Category Archives: Art Instruction

vector 10 colors

Vector vs. raster for noobs

For newbies: vector vs. raster files

If you’re new to digital art, you may have heard these terms, but perhaps you don’t quite understand, or know which to use when. Here’s a rundown of the differences between these two image types.


Raster images, also called bitmap images or raster graphics, are made up of pixels. Most freehand drawing programs utilize raster, though some use vector too. Photographs, once scanned and digitized, or coming from a digital camera, are raster.

raster image

Raster image: photo of lotus

Pixels are tiny squares expressed in points per inch, also called dots per inch (ppi or dpi). Each pixel can be edited. Using Photoshop or another image editor, you can zoom in and see an individual pixel.

To understand pixels, think of a Chuck Close portrait, made of tiny little squares whose edges are invisible unless seen very close up. To see pixels, you need to zoom way in.

A 6″ x 6″ image at 300 dpi is is 1800 x 1800px or 324,000,000 million pixels! That’s a lot of information. A computer can handle that with no problem.

Early computer games were made with pixel art, which has a pleasing, toylike look whose popularity has resurfaced in films like Wreck-it Ralph.

Online images are usually 72ppi (often called dpi–though the terms are used interchangeably, there is some difference in meaning, but people know this and will understand). Print images usually use 300ppi. A very high-res image might be 600ppi.

Raster images cannot be enlarged without losing some information, resulting in fuzzy, “pixelated” images. Large, high-res images can slow down your computer, especially when you use a lot of layers in your drawing program. Despite the inconveniences, drawing freehand using raster graphics feels more similar to drawing on paper than drawing in vector does.

Raster image file types (this is not all of them but the main ones):
jpg (jpeg), gif, png, psd, tiff

Raster programs include Photoshop, Sketchbook, Gimp.

(See our introductory article about art tablets)

Uses of raster files

Photographs and digital drawings and paintings are usually raster. Most art online is raster to begin with, or vector art that was rasterized, because browsers don’t display vector files. Scanners output images into raster. The majority of freehand digital illustration is done in raster.

raster digital painting

Digital painting in raster, done in Krita. Image credit: David Revoy / Blender Foundation (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. Page

Pros: Feels and looks like freehand drawing, can edit pixels, not much learning curve to start, most people can open files to view

Cons: large file sizes when in high-res, enlarging images creates pixelation, cannot edit lines.


Vector images are not made of dots. They are made of paths. A computer uses math to create the image you’re drawing as a wireframe.

Vector images can be resized with no loss of information. They can be blown up very large and will look the same. Vector art tends to look smooth, simple and geometric. It can resemble cut paper. Some artists are able to do vector art so that it has as much detail as any other kind, and it doesn’t look simple at all.

When you make vector art, you manipulate points. Vector art lends itself to working with a pen or mouse. It can feel like working in collage, where you create shapes and move them around, combine, or subtract them. When shading, if you zoom in, you will be able to perceive that the gradations of color are actually distinct shapes.

Some vector-based programs: Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw, Inkscape, Flash, Autocad

Flash is a vector-based animation program. You can use it to draw non-animated art as well.
Autocad is a vector-based drafting program used by architects and engineers.

Many art programs now let you use both vector and raster–for instance, if you’re in Photoshop and need to open an Illustrator file, you open it as a Smart Image. Manga Studio allows you to use both raster and vector.

vector logos

Logos as examples of vector illustrations

What if you’re working with a client who doesn’t understand the difference?

Clients often do not understand the difference. It’s not our jobs as artists to explain it to them, it’s our job understand what they want. I once had a client ask me to do a job requiring detailed images delivered “in vector.” This job involved a lot of freehand drawing, which I do much better at in raster. At first I considered converting my raster images to vector, which would not have worked well.

But then I realized maybe they only meant they wanted art that could be resized easily, and they knew vector art did this. So I asked them if high-res Photoshop (TIFF or JPG) files were OK, and they said yes. Phew! Remember that clients don’t always know the terminology, so keep communication clear.

Raster to vector: Auto-trace

vector image

Image after being “Auto-Traced” and turned into vector

You can “auto-trace” raster images in vector programs such as Adobe Illustrator, meaning convert them to vector, but if you keep all the colors you will end up with a very large file too complex for some uses. If you don’t use all the colors, you will see the edges between the colors with the naked eye. So when printing photos or detailed raster art, it’s better to leave it as raster. Going the opposite way, converting vector to raster, does not change the image much.

vector 10 colors

Vectorized photo reduced to 10 colors

Uses of vector files

Most logos and text is created in raster. Fonts can be manipulated in vector. Graphic designers use vector extensively. Illustrators increasingly use vector for even detailed art, as the software becomes more sophisticated.

Some vector file types:
AI, CDR (Corel Draw), sometimes EPS

Pros: Enlargeable, prints well, is possible to do a beautiful illustration without great drawing skills (I do not meant that in a negative way), smaller file size. Can change line width and characteristics after drawing the line.

Cons: Challenging to get much detail, steep learning curve, not everyone can open them to view them.


Vector illustration by artist Jannie Ho. She makes it look almost like raster.

Both file types support layers. Like raster, some vector programs support pressure sensitivity.

Want to try?

If you want to try a free vector and raster programs, Inkscape is a versatile and fun vector program. Gimp is a free raster program often compared to Photoshop. There are free vector and drawing apps for tablets.

You might say that using raster to “paint” and vector to “draw,” or design, unless you’re one of those artists who can make vector look like raster or like traditional media.

Vector and raster images are


Video: how to use Intuos Draw and ArtRage for a portrait

In this video by Wacom Americas, artist Barbara Leitzow shows how to use the oil paint tools in ArtRage to paint a portrait using the Intuos Draw. ArtRage is an affordable digital painting program with tons of fun features, such as brushes that look like real oil paint, and even glitter (can’t go wrong with glitter). If you don’t want to sink the money into expensive digital art software at this time, ArtRage is a great place to start (and you may even decide to continue with it)–it has mobile and desktop (Mac and PC) versions. The program supports Wacom features such as Tilt and Rotation, and even has settings for various Wacom styluses. It has layers and blending modes, and you can choose different canvas textures. ArtRage gives you a lot of control and customization abilities. It’s optimized for touch, with a lot of tools on-screen. It gives you the ability to mirror and duplicate strokes. The interface is simple and intuitive. It’s as easy as drawing with crayons.

Book Review: iPad for Artists: How to Make Great Art With Your iPad

Book Review: iPad for Artists: How to Make Great Art With Your iPad

by Tablets for Artists



iPad for Artists by Dani Jones

iPad for Artists is an illustrated book with tons of tips on making digital art, choosing the best iPad styluses, the best iPad drawing apps, and more

If you’re looking for a book with an in-depth discussion of tools and techniques for iPad art, digital illustrator Dani Jones’s iPad for Artists: How to Make Great Art With Your iPad is your ticket. It’s available only in paperback form–here it is on Amazon. We wish it were available as an e-book that we could read on IPad. But on paper, we can read it while working on your iPad at the same time, so paper makes sense.

The author is an excellent digital artist whose site is at Here is one of the many books she has illustrated:








The Best Mariachi in the World
by J.D. Smith, 
illustrated by Dani Jones

Jones reviews styluses, art apps, and more. The book contains many illustrations in her delightful style, as well as artist spotlights to show other artists’ work.

Her favorite iPad painting and drawing apps

Her favorite painting and drawing apps for iPad are Sketchbook, Procreate, ArtRage, and Brushes. You get those from the app store on your iPad, and they will install onto the iPad.

Besides introducing tools, she takes you step-by-step through creating a work of art on your iPad. You will learn to use layers and other important features. She used to have a lot of great tutorials on her blog, but she has changed her focus and taken them down–so you’re going to have to buy the book to get her excellent instruction.

She covers creating art that looks as if it has been done in different media, including pencils, cartoons, watercolor, oil paint to create portraits, landscapes, and other types of art. She does children’s books. (You may be surprised that a lot of kids’ books are done digitally, but it’s quite normal now.) You’ll also learn about working with photos. an She takes you through creating slideshows and organizing your work.

She also talks about which iPad is best for artists. Any iPad is fine and they all can be used with all the art apps. Newer versions are faster. iPads with more memory will allow you to store more artwork. However, storage space isn’t that important as far as the amount of pictures, as if you have a lot of iPad high-resolution art, you can store them in ICloud, or transfer them to your computer.

Her favorite iPad styluses

As for styluses, she prefers the Adonit Jot Touch, and the Wacom Bamboo iPad Stylus.

(See our article on the best iPad styluses.)


The apps are up to date as of now, but we hope she releases a new edition. The apps have universal characteristics, and this book will show you those, so it should help with any finding the best art apps for iPad, new or old. iPad for Artists does not cover every single app out there, but it’s plenty to get you up to speed.

She points out that while tablet PCs have a much wider capability for artists, the iPad is a popular item, is portable, and versatile. More and more art apps and styluses are made for IPad.

The book will get you much farther than just playing around on the iPad, though playing around is a must for any artist of any kind–it makes you understand the tools and media, and to overcome limitations.

We highly recommend Dani Jones’ iPad for Artists: Make Great Art with your iPad, for those starting out on the iPad and for artists making the transition to digital. It covers not only tools, techniques, and apps, but helps you become a better artist.


Besides using her iPad, Dani does a lot of her work on a Wacom Cintiq–here is my review of the 13HD Cintiq.)




iPad Air 2




ipad for artists

The Wacom Bamboo Stylus comes in lots of colors! You can use it on your iPhone, Kindle Fire, Android phone, and any other tablets that use a capacitive stylus. See our article on best iPad styluses for artists.


End of review of digital art book iPad for Artists