Why do so many people struggle with the shift from a pixel editor to a vector editor? Or do they, is there some research done on the subject? Especially, it seems, in that direction. Seem like the opposite direction (vector to image editor) is not nearly as painful.

Are there any known, possibly researched, methods to facilitate the migration? How do you make the transition as painless as possible? Is there something one commonly needs to unlearn to be successful?

  • why do you think so, personal experience or do you know people that do/did struggle?
    – Luciano
    Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 8:47
  • @Luciano i can see quite many people struggling with the concept. Also when taught class and told people to use a vector drawing program, supplied programs and have material to practice, some people still couldn't use them. This is still anecdotal evidence i would like to see some real evidence as to why this is and even if it is true at all.
    – joojaa
    Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 8:52
  • It's the same when a CAD user tries to use a painting program. And it was the same in the old days when a painter had to perform technical drawings or when a technical designer had to paint. It needs a bit of attitude and a bit of practice. Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 10:26
  • 1
    @PaoloGibellini Yes but what practice do you need is the interesting bit. Anyway you'd think creative people would be fast on uptake but this is not necessarily the case, And no i had no problems moving from technical drawing to painting ;)
    – joojaa
    Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 10:48
  • 1
    @Emilie ^ since I see Joojaa didn't get your name right for pinging lol
    – Ryan
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 16:28

3 Answers 3


I had this problem. Back when I was a student and recent graduate, I hated working with vectors and would do essentially all my creative work in Photoshop, reluctantly switching to Illustrator to "vectorise" my completed, signed off design to create the final artwork. Getting a job where I had to produce data-driven graphics at short notice where working in raster was never an option cured me of my bad habit and made me face my problems with vector - and I now use vector for almost everything except photo editing.

For me, it boiled down to:

Vector has a steeper curve because raster does more with fewer variables

  • In Photoshop, almost everything boils down to basically manipulating the colour/value, blending/opacity and selected/masked state of pixels across layers. Almost all the fancy tools are basically variants on these three types of variable. Once you've got your head around these things, you can find ways to do almost anything using just a few tools and principles, and it's relatively easy to intuit and grasp what kind of tools might exist to make complex tasks easier
  • Illustrator has many more types of moving parts, and many more variables that are non-obvious or invisible at first. It's much easier to be completely stuck in Illustrator because you don't even know what type of tool might get you where you need to go. Here's a few things that helped me:
    • The appearance window. Many courses treat it like an optional advanced feature. I think this is a mistake. Being able to see a simple list of what is going on with each object and being able to edit them all in one place made it feel much more manageable, and makes the user feel more in control.
    • Working with effects and then expanding them to understand how Illustrator was actually getting from A to B using vectors. "Wow, that blend, wasn't magic, it was actually just a stack of a thousand slightly differing rectangles! Hey, I can take any of these rectangles and do things with them..."

Vector's lack of fuzziness takes some getting used to

Gradients and effects feel like an incredibly blunt tool when you're used to the complete freedom of fuzzy-edged selections and brushes in raster applications.

For me, learning to use gradient meshes and blends helped, mostly because discovering that I could make any type of near-photo-realistic elegant blend effect helped me realise that 99% of the time I didn't need to, and was feeling handicapped and limited from doing something I actually seldom needed to do.


Closely related to both the above. In Photoshop, working felt fluid and natural, like drawing or painting. In Illustrator, it felt like I was having to strategically plan a series of operations then clunk-clunk-clunk my way through them.

Part of this was just less experience, but a few things that helped included:

  • Learning that freehand drawing is possible in Illustrator and, with pressure-sensitive art brushes, can be very effective
  • q, the lasso selection tool. Every designer I've worked with recently has barely used it before, then started using it regularly after a few weeks working with me. Drawing a sweeping lasso around the points in the section of artwork you want to work on then manipulating them is much faster, and feels much more fluid, than clunk-clunk-clicking on many tiny points.


I'd got used to the pixel grid as a simple absolute everything could be kept precise against. I found it hard to adjust to Illustrator where everything could be off by near-infinitely tiny amounts.

Working intensively with the Align window (particularly realising it can be used with points, not just objects) and getting used to toggling smart align on and off from the keyboard without thinking about it, and understanding Illustrator's (invisible, object specific) pixel grid, made me appreciate that vector's lack of limits is purely a good thing and that I didn't need some fixed, arbitrary, inflexible ultimate grid.

Like learning to swim and moving to the deep end of the pool where your feet can't touch the bottom, you need to learn there are other things you can do - you don't need that crutch.

  • I definitely recognise some of these things from my early days with Illustrator. Additionally, I think one of the most daunting things for beginning designers is that you have to start with a blank page in Illustrator, whereas in Photoshop you can start from any image.
    – PieBie
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 13:16
  • I would like to nitpick a bit, a vector drawing tool has less variables. A line in a radter program has sevral pixels wort of data at 3 variables per pixel where as a vector line has 2 times 2 variables for points 3 for color one for width etc. What this means is its easier to change later.
    – joojaa
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 14:15
  • I'm not trying to use "variables" in any technical sense, I mean loosely something like ways in which the page is interacted with. Also, I'd like to niypick a bit, *fewer variables ;-) Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 14:44

I cant reference hard studies. Just some subjective thoughts that become too long for a comment.

I recently started learning/playing with ink dip pens. Quite a different experience, I'm much more comfortable with a brush or pencil in my hand. I think going from ink to paint or paint to ink you have a similar learning barrier. The ink & pen even makes familiar paper feel different.

Pixel format is very natural for any graphic artist. It has a canvas with width & height, I can set it to the dimensions of my paper if I like. I can have layers, which are like layers of paper. I draw a line, pixels get coloured. I smudge a line, pixels get smudged or feathered.

Vector format, its in the name, it uses vector points. Artist goes: "oh yeah vector, I know, those things my math teacher was talking about while I drew a donkey". To achieve a line, I need two vector points, that are unified, with a stroke turned on and fill off. Want a curvy line, easy, the vector points get turned into bezier control points. "I need a layer", yep just group them, that makes a layer, the whole asset is a series of nested groups/layers...

My point is, conceptually pencil and paper is a lot closer to pixels on canvas, than vectors in relative space.

Personally I found illustrator more exciting, being able to create simplified outlines, that'll be sharp on any device, printed at any size. Perhaps if you're teaching people who are more interested in concept art they'll find illustrator dull. Which is fair enough.

  • Yes but not all artists do painting, granted most of your art teachers were into fine arts so they were most likely familiar with painting. My art teacher was a calligraphist so we evolved lines much more than painted.
    – joojaa
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 15:28
  • Im envious, sounds like a cool teaching background. Isn't that the point though? Every artist from every field will be comfortable with pencil/paper. Not all will have an interest in product design or typography.
    – Lex
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 15:31
  • Yes but pencil works for line drawings too, for ths kinds of things i draw on paper with a pencil is usually more suited to vector graphics than not. But doing lines like in calligraphy may be more useful for a graphic designer. But not for a general artist.
    – joojaa
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 16:00
  • I think this is the most accurate answer really. Only thing I'd add is also the first software most come in to contact with is raster whether its a generation of KidPix, MS Paint, or kids today using smart phone filters and sketch applications.
    – Ryan
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 14:25

This is just an asumption.

Why would anyone think it is the "same" in the first place?

Regardless they are both Graphic Design related, the "two" have a diferent logic.

And there are diferent concepts of Pixel editors. Photo retouching, painting, one click "effects box". Of course it is easier to use a one click effect box than to draw a precision technical drawing or a vector ilustration, but personally I find quite challenging on how to use Painter with my wacom.

But let us think that it is the case. That pixel programs are easier to learn, probably becouse painting and free drawing is more natural. Kids do that all the time.

My two cents to learn on how to use a vector program is: Make small significant exercises with an objetive in mind.

  • Trace a logo. Good.

  • Now give them "effects" shadows, gradients.

  • Now transform that into a wallpaper.

If you make significant steps with the objetive in mind to have a product you can be proud off, you will feel the program as a tool, not as a challenge or a pain.

The same is true for a 3D program, or riding a bike.

  • Well all i need them to do is draw 5 to 4 lines. I think the sameness assumption is the one that throws people off.
    – joojaa
    Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 12:18
  • @joojaa perhaps the proposed software is too complex and your students need a simpler interface for this task? Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 12:42

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