14 Replies Latest reply on Jul 31, 2017 5:18 PM by MACnTUTOR

What are vectors?

Brian Stoppee

Just curious.  What are vectors, as in for upload here?

• 1. Re: What are vectors?

Good question. Thank you for asking.

Typically we think of Photoshop as producing pixel-based (sometimes call bitmap) art and Illustrator as being a vector art based app.

However, Photoshop added excellent pen tool vector art option back in the CS6 days.

We like to think of vector graphics in terms of visuals results of the paths they create but the underlying technology is relative to the  the x- and y-axes those points create on a document.

Does that make sense?

• 2. Re: What are vectors?

Brian Stoppee

That went just a little over my head. Maybe because I don't understand what you mean by paths.

If I may venture a guess though?

Bitmap: Each pixel is mapped out in relation to the next ?

Vector: Each pixel is tethered to its x an y axis unless moved and repositioned?

Does this have something to do with how the image 'behaves' when you alter it?

Maybe what I was asking was more along the lines of what makes an image a vector image vs say a heavily manipulated photo.

• 3. Re: What are vectors?

The thing about vectors is that they are math based and therefore defined by points and paths - that makes them totally scalable which is why they are great for making things like logos. Unlike things typically made in Photoshop which are mostly pixel based, they are not really scalable and become pixelated when scaled up too much. It really depends on what you are trying to achieve. The vector tools in Photoshop are greatly improved, but if you are working with type and logos, it is still best to create them in Illustrator (a vector based program) and bring them into Photoshop as a Smart Object. That way you have the best of both worlds. The Smart Object remains a vector based layer and you can continue to edit it in Illustrator.

• 4. Re: What are vectors?

That went just a little over my head. Maybe because I don't understand what you mean by paths.

You might like this tutorial:

• 5. Re: What are vectors?

@michelew83603738

Thank you I think I am beginning to understand... Pixels stay a square dot no matter how big they get, and vectors preserve resolution when you up the size? Is that closer?

• 6. Re: What are vectors?

Hi Pamela

Think of a straight black line on a white page.

On a pixel image every single pixel is described in terms of it's colour whether black or whether white.  If the image is scaled every pixel is re-calculated and mapped onto the new pixels and the image can start to blur at the edges.

On a vector image the line is described as a black line joining point A to point B with a width of X. As the vector image is scaled it is re-drawn as a fresh new line joining the new points A to B so remains nice and crisp.

I hope that helps you

Dave

• 7. Re: What are vectors?

Yes, because you put down two points for example and say you want a black line in between that is 2 points thick, it doesn't matter how far apart those two points get (or how close for that matter), it will draw that line perfectly. That's why vectors work so well for things like logos. The math part kicks in and figures it out (fortunately you don't need to understand the math part yourself!).You just need to figure out how to manipulate the points and paths by drawing lines or shapes. But if you want continuous tone like a photo, then you use pixels.

Here is an article about getting started with Illustrator if interested

• 8. Re: What are vectors?

Hi Pamela,
.
Vectors are the mathematically described points that make up the structure (skeleton) of vector art. These points can be anchor points (there are four types of anchor points: corner, bezier curve, Combination Cusp, Reflex Curve Cusp) as well as mesh points (which are slightly different in that they have up to 4 path segments radiating out from each point and can also contain color information). The paths are the "lines" that connect these points and provide the structure for your art. Paths are defined by anchor points and direction handles.
.
Beginners often confuse paths (part of the skeleton structure) with strokes (appearance attributes that appear as outlines). One path can have as many strokes as you prefer. The old Barnum and Bailey Circus Logo is an example of a path with many different strokes applied to the same path.
.
Note that this vector structure (skeleton) of points and paths is only visible inside a vector drawing program like Adobe Illustrator... it does not show (it is invisible) in print or screen when you publish. When you publish you are actually seeing the Appearance attributes (The fills, strokes, transparencies, effects, etc.).
.
Finally, vector programs come in two categories
1. Object Vector programs like Adobe Illustrator or the vector tools in Adobe Photoshop and
2. Shape (Merge) Vector programs like Adobe Animate (which also has the ability to switch to Object vectors at any time).
.
For example. a square is described by 4 corner anchor points connected by 4 path segments composing a path. A circle is described by 2 bezier curve points connected by 2 path segments composing a path. If you would like to see your artwork outside of Adobe Illustrator, then you must apply strokes, fills and other appearance attributes. Without the strokes, fills, etc. your artwork will be invisible.
.
Advantages: Because the vectors are mathematically described (behind the scenes in the program), your artwork can be resized to any size (for example, as small as an amoeba or big enough to cover a billboard) without any loss in quality. That is what is meant by the term "resolution independent." The art always remains crisp and clean. Even better, the mathematics behind all this allows for non-destructive editing. Anything you do can be undone (even after you save your document) at any time.
.
Hope that helps.

• 9. Re: What are vectors?

Thank you for your answers! Sounds fascinating, though I am not tempted to attempt to learn it (yet).  Now for the correct answer thingy, I hate that part because all of your answers were helpful!

michelew83603738 Your first post was where I started to understand...

@MACnTUTOR Your answer was the most detailed, but not sure I would have understood it without mich's answer and the tutorial Brian Stoppee posted, so the points go toooooooooooo Mich

• 10. Re: What are vectors?

so the points go toooooooooooo Mich

You just needed some tension building music, and Ant and Dec to announce the result, and you'd have had a classic TV moment.

• 11. Re: What are vectors?

isn't a vector what Sulu puts into the computer before going to the 'Neutral Zone in Star Trek?

• 12. Re: What are vectors?

Actually I was thinking in Chris Hardwick's voice

@Terri Stevens, When I first saw Vectors as an upload option I thought of Star Trek, that's too funny!

• 13. Re: What are vectors?

Yes, I saw the earlier posts and hoped the added detail (which they were missing) might help you better understand. I have made my living the last 10 years explaining vectors to non-techie artists and I tried to highlight the details most people struggle with (as much as a single post would allow.) :-) Don't fear the vector. Vectors are your friends. They can be a great compliment to the pixels you already work with as a photographer.  ;-)