What Are Vector Graphics and How Best to Use Them

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Images help brands to boldly tell their stories. When you entertain while also getting your point across, you’ve checked two must‑dos off your list. Plus, since viewers process images faster than text, you only need to keep their attention for a few seconds.

Vector graphics add personality to your business and visually communicate important information. And since they’re easy to edit and work with, they’re a flexible, functional addition to your creative workflow. There’s a lot of freedom to use vectors however you want. The size and color of the images are yours to adapt as you need, and you can remove any shapes and lines that you don’t want.

What is a vector graphic?

Vector graphics are created using points, lines, and shapes, and a mathematical equation tells the computer to draw the final image. They’re technically 2D, but layering different elements and using textures can give an image a 3D appearance. The most common format for a vector graphic is .SVG, but you’ll also see .eps, .cgm, .odg, and .xml formats.

Vector graphics vs raster graphics

The main difference between vector graphics and raster graphics is that raster graphics are made up of pixels. The easiest way to think of it is to picture a square. If that square is raster‑based, it’s made of thousands of pixels. If the square is vector‑based, it’s made of just four points. The computer knows to connect those points to create a square (and then fill the square with whatever color you designate). While you can convert a vector graphic to a raster graphic, you can’t convert a raster to a vector.

Examples of vector images

There are all sorts of vector examples:

Common uses for vector graphics

Because scalable vector graphics are so easy to work with and store, they’re the top choice for brand collateral both online and in print. Most often, businesses use vector graphics for advertising and marketing, as well as brand collateral. Vector graphics can also enhance mobile apps, websites, infographics, and digital presentations. There are many uses for vector graphics.

  • Advertising campaigns
  • Animations
  • App or website interfaces
  • Band illustrations and t‑shirt designs
  • Brand collateral like logos and signage
  • Embroidery
  • Event promotions
  • Fonts
  • Hard copy printing (clothing, paper, etc.)
  • Infographics
  • Landing pages
  • Magazine covers
  • Mobile apps
  • PowerPoint presentations
  • Products and merchandise

Unexpected ways to use vector graphics

Vector graphics go far beyond basic drawings made of a few shapes and colors. Scalable vector graphics allow businesses to take visuals in new and interesting directions. They express a brand’s style, purpose, and viewpoint.

Present realistic, photo‑like images

Even though vectors use basic shapes and lines to create an image, it doesn’t mean the resulting image is always simplistic or unrealistic. Photorealistic images look so much like the real thing you’ll have trouble telling the difference. If you need to create a design that looks real enough to touch, use vectors that look 3D and true‑to‑life.

Share a dreamlike sense of whimsy

On the flip side of realism is fantasy, and vector graphics can create a whimsical, purposely‑not‑realistic world if that’s what you want. Cartoonish characters, bright colors, deep contrasts, and simple shapes have a storybook quality.

Make common subjects more daring with surrealism

To walk the line between real life and a fairytale, search for surreal images. Vibrant takes on everyday forms are excellent for concept designs. They communicate to your audience a sense of uniqueness. The beauty of scalable vector graphics is they can convey the wildest, most out‑there ideas.

Surrealist nature images are especially popular and will suit any type of travel, lifestyle, or outdoor brand. Remember, vector graphics are editable, so you can start with something like an illustrated map and then replace elements with other travel icons.

Show that you understand modern trends

If your brand is more buttoned‑up than trendy, your audience may assume you’re outdated. Vector graphics can show off your understanding of contemporary design while staying on brand. For example, geometric designs are popular, but they don’t have to be wild or fantasy‑based.

Even a report full of graphs can look cool instead of dry.

Gradients are also trendy, and they can be colorful and eye‑catching without being cartoonish or too youthful.

Play into a vintage aesthetic

Throwback to another time with retro images that still have a contemporary feel. They may refer to another time in history, but they’re clearly designed with care and quality by contemporary illustrators.

Images with bright neon convey an 80s vibe. Basic shapes and patterns that overlap give off a 90s feel.

You can also use vintage graphics to show a progression. Or, choose a vintage font to literally and visually communicate a certain time period.

Show (don’t tell) your concept to your audience

As mentioned before, vector images can help with concept ideas, giving you a way to show your audience your thought process and plans for the future. Look for scalable vector graphics that are close to the products you offer.

Pinpoint locations on a map

If you need to show a geographic area, 3D maps and add‑on icons can help you demonstrate location‑based info to an audience. Start with a broad map that places your information in the general geographic area. Then, add location pins and other notable elements to customize the map.

Create limited‑time collateral

Your brand may not have specific designs for seasonal items, like gift cards, gift tags, or greeting cards. Scalable vector graphics can help you quickly design this type of brand collateral without much fuss. By editing colors, you can inject your own branding into the design. So long as vector points join to create a closed shape, you can fill the space with color.

Build your one‑of‑a‑kind graphic

Even though you’ll be using vector graphics designed by other artists, you can still create a customized look by building a collage. Pull different vector graphics that are similar in theme or color, and then combine them into a design that’s unique. Icon packs are great for customization and help you build around the subject that’s the main focus.

You can also use a combination of vector graphics to create an infographic. Don’t expect your audience to read a lengthy white paper or case study. Instead, communicate all of the information in a way that’s visually entertaining and highlights the most important facts. Infographics can be busy and picture‑based, or they can be straightforward and text‑centric. Either way, they have visual appeal that regular copy does not.

Problems with using cheap or free vector graphics

Websites, where you can find free vector graphics, sound ideal, but you’ll get what you pay for (or what you don’t pay for).

First, free graphics websites may not provide legal protection in case the image you use is under copyright or trademark.

Second, many files on freebie sites are poorly constructed or incompatible with editing software. At iStock, we have strict rules about file construction and format so that every vector you use is safe and easy to work with. If you’d like to get started without spending any money, we do offer a free vector graphic of the week, which comes with the same license and permissions as our paid graphics.

What programs can create vector graphics?

There are several programs that can create vector graphics. Adobe Illustrator is one of the most popular types of vector graphics software and an industry‑standard; Affinity Designer is another popular tool. For beginners, there are easier‑to‑use tools including free vector graphics software. Consider Boxy SVG, CorelDRAW, Gravit, Inkscape, SVG‑Edit, Vecteezy, or Vectr.

Where can I get free vector graphics?

There are numerous websites where you can find free vector graphics. Remember, though, free vector graphic sites don’t always provide high‑quality graphics.

Browse our selection of vector graphics and use AI‑powered search to find top‑of‑the‑line imagery for your business.

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