Vector images are very useful when working with any type of graphics, such as watermarks or any graphic design project. Although commonly associated with programs such as Adobe Illustrator, it is possible to make a vector image in Photoshop too.
Although most layers in Photoshop are raster graphics, there are a few exceptions. Text layers and shape layers are considered vector graphics as they are made up of paths rather than pixels. These can be scaled infinitely without quality loss as long as the text or shape layer isn’t rasterized.
With the ability to resize without quality loss, it’s clear how vectors fit into your graphic design projects. Luckily, you can also vectorize images, such as a logo converted into a PNG or JPEG file. All it takes is a few basic steps, and you’ll be able to convert your rasterized graphics to vectors in no time.
Vector VS Raster Formats Explained
Raster formats are those that photographers tend to use every day, the very familiar JPEG, PNG, GIF, and more. Nearly all of the photographs you see online are rasters.
Raster images have pixels in them (you can see the colored squares when you zoom in tight and “pixel peep,” as photographers lovingly call it). In raster images, there are a fixed number of pixels, which means that you can’t change the size of the image without compromising the quality. That’s why blowing up a small JPEG file, for example, causes pixelation (seeing grainy pixels visibly) to occur.
On the contrary, vectors are images that do not rely on pixels. These images are constructed with math formulas rather than pixels. These math formulas create points and lines, resulting in an image that you can stretch and shrink without any sort of quality loss. The mathematical formula simply adjusts to the new scale. You can blow a vector file up to the size of a billboard or shrink it down to the size of a business card, and both will be the same sharp quality.
Vector formats include SVG, EPS, AI (which is the Adobe Illustrator extension), and even the commonly used PDF. The fact that a PDF is actually a vector file is a pretty neat, often unknown, fact.
The bottom line is if you need your image to frequently be scaled in different sizes (such as a logo or graphic), a vector file is the way to go. If your image will remain at the same resolution indefinitely (such as a finished photograph), that will remain a raster file.
How To Convert An Image Into A Vector In Photoshop
Unfortunately, Photoshop does not have a “convert to vector” button built into it — so it does take a few extra steps. But even then, converting an image into a vector isn’t too daunting in the program.
I am going to convert this PNG logo into a vector.
Step 1: Open Photoshop And Load The Image
First, open your Photoshop program and load the image you want to use.
Vectors work best with simple images. A complex photograph won’t do (and you’ll see why in the next few steps). Aim to vectorize images such as logos, text, or linework and ensure they are a solid color.
Images that are on a solid colored white background or transparent background will make your life tremendously easier, so be sure to do that before Step 2 as well.
You can see the checkerboard indicating that the background is transparent.
Step 2: Select The Lines In Your Image
To convert the image into a vector, we first have to tell the program what it is we want to vectorize. Use any of the available selection tools in Photoshop (such as the Object Selection Tool, Magic Wand Tool, Quick Selection Tool, Lasso Tool, and more) to select the lines or subject of your image.
In this case, I used the Magic Wand Tool because the logo was already on a transparent background, which made it easy to click on the transparent areas and then invert the selection.
To invert the selection, either right-click or Control + click on any part of the current selection and then click Select Inverse, or you can press Control + Shift + I (Win) or Command + Shift + I (Mac).
Step 3: Turn The Selection Into A Path
Once your selection has been made, it’s time to turn it into a path. Remember how we spoke about a vector being made up of lines and points? That’s what a path is.
With your selection tool of choice still active, right-click or Control + click anywhere on the selection and press Make Work Path.
Step 4: Adjust The Tolerance
Directly after pressing Make Work Path, another window will pop up asking for your Tolerance.
Tolerance in the context of making paths refers to how a path is allowed to deviate from its contours. If your tolerance value is a small number, then the path will follow the contour super closely. If it’s a large number, then your path will be very rounded.
My suggestion would be to keep the tolerance around the 1 or 2 range.
Step 5: Click The Direct Selection Tool
After creating the paths, select the Direct Selection Tool (A) in your Toolbar.
Step 6: Create A Vector Mask
With the Direct Selection Tool selected, right-click or Control + click anywhere on your image. In the menu that appears, press Create Vector Mask.
Once that option is clicked, a vector mask will appear in your Layers panel.
How To Export A Vector File In Photoshop
Now that you have a vector mask at the ready, you can save the file in its vector format! With vectors, you can save the file as an SVG or EPS. Both generally achieve the same result, but the difference is that SVG files are used for vectors that go on the web, and EPS files are used for vectors that go into a print workflow.
If you’re using the current version of Photoshop on Creative Cloud, you will need to do a quick step before you can easily save the file in an SVG vector format. That’s because Adobe decided to remove certain features from the default version of modern Photoshop, and you will need to restore one of them.
Go up to File > Export > Export Preferences.
A new window with options will appear. In the Export Preferences window, ensure that the Use legacy “Export As” box is checked and click OK on the right-hand side to make the change permanent.
Once the change has gone into effect, go back to File > Export > Export As. You can also use the Alt + Shift + Control + W (Win) or Option + Shift + Command + W (Mac) hotkeys to access the same feature. This will prompt the Export window.
In the Export window, click the dropdown menu next to Format and select SVG (this is the vector file extension). Finish the process by clicking Export in the bottom right corner, and that’s it!
If you need an EPS file extension instead, all you need to do is go to File > Save a Copy or press Alt + Control + S (Win) or Option + Command + S (Mac).
This will prompt the traditional Save window. When pressing the Save as type dropdown menu, just go down to Photoshop EPS, and that’s it!