[vector graphics explained]
Vector graphics dominate the graphic design industry for good reason because they are 'scalable' in that they can be scaled up or down to any size without loosing image (or indeed, print quality) - i.e. no nasty blurring or fuzzy edges.
This makes them perfect for businesses who may need to print their graphics small onto business cards, or absolutely giant sized onto a billboard.
The Technical Bit
Rather than being a grid of tiny pixels that make up a graphical image/shape such as a JPEG or a TIFF which are what are calledrasterised images or bitmap images, a vector is instead made up of shapes that do not contain pixels. Examples of vector graphic file formats are .AI and .EPS.
Below we use the icon from a recent logo design project to illustrate the difference between a vector image and a pixelated image. In the pixelated image you can see the little squares that make up each shape, and that these pixels do not exist in a vector image.
Vector graphics are very easy to alter each time the file is re-opened; in fact anything about the graphic can be changed including colours, provided you are opening the file in software that is specifically engineered for handling vector graphics, such as Adobe Illustrator for instance.
Vector graphic design formats allow you to open a previously saved file, change it, and then save it again - following this you can open the file an unlimited number of times, change it, and then save it.
Why Vector Graphics Are Best For Business
This feature of vector graphics is the reason why they are used by professional design firms to produce graphics that are suitable for web and print; producing an exceptionally high quality print because vector graphics are completely scalable to any dimension without loss of image quality.
Conversely a pixelated image has a restriction on how large it can be printed before the quality is lost. This varies from image to image depending on how large it's maximum print size is. For example, an image that is sized 2000 x 2000 pixels can be printed much larger than an image which is say 400 x 400 pixels in size.
The industry standard design software used for creating scalable graphic designs that are suitable for print as well as web is Adobe Illustrator; this sophisticated software creates graphics in vector format, and then from these vector images a whole multitude of other file types, including pixelated jpegs, can be exported without changing the scalable attributes of the vector file (the master file).
Examples of Bitmap/Rasterized Graphics
GIF, JPEG, PNG, TIFF, XBM, BMP, and PCX; these images types are made up of a group of tiny squares (called pixels), and once created they cannot be altered easily in the same way that a vector image can. In addition any attempts to rescale a bitmap image will result in blurring and loss of quality.
Likewise it is impossible to take a bitmap image, and turn it into a vector image, and the only way to produce a vector image from a bitmap is to trace and redraw the image from scratch in Adobe Illustrator to create the scalable version.
A Common Misconception
It's common for a lay person to think that lower grade vector design software is able to produce scalable/high quality print graphics, however although the software can create vector graphics in their own native file types, they cannot always export the vector file in a vector format that a printing firm will be able to accept, such as EPS, vector PDF or AI.
You can always give the printing firm an exported high resolution JPEG from the software, but this really is not ideal, and you have to question whether the software will be able to export a large enough JPEG (enough pixels) for the job at hand.
All in all, instead of guessing what you are doing and suffering potentially expensive printing errors, hire a professional who has the best software and knows what they are doing - to ensure the highest quality printed marketing materials!