What is a vector file? How to identify a vector file, and which apps you can use to view or edit them

designer
Vector files usually come in just four different types.

  • A vector graphics file is an image that can be made infinitely large or small without losing quality.
  • Common vector file types include .AI (Adobe Illustrator), .EPS (Encapsulated Postscript), and .SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics).
  • You’ll need a compatible app to edit a vector file, but you can view them with most image programs or web browsers.
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In general, you see two types of images on your computer: Raster graphics and vector graphics. Rasters are most common, but vectors play a critical role in graphic design and website building.

But what is a vector? And how can you quickly identify a vector file?

Here’s what you should know.

What is a vector file?

Again, there are generally two types of images you’ll see online and in apps, rasters (also known as bitmaps) and vectors.

The distinction between them can seem complicated, but is actually quite simple. Raster graphics are made of a grid of pixels, each one of which is assigned a precise color. Vectors, on the other hand, are built from mathematically defined shapes like lines and curves.

This means that vector graphics can be infinitely resized without losing any sharpness or color quality, which is great for projects that need high quality images.

vector vs raster
Vectors and rasters might look the same when small, but rasters will lose quality when they’re scaled up.

But how can you quickly identify a vector file? Most vectors come in just a few different file types, making them easy to pick out.

Common types of vector files

In the same way that there are a variety of raster file types (.JPG, .PNG, etc.), there are a number of vector file formats, each used for a different application. Here are the most common vector files in use today:

How to open a vector file

What you need to open a vector graphics file depends on your goal. Here are your options:

  • If you want to view or print a vector graphics file, you can probably open it in most graphics programs, even if they’re designed mainly for raster images. Adobe Photoshop, for example, can open AI, EPS, PDF and SVG files, though the image is opened as a raster at a fixed resolution. You just can’t edit the vector and keep it as a vector.
  • You can also view and print (but not edit) most vector graphics files in a web browser – just drag and drop the file into your browser to see it.
  • If you want to edit a vector graphics file while maintaining its scalable, resolution-independent vector characteristics, you need to open it in a suitable vector graphics application, like Adobe Illustrator. If you don’t want to use Illustrator, you can also check out CorelDRAW (the second most popular application after Illustrator), or the free and open-source app Inkscape.

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