The Best Design File Type for Signs and Banners
When designing custom signs and banners, it’s important to understand the difference between design file types, specifically the difference between raster and vector artwork. Some file types are natively raster-based, some are natively vector-based, and some are both. The absolute best file types for printing are those that are natively vector-based.


What is a vector art file?

A vector is a mathematic representation of some geometric form. If you remember back in math class, (either Algebra or Geometry), your teacher most likely gave you a function and then had you draw it on an x/y axis. This would be a basic example of a vector-based graphic. Programs such as Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, and Corel Draw are all natively vector-based applications that allow designers to create artwork where the resulting file is a collection of vectors. Some examples of vector-based file extensions are .AI, .CDR, .EPS, .PDF, etc.

Vector files are resolution-independent—thus, their resolution is determined only by the output device. Because vector elements are mathematically-defined, scaling (enlarging or reducing their size) simply requires modification of their component mathematical descriptions.


What is a raster art file?

Raster-based art files are design files that are broken up into small colored dots called pixels. Each of these tiny pixels put together creates an image. The quality of the design file depends on 1) the size of the design that was created, and 2) the resolution or dpi of the file—this will be the total number of pixels. The higher the pixel count, the higher the quality of file (which increases file size). Some examples are raster-based file extensions are .JPG, .TIF, .PNG, .PSD, etc.

Raster files are resolution-dependent—the number of pixels that occupy a given space must be defined. Consequently, raster image resolution is specified in pixels per inch (ppi), also known as dots per inch (dpi). Dividing the number of pixels in the height and in the width of a raster by its resolution will determine the physical size of the image—i.e., a 300 ppi raster image that is 900 pixels wide and 600 pixels high is 3 inches by 2 inches in size:

900 pixels ÷ 300 ppi = 3 inches wide, 600 pixels ÷ 300 ppi = 2 inches high.


Why is a vector-based art file better?

Vector-based art is better for printing because no matter the size of the final output, a vector file is always high-resolution. With a raster-based file, the quality of the file is dependent on the size and the dpi of the file.


I design using Photoshop—is it vector- or raster-based?

The simple answer is raster-based, but you can use Photoshop to create vector-based artwork files for some elements if you save as a .PDF.


Raster, vector, who cares? I’m sending you the art—you print it!

Sure! We will always be happy to print whatever you send. We pride ourselves on providing the absolute best signs and printing we can for our customers, but this always comes down to the original design file. Great, high-resolution or vector-based design files will result in a great, high-resolution sign.
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