Is a PNG File Considered a Vector File?

People often confuse the various image file types. While the distinction is usually not important to an end-user, knowing the difference can make or break your graphics design career. This is because you need the right graphics software when editing them. Despite this, most people erroneously think PNG files are vector images.

While a popular belief, PNG files are not vector-based files. They are a type of raster file. This is because they store graphics information as a series of points. In contrast, vector files such as SVG store data as equations or vectors that your computer computes on the fly.

Each type of graphics file has its advantages and disadvantages. By reading further, you will learn how to identify raster and vector graphics as well as their benefits and ideal uses.

Is a PNG File a Vector Image?

When starting a graphics project, you must first decide on the type of graphics file you need. That is because different graphics applications work with different formats. However, most people confuse PNG files with PDF, then get frustrated when their applications reject or cannot read their files.

This is because PDF and PNG files are vastly different things. One is a vector and document format while the other is a raster image file. Both are high-quality versatile digital graphics formats, but they have different roles and purposes.

PNG Files and Raster Images

Created to improve the performance of GIF files, the Portable Network Graphics (PNG) image format offers high-quality, lossless, digital images in a raster format. It also has a broader and brighter color palette and transparent backgrounds. It is also an open-source format compatible with most image editing software.

As a raster or bitmap image file type, PNG files store your graphics information as a series of pixels. The size of these pixels is defined by the initial resolution used to create the graphics and is, therefore, a fixed number. As a result, you cannot scale a PNG image all that well.

Despite this limitation, PNG files are the most preferred image format on the Internet for logos, charts, or anything else that does not require scalability. This is because the format retains its high-quality original data even when compressed.

Other Popular Raster Image Formats

PNG is not the only raster image format. As the original digital image type, several different raster formats graced digital publishing and the Internet. All of them do the same thing: store image data as pixels, but they all added extra features that made them useful in certain situations.

  • Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG or JPG) – JPEG files are perfect for photographs, especially online. They offer the perfect balance of file size and quality that keeps your photos crisp and not pixelated at most resolutions. However, they cannot have transparent backgrounds. As a result, JPGs are always rectangular with a solid background.
  • Portable Network Graphics (PNG) – As mentioned above, PNG files allow transparent backgrounds, but they also offer higher quality and larger image sizes. As such, people use PNG files as a general-purpose raster image format.
  • Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) – GIF is an older format that can only display up to 256 colors, but people still use it because of how small they can make GIF files. GIFs also support small animated sequences, making them great for simple graphics such as icons, buttons, and charts.
  • Tag Image File Format (TIFF or TIF) – The TIFF format allows for really large image files, making them perfect for professional-grade printing operations. However, their size makes them unusable for online applications.

What are Vector Files?

As an alternative to the raster formats, vector images offer more flexibility. These files use mathematical equations and formulas to generate graphics which lets you resize them without losing clarity or quality. This design also makes these image formats much smaller than their raster counterparts.

However, this feature makes them slow to render, making them unsuitable for most web applications. They also require special dedicated vector graphics edition solutions such as Adobe Illustrator and Inkscape. As a result, you cannot use vector formats to store photographs and other complex images.

Still, the versatility of vector files makes them perfect for scalable graphics applications. As such, most companies keep their logos, business cards, and other brand graphics master files in vector formats.

Common Types of Vector Files

If you need vector graphics for your project, one of the following formats will do. Just make sure you have an editor for your chosen format. Unlike raster formats, vector image types tend to be proprietary and exclusive to particular applications or suites.

  • Portable Document Format (PDF) – Originally proprietary to Adobe software, the now open-source PDF format can store either vector or raster images. However, they are generally just vector files used to store undeniable published documents.
  • Encapsulated PostScript (EPS) – EPS is an old vector graphics format used to store printable text documents and illustrations. You can also readily reopen and reedit them, but the format is not suitable for other applications as it does not support transparent backgrounds.
  • Adobe Illustrator Artwork (AI) – AI is Adobe Illustrator’s native proprietary format and therefore can only be used with that application. As such, most people use it as their working master file when working with Adobe’s graphics suite.
  • Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) – SVG is the open-source alternative to AI that supports animation and scalability. As a result, it is the most commonly used master working format for most graphics suites. They also support the XMK programming language, making the format very useful for web applications as most search engines can read them. However, not every browser or email application can read them.
  • CorelDRAW Artwork (CDR) – CDR is the native working format for the CorelDRAW application, a popular alternative to Adobe Illustrator. Unlike AI, CDR is currently a universal standard format supported by many applications.


Despite what some may believe, PNG images are not a vector image format. Instead, they fall under the raster digital image classification. This distinction has specific consequences regarding when you can use the format, and when you should choose something else.