What is vector art?

Vector graphics allow creatives to build works of art and functional graphics that can expand to any size. Explore how this file format offers creative opportunities.

Vector art illustration of a cheetah under the moonlight.

What is vector artwork? 

Vector artwork is a term that describes any art made with vector illustration software like Adobe Illustrator. Vector artwork is built from vector graphics, which are images created with mathematical formulas. In comparison, raster art (also referred to as bitmaps or raster images) is created with colorized pixels. Enlarge pixel-based art in a raster file too much and it looks jaggy, whereas you can enlarge vector art to any size without negatively affecting its appearance. This resolution independence allows vector art to be used in a variety of forms, from small illustrations to massive billboards.

Vector graphic design of a winking penguin.

The rise of vector illustration.

Some of the first types of computer graphics were vectors, as the computational power necessary to create raster images was too expensive. Early computers used vector displays in the 1960s and ’70s; video games like 1979’s Asteroids also used vector graphics. This practice continued until the 1980s, by which point most displays had switched to raster graphics.


Due to the need for art that prints at multiple sizes and responsive web designs that adapt to varying screen sizes, vector files are a necessity of modern design. They create clean, scalable images that allow for exciting visual possibilities with the added bonus of functionality. Modern typography is almost exclusively created using vectors. The text you’re looking at right now is a product of vector graphics. 3D modeling and the computer graphics (CG) we see in blockbuster superhero films are the direct consequence of developments in vector art and illustration. 

Vector art pieces being used for character customization in a video game.

Where vector art and design meet.

As both designers and illustrators may work with vectors, it’s important to understand the difference between the two.


Designer: Designers think about overall composition when they create advertisements, websites, or anything else that features careful organization of text, graphics, and other structural elements. In these compositions, designers use vector artwork created by illustrators, or they sometimes produce vector art of their own for the designs. A designer may create a vector-based design that incorporates many different pieces of vector artwork.


Illustrator: Illustrators are often more art-focused and create individual images, not an entire design. Illustrators may produce individual pieces of vector art that can stand alone or be added to another piece by a graphic designer. 

Vector illustration of a nature landscape.

Creating your own vector art in software applications.

Vector art beginners can benefit from starting with the wireframe of a drawing before fleshing out the illustration. It’s like a house: If the walls aren’t built correctly, the front door may not open, no matter how brightly painted it is.


For aspiring artists looking to make vector artwork, here are examples of illustration in the vector format to draw inspiration from:


Orlando Arocena: Arocena’s creation of the artwork for the 2019 Dumbo’s theatrical release poster is an excellent step-by-step overview of how a skilled illustrator can create an iconic image using vectors.


Susanne Paschke: Paschke’s artwork is notable for the level of complexity and detail in the paths she creates with her digital art.


Cristiano Siqueira: Siqueira’s work is dynamic and created to work well with imagery surrounding athletes and sports competitions.


Helen Huang: With an emphasis on creating beautiful illustrations for children’s books, Huang creates clean vector characters and landscapes.


Don’t forget to study up and practice your drawing fundamentals, but don’t shy away from breaking the rules: “There aren’t any hard and fast dos and don’ts,” says art director Dylan Todd, “but I do think that you need to have a good base in the fundamentals before you start trying to break rules.”

“You need to have a good base in the fundamentals before you start trying to break rules.”

Learning the basics of Illustrator can be a great place to start mastering the fundamentals before flexing your creative muscles with vector art. Begin exploring how this platform enables illustrators to create beautiful, functional artwork that can stand alone or enhance graphic designs.


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