Vector vs Pixel Artwork, a Pixilating Tale

The difference between vector and pixel artwork, and why onlt one of them prints pretty.

Our online design and ordering tool has thousands of pre-loaded images as well as the ability to upload images of your own, such as a logo. You can even upload your completed design. However, it’s important to make sure you use the right file type. This post is about an important phrase that will guide you in this decision: vector art.

What is vector art?

There are only two types of image files: vector and pixel (pixel is also known as bitmap and or raster). You can tell which one you have by the extension at the end of the file name.

If a graphic file name ends in .jpg .png .tiff .bmp or .gif it is a pixel file.

Files ending in .ai .eps and .svg are vector files.

But what does all this mean? The above diagram shows two zoomed-in circles. The vector image maintains crisp sharp lines, and the pixel image gets fuzzy and pixelated. Here’s why:

Pixel graphics are composed of a bunch of tiny dots that contribute to an image. The pixels are assigned a color and are of equal size. Pixel art is used for the images you see on websites and for photography. The drawback of this technology is you can’t enlarge the size of the image without loss of quality.

Vector files are like a digital version of connect the dots. The data for the image exists on an algebraic grid and is composed of points, lines, curves, and polygons. Fonts are always composed of vectors, ensuring the letters stay sharp as you resize them up or down. It is important to use vector files for t-shirt printing because the sharpness of your finished product is greatly increased.

Vector PDFs and PSDs

PDF files can be vector or pixel. The best way to tell which you’re dealing with is to open the PDF file and zoom in so far that the full image would be much bigger than your screen. If the image looks grainy or pixilated, you do not have a vector file. However, if it looks clear when blown up very large, you’re good to go.

This trick also applies to PSDs, which is how Photoshop projects are saved. These files sometimes contain vector information as well, but you have to check to make sure.

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 4.31.22 PM

Is it possible to print high quality if I don’t have a vector file?

It is possible to print a high quality pixel graphic as long as the image has a dpi of 300 px. Stay with us here, folks, this is really quite simple. Dots per inch = dpi. The two images above are photos of printed pictures. The picture on the left has 300 dots per inch and the picture on the right has 72 dots per inch. Lower resolutions can look just fine on a computer screen, but when printing an image in the physical world, 300 dpi is the standard necessary to have crisp lines and perfect clarity.

What if I want to print a pixel file that is only 72 dpi?

You can indeed print a pixel file that is only 72 dpi, but in order for it to have the quality you see on the computer monitor, the image must be printed at 25% of the size you see on the computer. To put it another way, a pixel graphic must be 4 times the size you want to print when displayed on your computer screen in order to achieve the high quality print you would receive with a vector file of same dimensions and size.

How do you create vector artwork?

We use Adobe Illustrator to create the vector artwork for Print Monster. Other programs exist (CorelDRAW and others), but Illustrator is preferred by most of the print industry and is a very powerful tool. After a graphic is finalized in Illustrator, we can leave it vector format (.ai .eps. svg) for print or export it in pixel format (.jpg .gif.png) if it is going to be placed on a website.

What should I do now?

  • Use our online tool to design your garment. All the images you find here come from vector files and ready to print at any size!
  • Source pixel images online that are 4 times the size of your desired imprint area and apply them your design.
  • Contact your graphic designer and request your logo and other important images in vector format.

Click to Check out our video example!