Using vector graphics can be one of the most exciting, creative, and distinctive ways to create digital artwork. For years, I’ve taught students who are migrating from bitmap illustration how to use vectors. This article will give you a quick glimpse into the logic and techniques of vector artwork, but you’ll need to open Illustrator and do some experimenting if you really want to learn how to work with vectors.
Vector Artwork: Cool But Challenging
Because vector artwork is generally scalable, the same file that’s used for a tiny icon can be used on a billboard—with no degradation in quality and no increase in file size. Like the SWF ("swiff") files produced by Flash or Adobe Illustrator, vector artwork is sizable online; viewers can zoom in or out without distortion. And because of the way in which computers manage vectors, you can manipulate vectors easily, with dramatic effect. For example, in Illustrator you can take a single path connected by two anchors, spin it, and produce a 3-D object.
If vector artwork is so great, why isn’t everyone using it? The main reason that vector graphics software such as Adobe Illustrator is intimidating and off-putting is that most artists aren’t used to thinking and working in vectors. When you create artwork using bitmap (non-vector) illustration programs such as Photoshop, it’s much like daubing paint on a canvas. Photoshop creates and edits dots or bits, which are mapped by a computer program.
By contrast, Illustrator and other vector graphics programs define paths between anchors. The anchor points that you define form the heart of your vector artwork. The paths that connect those vectors are actually controlled by attributes of the anchors.
In Illustrator, often things that seem basic are very difficult to do, while things that seem complex are fairly simple. For example, generating a bell from a curve by using Illustrator’s 3-D rotation effect (see Figure 1) is a pretty simple matter of clicking options in dialog boxes. Drawing that simple-looking curve is the trickier part of the process. For this article, let’s focus on that trickier part—drawing curves.
Figure 1 Applying 3-D effects to a vector object.