Vector vs Bitmap for dummies

by Kahlil Gibran

... continued from the previous page.

Bitmap images

When working with Bitmap images, you don't have any limitation regarding color space because rasters support a broad range of color use, from 8bit depth (256 colors) to HDRI floating point (Almost infinite range of colors) The only restriction you have when working with bitmaps is your resolution. As you are filling information at a pixel level, when you upsize or downscale a pixel, the computer has to interpolate (enlarging), or get rid of information (reducing), inevitably damaging your final result. What I mean is that if you want to preserve the quality of your bitmaps, you have to stick to the initial work area you have chosen.


Vectors have the totally inverse perspective. The image you actually see is not "filling" the pixels with information, what you see displayed on screen is rather the software's interpretation of a bunch of mathematical calculations. As pixels are unharmed, when you rescale a vector, you are simply changing a parameter in the code, so no re sampling takes part and the quality is always the same. No info is interpolated or lost in the process. On the other hand, you are limited to 8bit per channel color depth (256 colors) and you cannot see the images without proper software.

Bitmaps can carry other information like alpha channels, Z-Depth and ID's, giving the images special properties as transparency and 3D filtering. On the other hand, vector images are not confined to the square space of their canvas, as they have innate transparency properties.

Vectors have inherent transparency properties. Bitmaps need extra information.

Never in this life can you use vector images for film, since they are less photorealistic than rasters and lose their versatility in post production environments. You could also say that bitmaps used with technical negligence are like bad voodoo for printing workflows.

The perfect example of a vector is a font. A 6px font has the same sharpness and quality as a 600px font.

The perfect example of a bitmap is a high color depth photograph. Beautiful shot by Gregory Hugh Davidson*

Vectors are resolution independent

As vectors are resolution independent, they should be the perfect choice for creating icons. But this is not true, due to a not so obvious technical issue. When you scale a vector to such a small size as 24 or 16 pixels, the image becomes blurred. Why does this happen? Well we noticed this after many, many experimentation and our humble conclusion is that monitors are essentially pixel based displays. Remember my pixel definition an hour ago? Well, when you work on a bitmap image, when you paint A pixel, you are completely, extremely, certainly sure that you are painting the same unit displayed on your monitor. While when working on vectors, you are just telling the software to make a rendering of an equation, over a given grid of pixels. There is not a single command in the code of vector images that can give you the power to tell the software to exactly, positively fill the displayed pixels on you monitor. The power of vector graphics is that you can resize your images without resampling. This is because vector images do not fill individual pixels with information; they rather distribute the image on whatever size we tell them. This versatility and power is surprisingly what makes vectors flaw when scaled down to extremely small sizes like icons. The same rule applies to fonts. Vector fonts are indispensable in 99% of graphic work, but if you need a font below 9px you have to go for bitmapped fonts.

Vector icon samples
Click for enlargement ... icons taken from iconshock icon sets, super vista series

Both image formats have many virtues

Ok, let's wrap up all this enlightening information. I've read many articles on the Internet, where the differences between bitmaps and vectors take almost fanatic undertones. I think that taking part of either side is ridiculous. Both image formats have many virtues and were designed for specific uses. Deciding between one or another is like comparing your mom with your dad. Both are special, and both have their issues. It's more likely that you can watch a ballgame with your father than with your mom, but you can positively be sure your mom won't give your kids french fries and coke for breakfast. And if you are a woman, you will feel more comfortable telling to your mom about the color of your boyfriends eyes than to your war-veteran-Texan dad.

So, I wish you happy rastering and happy vectoring.

Until next time!


Special thanks to the folks at and the for sending this one in.

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  • iconshock
  • Photoshop tutorial (for beginners)
  • vector vs Bitmap for dummies.
  • A great article to understand main differences between vector and bitmap images.
  • vector vs bitmap
  • General image editing
  • iconshock
  • Date & Time : Mon, 08 Mar 2010 8:13 PM
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