From image to icon, the power of vectorizing

When it comes to graphic design, it is imperative to understand the strength of imagery and its ability to communicate on many levels. In this eye-opening chapter, we are going to explore the world between imagery and vector and the creation of a hybrid element born out of these two very different worlds. The vector image is a solution that exaggerates the functionality of images far beyond their pixelated origins, opening up a world of possibilities in creating impressive icons, logo designs, and vector manipulation to animation and beyond, all derived from the vast possibilities of photography.

We all know that images are essential to the creative process. But why exactly are they so important? Well, images have the unique ability to convey complex ideas and emotions with just a glance. They can help create the mood and tone of a design, evoke emotions, and even tell a story. In today’s world of digital media, where attention spans are short and competition is fierce, images can help capture the viewer’s attention and make your design stand out from the crowd.


Image to Icon - 1st image


Every rose has its thorns

So images are incredibly important to the graphic design process. However, as much as we love imagery, their functionality is fairly limited in comparison to other elements designers are familiar with, and if you have been in the design world long enough, you would know all too well they can be problematic at times:

  • File heavy: Images are made up of pixels, and the more pixels and bit-depth an image carries, the bigger the file size. This can bring up a multitude of problems for designers, from storage and distribution to their functionality on websites and apps.
  • Pixelation issues: The idea of the pixel is all well and good, as it brings unrivaled detail and endless possibilities with editing in Photoshop. However, when it comes to resizing, pixelation becomes a big no-no. This lack of quality when scaling up can cause serious trauma to your design projects and can damage your brand identity.
  • Too much detail: Yes, that’s right, too much detail. Images are too close to reality for use in branding material such as logos, icons, and infographics. Furthermore, the amount of detail can disrupt the flow of your composition, and when surrounded by vector-based elements, they can also look out of place.
  • Copyright issues: Images can be too real sometimes and can encroach on certain rights if misused, such as using people’s identities, creative ownership, and property.
  • Consistency: All images are unique from one another and so consistency is practically impossible. For example, creating a logo using an image would be very hard to update in the future.
  • Virtually impossible to animate: It’s quite possible that in this day and age, you want to animate elements sourced from photography. This is what may be considered unrealistic and more than a challenge for even the most talented.

It is for these reasons that images just don’t make the cut when it comes to the creation of iconic branding. Images are stuck in one gear, while vectors can be easily manipulated and even keep up with current trends.


So what if you could take the qualities images provide us, and make them more better…more vector?


Image to Icon - 2nd image


A fantastic example of an image becoming a vector icon is that of the clothing brand Obey and its now world-famous logo. It was the face of none other than Andre the Giant that caught the eye of founder Shepard Fairey. Fairey, a street artist-turned-fashion mogul, was inspired by the iconic wrestler’s larger-than-life persona and chose to feature his likeness in a series of street art posters. The response was overwhelming, and soon, Obey Clothing was born. Today, the brand is recognized worldwide for its unique style and bold designs, and it’s all thanks to Fairey and his vectorized image of Andre the Giant.

This story teaches us the importance of the subject matter, which can transcend far beyond what was thought possible. And in this case, the vectorized character icon has acted as the megaphone, making it possible for this idea to replicate across multiple platforms, taking on the world. Of course, a little bit of marketing strategy helps too.

So what is vectorizing an image?

Vectorizing an image means converting it from a raster or bitmap format to a scalable vector format. The vector format is resolution-independent, which means that it maintains its quality regardless of its size. When you vectorize an image, you manipulate its mathematical formulas instead of adjusting the pixels. Vector images are defined by lines, curves, and geometric shapes that make the image look smooth and clear even when it’s enlarged. Vectorizing images are especially useful for logos, icons, and graphics that will be used across different mediums and sizes.

Vectorizing images has various benefits that make it a must-have skill for designers and developers alike. Some of the advantages include:

  • Scalability: Vector images maintain their clarity no matter how much they are resized. This is particularly useful for designing logos and icons that will appear on different mediums.
  • Small file size: Vector files are far smaller than raster images, which can save you a lot of space on your hard drive and cause less of a headache when sending your precious designs to clients.
  • Editing: Vector images are easy to manipulate and edit using industry-standard software such as Illustrator, meaning your design can keep up with brand updates.
  • Professional finish: Vector images have a clean and professional look, which can enhance the quality of your designs no matter where they are seen.


Image to Icon - 3rd image


How to vectorize images

Vectorizing images can be done using Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, and CorelDRAW, among other vector software. The process involves tracing the bitmap image using pen or shape tools, adjusting the paths and curves, and then editing the colors and gradients. You can also use the Live Trace option in Illustrator, which automatically converts the image into a vector format. However, this option may not always produce the desired results, so you may need to refine the image manually.

Using your new vectorizing skills to make captivating icons

Vectorizing images to create striking icon concepts is a clever and innovative way of generating countless icon designs. And the best part is, half the work has already been done for you. Whether you’re sourcing through your own images or from Freepik’s stock image library, you can bet that there is something useful hiding amongst the pixels, from human subjects to everyday objects, natural patterns, and shapes.

Picking the right elements

Searching for icon material in photographs is like being a kid in a candy shop. You need to know when to stop. There are a few things to look out for when looking for fitting elements that will make the process much easier for you to pick what’s useful and what isn’t. A lot of it comes down to perspective, and with most icons gravitating towards flat, oversimplified objects and shapes, this will narrow down your search somewhat.

Changing perspective

Perhaps you have found the perfect image element for your icon design, but it doesn’t quite fit a space or has been shot at the wrong angle. Before vectorizing the image, head into Photoshop and play around with the Perspective Tool until it looks right. The other option is to draw straight from the image creating your own imitation of the subject. This can lead to a more creative outcome, with the designer being in more control over the icon’s appearance. However, this requires more skill.

Editing to perfection

It’s more often than not that your icon will be part of a set, meaning each icon needs to look uniform, following certain aesthetic guidelines chosen by yours truly. Therefore your new icon may have to fit in a specific space, within a square or a circle, use colors from a pre-selected color palette, and use specified stroke widths. Restricting your vectorized image icon in such a way will keep your designs looking sharp and functional.

SVG icons

To get the most out of your icons functionality, it is important to understand the significance of SVG icons or scalable vector graphic icons in web and app design. Check out this fascinating article SVG icons, keeping consistency with editable strokes, for a more in-depth discussion. They are fast becoming the standard for icons used in XML format due to their vector-based scalable function, enabling your icons to scale up or down without losing any quality, no matter where they reside. Become a premium member and gain all access to a whole range of SVG icons available in Flaticon.

All in all, vectorizing images is a formidable skill to master. Not only do they really impress audiences visually, but they provide functional solutions to visual communication as they take all the good from the slowly aging idea of pixel-based imagery and combine them with the convenience of vector graphics, essentially giving images more freedom. Give this positively charged design method a try in your projects, and let’s see where your designs take you.