A vector is a special kind of graphic that’s made up of points, each with a defined X and Y coordinate. These points join paths to form shapes, and inside these shapes you can add colour fills. Why is this good? Crucially, because it means vectors can be resized to any size without any loss of quality.
For this reason, vector graphics are increasingly popular amongst designers for everything from print illustrations to interface designs. And if you don’t have the time, the energy or the expertise to create them yourself, that’s not a problem either. is packed with high-quality, low-cost vector graphics covering everything from simple icons to detailed drawings.
When most people think of vectors, they usually think of those minimalist icons that symbolise the rise of flat design. But that’s not all vector graphics has to offer; far from it. Read on as we explain some of other uses you might not have thought of…
01. Pixel art
Heavily influenced by those 8-bit graphics seen in early 80s video games, Pixel Art sees artists specify the location of individual pixels, which are built up to create intricate scenes, game backgrounds, characters, and 3D effects. Pixel Art is bang on trend right now, and its deceptive simplicity means you can use it to represent a wide variety of topics.
The library is a great place for your readymade Pixel Art vectors. Search using terms like ‘pixel’, ‘pixel art’, ‘pixelated’ and ‘video game’. Of course, you could create your own pixel art yourself but be warned; it’s far more complicated and time-consuming to create than it might look. And it’s a similar case for number 2 on our list...
02. Maps and flags
There are times when you may prefer to create your own vector images, and that’s great. But do you really want to spend time painstakingly replicating something as standard as a national flag, or a country map? Thought not. So take a look: iStock by Getty Images has more than 2,000 map illustrations and more than 3,000 flag illustrations to choose from. Add search terms defining the country or region you’re looking for, as well as honing your search with terms denoting colour and visual style (‘outline’, ‘flat’, ‘glossy’, ‘2D’, ‘3D’, etc).
We tend to think of maps and flags in terms of functionality, but they can add visual interest to your designs too. So if you’re seeking a map or flag that offers a bit more eye-candy, try adding terms like ‘beautiful’, ‘creative’, ‘colourful’, ‘illustrative’ and so on.
Oh, and while we’re talking about making your designs look beautiful, have you considered using...
03. Painted vectors
We often think of vector art as cold, precise and geometric, and much of it is. But if you’re looking to add a bit more of a solid, earthy feel to your design, then painted vectors could be just what you’re looking for. Try search terms like ‘painted’, ‘watercolour’, ‘ink’, ‘brush stroke’ and ‘grunge’ to see what’s available.
Abstract painted vectors like the ones shown above are great for adding a touch of attractive colour to your designs. However, maybe you’re looking for something less abstract and more pictoral: something that will convey a specific idea? In which case, you’ll want to check out...
04. Conceptual vectors
Sometimes you’re not looking for an image of a specific thing, but something that will illustrate a concept or idea. You don’t necessarily know what you’re looking for until you’ve found it, so a quick search of the library can be a great place to start.
Think of all the words you might associate with the concept (use a thesaurus if necessary) to use as search terms. For instance, you might have found the above illustration by searching for ‘Healthy Lifestyle’, ‘Vitality, ‘Freedom’, ‘Happiness’, ‘Wellbeing’, ‘Relaxation’, ‘Cheerful’, ‘Day Dreaming’ or ‘Emotion’.
But what if you’re not looking for a hero image but more of a background illustration for your design? Then you’ll want to start searching for...
05. Abstract patterns
Need a cool-looking background for your web page or print design? The scalable nature of vector illustrations makes them perfect for the task, and there are plenty of amazing abstract designs in the library. Try search terms like ‘pattern’, ‘shapes’, ‘background’ ‘geometric’ and ‘textured’ to see what’s on offer.
Contemporary abstract patterns like this can be a great way to give your design a modern, up-to-date look and feel. However, sometimes you might prefer to go in the opposite direction; to convey a sense of the warm and familiar by harnessing...
06. The retro look
Once dismissed as ‘hipster’, vintage and retro styles are now fully entering the mainstream, and the trend is all about taking the best of the handcrafted past and combining it with a modern, digital sensibility. Search for terms like ‘retro’, ‘retro-styled’, ‘vintage’, ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘ornate’.
What other uses have you found for vector illustrations in your designs? Let us know on Twitter !