Vectors vs Rasters: What They Are and Why It Matters

Vectors vs Rasters: What They Are and Why It Matters

If you're new to graphic design, terms like "vector" and "raster" may sound like Greek to you. Here in this guide, I'll explain what vectors and rasters are and why they matter. There's more to know, but this'll get you started. :)


RASTERS are a bunch of squares (pixels) that make up an image. Think Minecraft, just smaller squares (most of the time). The more pixels per inch, the higher the resolution of a raster. The bigger the better. Photos are always rasters. Common file types include JPGs, PNGs, and GIFs. The Glowforge can engrave rasters but can't cut a raster. You'll need a vector for that.

VECTORS are shapes made up of lines and paths that can be infinitely resized without any loss in clarity. To cut on the Glowforge, you'll need a vector. Common vector file types include SVG, EPS, PDF, and AI.

RASTERS (or bitmaps):

Common raster file types include JPGs, PNGs, and GIFs.

Made up of grids of pixels, commonly called bitmaps. Essentially, they are images comprised of a large number of dots that make the picture your eyes see. Examples of raster images would include photos that you take with your camera or phone. You know that "megapixel" reference on your camera or phone? That's talking about how many millions of dots it uses to make up a picture it takes. The more pixels or dots, the sharper they tend to look (also referred to as higher "resolution").

Typically, a raster image size is expressed in DPI (dots per inch, a printing reference) or PPI (pixels per inch). Raster images that are sized for display on a screen are usually 72ppi. Those meant for printing are usually 150-300ppi or higher.

There are many raster applications out there including Photoshop and Affinity Photo.

When using a Glowforge, rasters are great for engraving, but you can't cut a raster. A vector is required for cutting.



Common file types include: AI, EPS, SVG, and PDF.

Unlike rasters that are made up of groupings of squares, vectors are shapes that are made from paths (lines made from a bunch of math). Vectors can be resized infinitely and never lose clarity. Common uses for vectors include logos and cut files for saws, CNCs, or lasers.

There are many good vector applications out there including Adobe Illustrator, Affinity Designer, CorelDraw, and Inkscape.


  • PDFs and SVGs are just "container" files, meaning that they contain data. PDFs and SVGs are not automatically vectors. They can contain raster or vector (or both) data.
  • You cannot change a raster to a vector by simply saving it as a different file type (i.e. JPG to SVG). The file itself must be changed. For example, just because a file extension says it's an SVG, that doesn't guarantee that it's a vector. Someone could have simply saved a JPG as an SVG (which doesn't work).



  • Screenshots of pictures or graphics are rarely useful for anything. Take a minute on a computer and save images properly. And make sure you save them at full size.
  • Thumbnails or profile pics from social media? See above.
  • Make sure you have the legal right to use images. If they aren't yours and you didn't buy them, it's likely illegal.
  • ** Note for business people: Your logo should be a vector. If it's not, it wasn't made properly. And that will come back to hurt you at some point. Invest in yourself. Get it made properly. Your business deserves it and you'll be thankful.


Whew! There's a lot more to learn about vectors and rasters, but hopefully this will help you get started on your new design journey!