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Customer Service » Vector Artwork 101: A Beginner's Guide to Vector Artwork

Even if you’ve never heard of vector art before today, chances are good that you’ve interacted with it or seen it in action without even realizing it! Vectored artwork plays an important role in the world of graphics and design, and it is a crucial part of the promotional products industry.

If you are confused about why vector art matters and why you should care about it, then you will definitely want to read this detailed guide from Quality Logo Products. Knowledge is power, and we guarantee you’ll feel incredibly empowered after reading this guide and learning exactly what vector art is, why it’s so important, and how it relates to graphic design, company logos, and promotional products.

What's that you say? You'd prefer to learn about vector artwork by watching a video instead? We've got you covered. You asked; and we listened. If you're more of a visual learner and are lucky enough to have speakers at your desk - check out the clip below:

Title: Vector Artwork 101
Introduction to Vector Artwork: Vector Artwork 101


Narrator: Welcome to part one of our vector artwork series: Introduction to Vector Artwork.


Narrator: Vector artwork plays an important role when it comes to custom printing. All those logos and imprints that you see on every day items, they were all made possible by vector artwork.


Narrator: In a nutshell, vector art refers to digital graphics that use mathematical algorithms to preserve image quality.


Narrator: As you can see, the graphic here stays sharp and crisp even after it becomes larger. That's because it's a vector file.


Narrator: Here's the same graphic as before. The difference is that it's actually just a standard image. Notice how it looks the same until we make it larger. That's when the quality gets worse.


Narrator: This is why vector files are necessary when creating imprints. They can be scaled up almost infinitely and still maintain clarity. Image files can not.


Narrator: Professional artwork is usually done in vector format with programs like Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw, or Freehand. The vector art made in these programs will have a .ai, .eps, .cd, or.fh file extension.


Narrator: In this series, we'll be using Adobe Illustrator to demonstrate some of the key concepts in vector art, and showing you how to optimize your own vector graphics for printing.


Narrator: So visit our YouTube channel to check out our "how to" videos on topics like "converting fonts to outlines", the difference between image files and vector files, changing from RGB to CMYK color, enabling scaling for strokes, and auto-centering and alignment.

What Exactly is Vector Art?
The technical definition of vector graphics is complicated! In a nutshell, vector files (encapsulated postscript) define a graphic by using mathematical algorithms, which allow the image to be scaled or modified without loss of image quality or resolution. When your artwork or logo is in a vectored format (either .ai or .eps), it allows you to increase or decrease the size of the graphic without compromising the integrity of the original image. The end result is a crisp, clear, and readable image no matter what the final output or size! Vector graphics are sometimes also referred to as "draw graphics", but they mean the same thing.

When you create an image in Adobe Illustrator (or in Freehand or CorelDraw), you are creating a vector graphic.  However, when you create an image in a program like Adobe Photoshop, you are creating a bitmap graphic (which is NOT a vectored format). A vector graphic retains its crispness at any magnification, and a bitmap graphic appears jagged when scaled up.

Adobe Illustrator Icon .EPS File Icon

Figure 1: Close-up of Adobe Illustrator (on left) and EPS (on right) icons, the PREFERRED vectored formats for artwork

CorelDraw File Icon Freehand File Icon

Figure 2: Close-ups of Freehand and CorelDraw icons, other vectored formats for artwork

Why is Vector Art Required for Promo Items?
Vector art is necessary for promotional products because it ensures the highest quality print result and it guarantees that your logo or image can be resized to any proportions without losing its resolution.
Poor quality graphics ruin the appearance of your promotional items. You certainly wouldn’t want to spend money on custom merchandise for your business if your logo appears grainy, pixilated, and warped! After all, if people can’t read your message or recognize your logo, then what’s the point? Vector art is crisp and clear at any magnification (unlike bitmap or jpeg files), which is why it is required for your promo items.

I Don’t Have Vector Artwork. Why Can’t I Just Use a Bitmap or JPEG File?
Unfortunately, bitmap files (.bmp), jpegs (.jpg), and most PDFs cannot be used for your promotional products because they cannot be modified without resulting in a poor quality imprint. If you try to scale or enlarge the size of a non-vector format, like a bitmap file, then the image would be pixilated and show jagged edges when printed, like the Quality Logo Products logo in Figure 3:

QLP Logo Non-Vectored
QLP Logo Vectored

Figure 3: Non-Vectored file (.jpg file), 1600% Zoom

Figure 4: Vectored file (.ai file), 6400% Zoom

The jpeg image in Figure 3 (above left) is blurry and deformed, which is obviously not acceptable print quality!  When you create your logo or artwork in a vectored format, like the Adobe Illustrator image in Figure 4 (above right), it could be resized from business card dimensions to billboard dimensions without losing any of its sharpness!  That kind of resizing is impossible with a bitmap file, a jpeg, a PDF, or a similar format.

Vector Artwork Small
Vector Artwork Large

Figure 5 (Above): A vectored image sized down to small proportions (notice the crispness and clarity even at such a small size)

Figure 6 (Right): The same vectored image enlarged to bigger proportions (notice the lack of pixilation or fuzziness)

How Do I Convert my Artwork into a Vectored Format?
To change your image or logo into vector art, it is sometimes necessary to speak with the original graphic designer of the artwork or the person who designed it for you; many times, the artist will be able to convert a jpeg (.jpg) or a bitmap file (.bmp) to a vectored format for you.

How Can I Tell if My Art is Vectored Already?
If your artwork is already vectored (created in .ai, .eps, .FH, or .cdr formats), then drawing a select box around it in Adobe Illustrator will make a bunch of blue lines and dots appear on your art (see Figure 7). However, if your artwork is not vectored, then drawing a select box around it in Adobe Illustrator will only create a basic frame WITHOUT blue lines or dots (see Figure 8).
Check out these picture comparisons for further clarification:

Real Vector Artwork
Not Vector Artwork

Figure 7: How a vector image will appear if you draw a select box around it in Adobe Illustrator (note the blue lines and dots)

Figure 8: How a NON-Vectored mage will appear if you draw a select box around it in Adobe Illustrator (note the frame instead of blue lines and dots)

What Does "Convert Font to Outlines" Mean, and How Do I Do That to My Fonts?
"Converting font to outlines" means that you will have to change the font in your file from text to an object in order to maintain that font when it’s printed. If a particular font is not installed on a computer trying to open your file, then the computer will substitute a generic font for your original font, and it completely changes the way the font would appear and print. However, if your font is converted to outlines, then it allows the computer to read it as an image object rather than as just text. So, if you have specific fonts in your art file that you want to use on your items, then you need to convert the fonts to outlines!

To convert your font to outlines, you will need Adobe Illustrator. You need to open your file, select ONLY the font, right click, select "Create Outlines", and then save. See the following screenshots as well:

Specific Font in Illustrator Example of Font Substitution

Figure 9: A specific font used in Adobe Illustrator (imagine that this is the font used in your vectored graphic)

Figure 10: How your specific font appears when opened on a computer that doesn’t have that font installed

Converting a Font to Outlines in Illustrator Font Converted to Outlines

Figure 11: Here’s a screenshot that shows how to convert your font to outlines:

In Adobe Illustrator, select ONLY the text with the arrow tool, right click to see the above menu, and then select "Create Outlines". Be sure to save the file after you’ve completed these steps!

Figure 12: If outlines were successfully created, then selecting the text with the arrow tool again will look like this (blue dots and lines).

Can I Just Save My File as an Adobe Illustrator (.ai) File & Make it Vectored?
Unfortunately, there is no "easy fix" to convert your existing artwork into a vectored format—simply saving your file with an .ai extension will not make your artwork vectored.  Remember, in order for an image to be vectored, it needs to be built from scratch in a program like Adobe Illustrator (preferred).

Incorrect Way to Save a .AI File

Figure 13:  Attempting to save an existing file as an Adobe Illustrator (.ai) file will not make it vectored

Incorrect Way to Save Vector Artwork

Keep in mind that professionally-designed artwork usually has a vectored version somewhere, but not every computer can open vectored files because a specific program is required. Sometimes you can find a vectored file on your computer that you didn’t even know you had, just because you’ve never been able to open it or view the icon! You can try searching your computer (press Windows Key + "E") for art files. Here are more screenshots:

Screenshot of Computer with Illustrator Installed

Figure 14: Screenshot from computer WITH Adobe Illustrator installed (notice the .ai and .eps icons are visible). This usually means the file can be opened on your computer.

Screenshot of Computer WITHOUT Illustrator Installed

Figure 15:
Screenshot from computer WITHOUT Adobe Illustrator installed (notice the .ai and .eps icons show as plain paper icons). This means the file is there, but cannot be opened on your computer.

How Do I Send My Vector Art to Quality Logo Products?
To send your artwork to Quality Logo Products, simply attach it and email it to your customer service representative and he or she will take it from there! If your file is larger than 6 megabytes, then please contact your QLP representative and ask for help logging into our FTP so you can transfer your artwork files faster and easier. It is best to send your artwork as an .ai, .eps, .FH, or .cdr. You can also send .psd, .tif, .jpg, .gif, .pwt, .doc, .pdf, .sea, or .zip. PLEASE NOTE: fonts sent from an IBM will not work on Mac. We also accept IBM zipped (without the self-extracting program) and Mac stuffed files.

Attach Artwork File to Email

Figure 16: Screenshot of the "Attach File" icon in Microsoft Outlook e-mail program

For Your Convenience, Here is a Breakdown of Common Image Formats:

Adobe Illustrator CS 6 or Earlier (Vector)
*PREFERRED* Adobe Illustrator files are best for spot color logos & text on clothing, mouse pads, and pins. This format is best accepted as an .ai or .eps extension with the fonts converted to outlines or included on the disk, e-mail, etc. If images are placed in the file, then the originals must be included. (Adobe Photoshop images placed in Adobe Illustrator doesn’t automatically make them spot color images)

Photoshop (Raster)
Best for photos printed with HiRes AccuColor, Four Color Process, Photo Transfers, or Digital Imaging is best accepted as an .eps, .psd, or .tif extension at full size and 300 dpi (min 200 dpi) - any lower dpi will produce jagged edges. If there are halftones in the image, then bitmaps are not acceptable. The extensions .jpg and .gif are acceptable but require massive cleanup 98% of the time. Spot color is best done in "channels."

Freehand 8.0 and CorelDraw 8.0 (Vector)
Freehand and CorelDraw are also acceptable for spot color logos and text on clothing, mouse pads, and pins, and are best accepted with program extensions .FH or .cdr, with fonts converted to outlines or included. However, art time will increase with more gradients. If images are placed in the file, then the originals must be included.

Other Programs & Files:
• .jpg and .gif- low resolution and is only good for viewing art. Most cases will require art re-creation.

• .txt and .doc- an extension from Microsoft Word that cannot be opened (not a graphics program).

• PowerPoint and AutoCAD- there is no way to export the file to something usable.

• PageMaker- incompatible with most QLP software

Quark Express
Quark is used primarily for output. It works well for combined graphics from multiple files, and it is best sent full size with all placed images (Illustrator, Photoshop, etc.) and fonts included (select "file" then "collect for output").

This is a vector image designed in Adobe Illustrator and it offers a clean edge at any angle and any size. CorelDraw and Macromedia Freehand offer the same results. This file format can be resized without loss of resolution, making it the preferred format for logos, text, etc.

This is a 72 DPI raster image designed in Adobe Photoshop, and this image has to be redrawn from scratch to be acceptable. Only high resolution images (300 DPI at full size) can be used as is. This image type is made to print with four-color process (photographic images).

Vector Artwork
Raster Artwork

[Click Here for a Downloadable/Printer Friendly .PDF Version of this Guide]

Article By Jill Tooley
Jill Tooley

Jill has been obsessed with words since her fingers could turn the pages of a book. She’s a hopeless bibliophile who recently purchased a Kindle after almost 6 years of radical opposition, and she loves stumbling upon new music on Pandora. Random interests include (but are not limited to) bookstores, movie memorabilia, and adorable rodents. In addition to managing the QLP blog, Jill also manages the content development team, assists with the company’s social media accounts, and writes like a fiend whenever given the chance. You can connect with Jill on Google+.

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