When we’re young, the most interesting things in our lives are the things we can see. Picture books and web videos are more universally appealing than the written word, and they don’t rely on a certain level of literacy to be engaging. While good writing can be remarkably effective, the truth is that images are the fastest way to tell a story, make a point, or convey information.
To this end, designers in the digital age often choose between two types of digital images in order to get their point across: bitmap vs. vector graphics. Bitmap images, which are created from different colored pixels, are the more common image type found in digital products and websites. In contrast, vector images, which rely on mathematic equations to generate a two-dimensional image, are often used when file size is at a premium and the focus is on information rather than beauty or realism.
In order to make an informed decision on what (and how) to include digital images in your product or service, let’s take a look at the common uses of bitmaps vs. vector images, the differences between them, and how UX designers can use bitmaps and vector graphics most effectively in their designs.
What are bitmap images?
Bitmap or raster images are created with a collection of bits or pixels. In their simplest form, bitmap images are two colors: black and white.
Line art is similar to a pencil sketch drawing done digitally. It helps the viewer focus on the outline of the elements. Designers can use line art to represent image placement if a designer wants to create low-fidelity wireframes.
Designers can use grayscale images to show the different tones and temperatures of a design or an image. Without any distracting colors, grayscale can simplify the design and bring out a minimalistic look and feel to a website.
Multi-tone images contain two or more shades of color, often in multiple combinations. They are not as same as the full-color images since they are only a combination of few colors.
Full-color images can bring out different emotions through vivid colors. Typically used in either CMYK or RGB format, these images are commonly used in corporate applications and in graphics where first impressions matter.
What is a vector graphic?
Vector graphics are a combination of mathematical formulas that define shapes, colors, and placement. They contain instructions about where to locate each of the components to create the expected element and even embed a bitmap graphic within a vector graphic. Vector graphics are created using Bézier curves, which allow designers to scale images as simple as a shape or as complex as a full-blown illustration.
What are the differences between bitmap vs vector images?
Vector graphics vs. bitmap images have similarities and differences; understanding the distinction between them can help you make an informed decision about which type of graphic is best for your design.
Differences in file size
The file size is an important factor when choosing between bitmap vs. vector. When designing digitally, vector images take up less space in storage compared to bitmap images. Bitmap images are typically larger because they are made from pixels that carry more weight than the vector images.
If your design needs to be lightweight, you should avoid high-resolution bitmap images and use small, low-quality formats instead. Vector images are inherently smaller because they are made from lines of code rather than pixels. As a result, vector graphics load faster due to the small file size, making them very popular in mobile-based applications.
One of the biggest problems that designers face is having to resize images. In UX design, a poor-quality image can negatively impact the overall user experience. Bitmap images can be resized, but you may sacrifice pixels in the process. In contrast, vector images can resize themselves without sacrificing image quality, making them more scalable in design.
Bitmap vs. vector: Which is easier to use?
Ease of use is an important consideration for UX designers. Scaling is a big problem when it comes to using bitmap vs. vector images. Bitmap images, in general, lack power in two main areas: The images lose quality when scaling, and it’s more difficult to transform from bitmap to vector rather than the other way around. These issues take away valuable time that the UX designer could use for improving the product.
On the other hand, vector images are resolution independent; this is a huge advantage for the designers in web or application design. Having the highest-quality photo is great for the overall design since it has a direct impact on how the usability presents itself through an aesthetic lens.
When to use a bitmap image
Designers should use bitmap images for websites featuring products, restaurants, travel, tourism, and e-commerce because the images are more visually appealing. In digital applications, the designers use bitmap high-quality images to create an instant likeness, prompting users to interact with the product. Through the use of lifelike imagery, designers can create a sense of desirability and credibility that engages the user.
When to use vector graphics
Vector images are the primary choice for printing, logos, signs, illustrations, infographics, and creating animations. Vector images provide high-quality, scalable images while also conserving file size. Versatile for many business applications, UI designers are able to edit vector graphics and quickly generate new ones to meet project requirements. Vector images are also useful for providing powerful, straight-forward messaging to a variety of audiences.
When deciding between vector vs. bitmap, designers should always focus on the key aspects of the design and what message they intend to convey. Images are a powerful way of sending messages, and if a designer selects the wrong type of imagery, the user may lose interest in the product or service. Read through our web design articles for more inspiration, tips, and tricks.