Bitmap Vs. Vector ... What's the difference?

Posted on May 9, 2012 by Banner Expert 0 comments

Bitmap Vs. Vector for Banner Design

I know that sentence sounds like some sort of snappy new video game title or words from some kind goofy moon language, but these are actually two completely different image file types that can make or break your banner. In today's blog post you will learn the difference between the 2 formats, and hopefully gain enough information to assist you in the future when choosing which one to use for printing.

Here's the same image at the same size, the one on the left is a Bitmap image, the one on the left is a Vector image.

Bitmap v. Vector

Both look the same, right? Plus you watch alot of TV! A magical world where any time anybody on any TV show needs a picture blown up, they just mash the keyboard until the computer scales the image perfectly (before creating a rotating 3D wireframe), right!?

Wrong! TV is fake, computers can't do that, and Santa doesn't exist.

Here's the same 2 logos blown up at 400%...

... The Vector logo on the right looks crisp and clean, whereas the Bitmap image on the left looks kind of sad and pathetic.

How did this happen, why does one look clearer than the other, and what's the difference between the 2 formats? I'll tell you.

Bitmap images (JPEG, GIF, TIFF, PNG) are comprised of a series of hundreds of thousands of tiny little colored dots (or pixels, as they're referred to in the nerd community). The quality of a Bitmap image hinges on how many dots fill a square inch, also known as DPI (Dots Per Inch). The higher the DPI, the more dots per square inch, the better the image quality. Bitmap images can generally only be scaled down and still maintain image clarity. The only time they can be enlarged is if the native file has a relatively high DPI, but it comes at a cost. Enlarging the image lowers the DPI during the scaling process, which severely limits the scaling abilities of Bitmap files. After a certain point, a Bitmap image will start to look like a crappy old video game because it will run out of pixels to compensate for the change in size.

Vector images (AI, CDR, PDF) are comprised of a series of lines and algorithms that calculate the colors and shapes used in the image and how to scale it properly. This means that you can shrink and expand a vector file to any size you can think of and it will still look the same every time. Vector files allow a Designer or yourself to apply your art more easily to various projects because in addition to having no real size constraints, every little element be it a specific line or color, can be manipulated individually without affecting the image as a whole.

Does this mean that one file type is better than the other? It really depends on what kind of project they will be used for. Vector images are ideal for Logos and Artwork that will be applied to various different mediums. A perfect example of this would be a Business that needs to use the same corporate logo for business cards, letter heads, envelopes, advertisements, emails, billboards, and signs. A Vector image would allow them to scale their logo to fit every single one of those uses and while still looking exactly the same every time.

A Bitmap image is usually used for photographic quality images. That means if you take an embarrassing photo of your little brother and want to blow it up to a larger size to use for a banner to hang at a social gathering to publicly humiliate him for going into your room when you weren't home (it happens), it's going to have to be a Bitmap image. Just make sure that it's taken at a high DPI because it wont have the same effect if it ends up looking like a blocky flesh colored mess instead of a clear photo of him sucking his thumb in his sleep.


This post was posted in Banner Design Tips