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Vector File: Definition, Formats, and Extensions

Vector File: Definition, Formats, and Extensions

The commercial printing industry depends highly on vector art. It gives a clear and crisp image at any magnification, hence, is used in the creation of logos and graphics to produce quality promotional products. Techspirited tells you what a vector file is along with a list of its formats and extensions.
Payal Kanjwani
PDF is actually a vector file. However, it depends on how that PDF was originally created, which can be a raster file, too.

Most of us are aware of raster images. Colored pixels or blocks come together to form an image called raster image. You might be acquainted with .JPEGs, GIFs, PNGs, which are raster file formats. To know what are vector files (or images), it is important to understand the difference between these two file types. Since raster images are a formation of pixels, when magnified, these images become grainy, thereby, reducing the visibility of the image details.

Alternatively, vector images, even if stretched, will give you a perfectly detailed image. This is because, a vector file is not composed of pixels but mathematical formulas! These formulas would define the area of the plot (line, curves,etc.) you draw, hence, making the vector graphics more flexible. This is why, vector is used in the creation of effective company logos and brand graphics.

Vector File: Definition
Vector file defines a graphic image made by using mathematical equations and algorithms to specify its points and shapes, allowing it to be scaled or modified with no loss of data or resolution.

When your artwork is in vector (i.e., .ai or .eps), the size of the graphic can be increased or decreased, which results in recalculating the mathematical equation, thereby, producing an image without compromising on its quality or detailing. This image is known as vector image which is also referred to as "draw graphics".

These vector images have many scalable objects like lines, curves, shapes to be colored, filled or outlined, that are defined by mathematical equations and not pixels. We can change the attributes of the object without affecting or destroying the basic object. Fonts are a type of vector object.

Vector Files: Characteristics
Vector-based images are resolution independent. No matter how much you blow them up, you'll still find the lines and edges crisp!
Vector images are not restricted to a rectangular shape like bitmaps.
Vector images appear like cartoons and don't have background.
They're inept for creating photorealistic images.
Vector files don't support popular formats like .jpg and .gif.
They can be easily converted to raster.
Their metafiles contain both raster and vector data.

A vector image that has a bitmap pattern applied to an object (as a fill, for instance) is a metafile, where the object is still a vector, while the fill attribute consists of bitmap data. The common metafile formats include―EPS (Encapsulated PostScript), PDF (Portable Document Format), PICT (Macintosh).

File Extension List
.ai Adobe Illustrator graphics file
.ps Postscript file
.eps Encapsulated PostScript File
.svg Scalable Vector Graphics file, XML based vector graphics format
.svgz Scalable Vector Graphics file, XML based vector graphics format
.drw Vector drawing file
.fxg Flash XML graphics file
.cdr CorelDRAW image file
.pat CorelDRAW Pattern File
.fh11 FreeHand 11 drawing file
.cdd ConceptDraw PRO document
.asy Asymptote Module
.fig Xfig Drawing file
.gdraw Google Drive Drawing file
.pcl HP graphics file
.plt AutoCAD Plotter Document
.pmg PageMaker Group File
.sketch Sketch Drawing file
.std Apache OpenOffice Drawing Template
.sxd StarOffice Drawing file
.vsd Visio Drawing file
.pdf Adobe's Portable Document Format
.wmf Windows Metafile (partially vector, contains bitmap components too)
.swf Macromedia Flash format file

Common Vector Formats
AI: Adobe Illustrator's native format
CGM: Computer Graphics Metafile
CMX: Corel Exchange
DXF: It's a CAD format from Autodesk, used by CAD tools - AutoCAD Drawing eXchange Format.
EMZ: Windows Compressed Enhanced Metafile
ODG: Open Document Graphic File
SVG: This is W3C's standard vector image format - Scalable Vector Graphics
VSD: Microsoft Visio Drawing File
WMF: Windows Metafile

Popular Vector Drawing Programs
Adobe Illustrator
DrawPlus X6 (Serif DrawPlus)
Xara Xtreme

It is important to understand that just by saving your file with .ai or .eps extension will not make it a vector file! Nor can a raster image be scanned and saved as a vector image. It has to be composed in a program like Adobe Illustrator from scratch. You can apply bitmap textures to vector objects if you wish to give your image a photorealistic appearance. Thus, the conversion of vector to raster is easy, however, the converse doesn't hold true.