Russian Curves: My Introduction to the Raster – Vector Divide

My first experience with dealing with graphics and image systems had something to do with my own coming of age. ISDN connectivity came to India, and served up pictures of my first-ever curvy Russian heartthrob, at the top-dog speed of 64 Kbps. Some of these gorgeous pictures were downloadable! I had to have this Russian on my computer!

I had to devise a plan to keep the pictures ‘invisible’ on my computer – deceptively stored away in Microsoft Word documents. I brought the pictures of this curvaceous beauty home on an ever-so-unreliable 1.44 MB floppy disk, pasted the pictures into a Word file, password-protected it, and closed the file. When I opened the file a couple of days later, I noticed that the images were a little too small for me to ogle at – and I tried to make them larger by scaling/magnifying them to fit into the page.

Shriek! I couldn’t believe it! Gone were those deadly, yet beautiful and graceful curves on my favorite fighter plane – all I got was a bunch of unbecoming, jagged lines! I tried the same thing with Clipart in Word, and they scaled up just fine! WTH?!?!?!

Heartbroken and inconsolable, I started to read up on what had just happened. I stumbled into the world of file and image formats, and the primary division in computer graphics and images – raster and vector. If you’re curious about this too, there’s quite a lot of information out there – but I think these links will help you quickly understand how raster images and vector graphics differ:

I’ve read more, and could give you a long-winded discourse about the differences between the vector and raster worlds. But here’s the summary of what I have understood so far:


A vector graphic is made up of mathematical equations that work with paths, points, shapes, and formulae. Scale or magnify the image, and you actually increase the magnitude of its numbers – causing a quick re-computation of all relative data in the image, resulting in an image that nearly-flawlessly grows larger in size. The image stays crisp, clear, and clean. Clipart is a vector-based format. 


A bitmap or raster image is a humongous aggregation of very tiny coloured dots (pixels) that form a pretty picture when put together in close proximity. Scale or magnify the image, and the pixels ‘space out’, get discernably large, leaving you with gnarly and jagged edges for curves. JPEGs are a raster-based format (as are many other image formats we see everyday).

Image Description: Vector graphics versus raster graphics. The original vector-based illustration is at the left. The upper-right image illustrates magnification of 7x as a vector image. The lower-right image illustrates the same magnification as a bitmap image. Raster images are based on pixels and thus scale with loss of clarity, while vector-based images can be scaled indefinitely without degrading quality.


I now have the privilege of working at Adobe, the organization that makes the best tools to create, manipulate, optimize, and print both types of graphics – raster and vector. And as I venture deeper into the creative world, Adobe® Illustrator® territory to be specific, I look forward to wrapping my head around the endless possibilities of vector art.

Join me in my journey into Adobe Illustrator. On this blog, I’ll share what I learn, post the awesome stuff that I discover about Illustrator, and probably get to know the Adobe Illustrator professional and enthusiast community better.

William F. Buckley, Jr. said, “You cannot paint the Mona Lisa by assigning one pixel dab each to a thousand painters.” Now I know he sure was on to something profound! He knew Mona just wouldn’t scale!


Image and image description: Wikipedia. Permission: CC-BY-SA-3.0-MIGRATED.

5 Responses to Russian Curves: My Introduction to the Raster – Vector Divide

  1. Khushwant Singh says:

    Awesome David !!! Keep on the good work …

  2. Update: I’ve added another link to the blog post:
    The long and short of it: About vector graphics and raster images

  3. sonali says:

    cool!!!! but wondering about the beautiful curves!! 😉

  4. Awesome, David! While you grapple with the brush, here’s wishing more power to your pen!

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