) are made of pixels (little colored squares). Here is an example. I created a circle using two different image types. The vector (left) is made of four points that connect to each other. While the raster image (right) is made of pixels (little squares).

But…they look exactly the same! When you look at these circles from a distance, they look identical. The difference becomes apparent when you zoom in, or resize the image. I made both circles really large so you can see what these images look like once you increase the size. Take a look at the edge of each circle below to see what happens when you resize vector (left) and raster (right) images.

You can see that the vector stays crisp and clean because it is based on mathematical points that have the same relationship to each other no matter how closely you zoom in or how much you resize the object. Raster images on the other hand are made of a very specific number of squares and those squares fade out into transparent colors at the edge of the shape.

So if you increase the size of a raster image, it becomes a blurry mess with not enough pixels for its size!

Here is an example of a vector based leaf shape. You can see how the points determine the boundaries of the shape.

So, why would you need a vector based image?

First of all, many companies require vector based images. Often publishers, printers, and companies that license art will request a vector file so they can resize artwork to whatever size they need. So at least knowing how to work with vectors can really improve your chances of getting professional jobs and contracts.

Also, as you can see above, you can’t resize a raster image without causing blurriness. There are so many cases where you might need to resize an image, for example if you decide to use a print-on-demand company that requires images larger than the raster images you have.

I wanted to apply my floral pattern to these sheer curtains on Society6, which requires a minimum of 5300 X 9900px. Since I made this pattern using vectors, it was easy to resize it to the size I needed.

The resizing issue is especially troublesome with client work! Let’s say you make a beautiful pattern or illustration in Procreate at 3000 x 3000 pixels. Then a company contacts you and says they want to print your beautiful pattern on tote bags, wallpaper, or rugs. They need a 10,000 x 10,000 pattern by tomorrow.

This is every designer’s nightmare. You finally get the opportunity you want, and you have to either stay up all night to recreate your pattern, or you have to turn down the job. Whereas if you had created the image in vectors, you could easily resize the image without losing any quality and immediately send it along to the company.

So, should you only work in vectors?

Absolutely not! There are so many benefits of working with raster images. First, since raster images are made of pixels, they can capture a lot more detail and texture than vectors. So anytime I want to get a lot of texture, shadow, and highlights in a drawing, I use Procreate. In this case I would work at the largest possible size I can, so that I have plenty of flexibility when it comes to print size.

Also, most of the time you can guess whether or not your image may need to be resized in the future. Here is an example: I created a series of greeting cards (5 x 7 inches at 600 dpi) and I used raster images in Procreate because I wanted the lines to have a lot of texture to them, like chalk or a charcoal pencil. I seriously doubt that any company is going to contact me and say, “Liz we love your greeting card design, but we want to print it on a 20 x 20 inch wallpaper.” So in this case, don’t mind using raster images because I’m not worried about having to resize this artwork.

What about this pattern collection though? It could be used for almost any home decor product, so I want to be sure that I create it in a format that can be resized to any size I could possibly need in the future. It’s also made of solid shapes, rather than highly textured or varied lines, so it’s perfect for creating with vectors!

So in short, if you are making something that clearly has a set size, you can use Procreate to create a raster image with no problems in the future. However if you’re making something with an open-ended use, using vectors could save you a lot of time and frustration in the future!

What iPad apps allow you to work with vectors?

My go-to app for creating vectors on the iPad is Affinity Designer. I love how versatile it is (you can work in both vector and raster formats) and there are no size or layer limits. I created a full review of Affinity designer and compared it to Procreate in this post:

Affinity Designer for iPads: Pros, Cons, and Comparisons with Procreate

If you’re not sure how to use vectors, I have several tutorials to help get you started:

Can you convert raster images made in Procreate to vectors?

The good news is that if you’ve already created a lot of artwork in raster format and want to have it in vector format, you can convert it. Although keep in mind that highly textured designs or designs with a lot of variation won’t vectorize well. Here is an example:

This moth illustration has a lot of texture and variation (spots on the background, rough edges on the linework) so this would not vectorize well. This hand lettered image in contrast, would be a great candidate for vectorizing. It has clean, sharp lines, no texture, and only a few colors.

When you vectorize an image like this made in Procreate, it’s best to vectorize each layer separately. So I would start with the sparkles, then the orange part of the word, then the light pink part, and so on. I show my whole process for vectorizing in video 16 of this class.

So, do YOU need vectors?

If you are creating artwork on your iPad and only uploading it to social media platforms and print-on-demand sites, chances are you will not NEED vectors. You may run into image size issues in Procreate though, since some print-on-demand sites require images larger than the sizes Procreate can handle.

However keep in mind that lots of artists and designers never use vectors, especially those who create highly textured designs or use scanned-in painted elements in their designs. So, no, you don’t have to learn how to use vectors to be a successful artist/designer, but it does add another tool to your tool belt and can often save you a lot of time and frustration if your work needs to be resized in the future.

Personally, I love working with vectors. Especially the fact that I can resize and duplicate any element at any time without worrying about losing quality. Once you get the hang of working with vectors, you’ll see how the sizing flexibility can greatly improve your process!

Do you have more questions about vectors?

Join my Facebook group for iPad artists and designers where you can ask questions, share your artwork, and get ideas for iPad art and design from creatives around the world.

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