Thursday, February 11, 2010

Vector vs. Raster art (for children's edu illustrators or anyone who wants a good black line)

What is the difference between vector art  and raster art, and why should a children's illustrator care?

Flash and Adobe Illustrator both create vector line art. One way to describe the value of vector art: If you export your Flash-drawn line art as an AI or EPS file, it is scaleable up or down -- as large or as small as you like -- without losing any quality in the end. Pixel resolution is not a concern when you are in a working vector file. The art in the working file is not dependent on pixel resolution... and if the finished file is also vector-native, such as an .EPS file, then the art in the end file is not either.

Photoshop, for all its wonderful qualities, creates bitmapped /raster art. And I am a die-hard Photoshop-head, for sure. I promise, I am not knocking my dear Photoshop . I'm simply pointing out something that just is not built into Photoshop. Photoshop, by contrast, uses pixels to DEFINE the resolution of the working file. It is not scaleable the way that vector art is. When you create your working Photoshop art, what you "set" is what you "get". What I mean is, what ever you "set" your resolution to - your file size to, is not changeable in the end. It is what it is. If you draw your racecar at 2 inches wide at 300 dpi, you cannot scale it up to 2.5" inches without loss of quality. (You'll get smudgey, dirty pixels around the perimeter of your car.) The one thing you CAN do that is contrary to this, is if you plan to work at a WAY higher resolution, say 600-1000 pixels per inch, you can then place that art into a regular print-res file for printing (300 ppi) and the art WILL be larger by virtue of the pixel-per-inch size differential. (This is not necessarily something I recommend doing, but it is an option for those times when you need to create a truly ginormous piece of artwork such as for a trade show booth, or for an extremely large outdoor advertisement to be used for a wall of a bus stop cover, for instance.)

I like to use Flash to illustrate and do line art because the line has an organic feel. But Flash also has it's drawbacks: you cannot create custom brushes for instance, and the line quality in Flash is not the most detailed. These issues are likely due to the fact that Flash was primarily created as a tool for animation, not for finished illustrations. (Fair enough, but I sure hope they upgrade the drawing capabilities in future releases).  Adobe Illustrator also does a wonderful job creating vector art, and is the industry standard in vector art creation. In the past, I shunned Illustrator for it's lack of natural- looking, natural-feeling brushes. But nowadays, things are different. Illustrator comes with some lovely painterly brushes, and now, you can even craft your very own brushes with ease, right in the program itself! While I've always felt Illustrator also has it's own set of drawbacks, I now feel that, with Illustrator as it is TODAY, my own personal lack of breadth of knowledge of the program is my main liability with the program. It's come an awfully long way - and I will be exploring it in far more depth this year. 

Ever since I myself discovered the value and importance of having a vector line style I can really stand behind, I feel as though I personally have been on a crusade to push vector art to my fellow children's edu illustrators. So much 'black line' art is called for in educational work. It's important for artists to make their own individual discoveries and find a method they enjoy to create this form of art. This serves both the clients' interest as WELL as our own. Specifically with 'black line' art, vector art is the most flexible type of file for clients, and it is becoming more and more in demand. When my end work is more flexible for clients, I in turn am a more flexible artist for them to choose to work with. By extension, my work and I am also more valuable to my clients. In the end, this makes ME more marketable, all around! And take my word for it, YOU will be, too!! You will also learn some new things, and there is NEVER anything bad about that. :)

Have a great time exploring all of the fun ways you can make vector black-line art!

1 comment:

Christine Throckmorton said...

My day job is to teach Graphic Design to high-school kids. We just completed Photoshop (first half of the year), and just this week-before the snow days-I introduced Illustrator. I think I explain the raster vs. vector thing pretty well, but I could always use some backup. And you just gave it to me; thanks!!!! You rock!

Due to being snowed in and having a busted power cord for my MacBook, the image I need to send you is a bit delayed...Stay tuned! ;)