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I don't understand something. If I transfer a vector shape/design into some pixel based software like Photoshop or After Effects it gets pixelated. Why?

The basic structure of any vector shape is not 'raster'. It should stay as it is no matter where ever I take/transfer it. But no! It forgets who it is whenever it sees Photoshop or After Effects!

So here is my question:

  1. So actually vector behave as vector in Adobe Illustrator only?

  2. Any vector shape/design will become pixelated/raster if I take/transfer it into raster/pixel based software?

  3. Is there any way I can keep/maintain a vector as a 'vector' in Photoshop or After Effects?

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3 Answers 3

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The term "pixelated" is a bit ambiguous. Basically it means the same as "rasterized", but we often use "pixelated" about images where the pixels are particularly visible. For example when there is a lack of anti-aliasing or when the image has been scaled up so each pixel in the image is drawn using several screen pixels resulting in a chunky appearance.

Everything you see on a screen is displayed using pixels. So vector graphics and type have to be rasterized to be able to be displayed.

When you are working in a vector application like Illustrator, the data of your vector graphics is of course stored as points in a coordinate system so you can scale and manipulate objects freely without loosing quality. But in order to display your graphics on screen they have to be constantly rasterized as you change zoom level and pan around.

Saving or exporting as .ai, .eps or .pdf and other vector formats preserves the vector qualities of your artwork, but when you export a raster image, you decide on an image size and the graphics will be rasterized to that particular resolution for good.

A vector file can have a relatively small file size, but still be very demanding for the computer to render on screen. A raster file will in many cases be larger, but because it has already been rasterized, it's often quicker to display.

In a raster editor like Photoshop you can draw vector objects or place Illustrator files which can be scaled up and down without a loss in quality of the vector shapes themselves. But a Photoshop document always have fixed pixel dimensions so the vector graphics will be rasterized at that particular resolution! In other words, they will only look sharp when you view the image at 100%. If you zoom in, you will see chunky pixels.

I don't know much about video editing software like After Effects, but it must be possible to use scalable vector shapes there as well. But only in the editing phase. In the end you will export a video in a certain resolution, so the vector will end up as pixels. A video which can be scaled up endlessly and keep looking sharp doesn't exist.

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  • Wow. I Understand now. Thank you <3 Jul 2 at 11:37
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    @RussianBlue, You're welcome! This article has some nice vector vs. raster visualizations. Especially this one.
    – Wolff
    Jul 2 at 14:15
  • :O Thank you so much @Wolff Jul 2 at 16:05
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  1. No. There's lots of other vector based software (Inkscape, CorelDraw, Figma, Adobe Animate, etc), web browsers, and PDF viewers which can all display vectors without pixelization, i.e. you can zoom in, and you won't see pixelization. Also note that technically all graphics (including vectors) must be ultimately rendered as pixels (since computer screens are made of pixels).

  2. Yes. Raster based software always rasterizes everything ultimately.

  3. Not really. However, in Photoshop you can place a vector file as a Smart Object which can be rescaled without pixelization, and which will remain as a vector if you save the PSD, but it will always be rasterized when outputting the final raster image, and if you zoom in on a vector object placed in Photoshop you will still see pixelization.

I can't really answer anything about After Effects, as I don't use it. But videos are raster images, so ultimately even if a video editor does support scalable vector objects, the images will still have to be rendered as video files eventually, which will rasterize everything. If you have specific questions about video editing software, better to post on Video Production Stack Exchange.

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  • Excellent! Thank you so much. Jul 2 at 11:38
  • @RussianBlue - sorry its' so long, but it's a complicated subject.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jul 2 at 11:39
  • I dislike all the YouTube "how to" videos where the guy talks too much, without going to the subject directly.. I want precise answer. exactly to the point. Your answer is that. So no worries. I like Wolff's answer too, you both are my fav gurus here. Scott too. so am not gonna pick (Tick mark) anyone's answer. I dnt want anyone sulk. facepalm. Jul 2 at 11:41
  • @RussianBlue - you should choose one answer as best. That way, it finishes the question and it won't keep coming back to haunt us. Don't worry about it. Nobody will be upset whoever you choose!! In fact, choose Wolffs, it's a good one, a bit more detailed than mine.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jul 2 at 11:44
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    I obeyed you Maters! I ticked Wolff's answer. :D Jul 2 at 11:47
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Essentially the difference of vector editors and raster editors is as follows:

  • a raster editor assumes that there is one global pixel grid. Thus everything gets rendered to that grid so that the editor can edit these pixels.

    This has several advantages, you can see what the actual pixel data is going to be and you can perfectly layer stuff on eachother.

  • a vector editor, CAD, 3D application assumes that the data is somehow richer than a pixel. As a bonus you may in many cases zoom infinitely because the rasterisation is deffered.

    One should be wary to think of this as a picture because it might not get interpretted like that at all. It might get cut by thse instructions, or describe road connectivity etc etc.

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  • Thank you so much for your kind reply. Jul 2 at 16:05

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