Vector vs Raster / Illustrator

An Illustrator plugin will/should/is to be expected per previous comments made. I am well versed on the differences between a vector and raster image from a technical and designer perspective. I’m not so well versed on laser cutting differences between the two. I’ve only come across one direct comparison video using type as an example of how the laser cuts differently.

My initial reasoning for posting this was a couple of thoughts that I had about Illustrators gradient mesh tool. It’s incredibly powerful! You can often make an illustration look photo-realistic.

For example, when I was in school one of our assignments was to put together something that indicated our knowledge of the gradient mesh tool. I put together basically an ad for Ferrari using one of their cars. Pretty simple - a bit of text and the car itself. Projected it to the big screen and the instructors words to me, “you weren’t supposed to use a picture of a car, you were supposed to use the mesh tool in an illustration.” I turned on the outlines function and his response was, “oh, wow!” It was a photorealistic Ferrari - completely vector.

That’s just to give an idea of how powerful it is. So I guess a few questions and thoughts:

  1. Would we see a performance or quality difference between printing a vector file versus say a jpeg exported at 300 (or higher) DPI?

  2. Have you guys used the gradient mesh tool in any kind of engravings? I could see advantages to taking the time to create a proper grayscale vector of a project to be repeated multiple times for engraving or even variable depth engraving if their was a performance or quality increase vs a rasterized image.

  1. The answer depends entirely on how the laser software interprets the image. In an ideal world a vector generated raster engraving should be cleaner than a JPG, because there would be less compression, but in reality they’re basically the same, it’s simply a difference in the process of generating them. Keep in mind in terms of laser engraving, a vector is typically a line and a raster is an image or large are engraving. When vector engraving/cutting the head of laser follows the path of the vector. When rastering the laser head moves left to right and moves up or down one line at a time to burn the image into the material. So HOW you generate your imagery doesn’t matter as much.

  2. I have used the mesh tool to create 2.5 engraving. Assuming the laser is capable of varying power over the engrave, you can get some great bas relief. Keep in mind that the laser is going to read 256 level grayscale and interpret depth based on the black-level of the image, so direct conversion of a color image to black and white won’t necessarily give the ideal result. I find it most reliable to create my images in 256 grayscale outright. I’ve also had a lot of success generating 3d imagery and rendered Z-depth maps.

Here are some examples of laserable images that make cool 2.5d engravings:


As I understand the difference in terms of the laser:

If you are doing raster, that means you scan all the way across a specific Y co-ordinate and mark all of the X dots which should be marked. You then move down 1 unit in Y, and repeat.

If you are doing Vector, then you cut one specific continuous line, no matter where that line swoops and whirls to.

So… complicated sprawling geometry is faster in vector (not wasting a ton of time going over blank space). Meanwhile, numerous individual marks all over the place is faster in raster (not as much wasted time with tool travel from one cut to the start of another cut and back again)


That is the clearest distinction I’ve come across - as a lasering newbie, it was very helpful. Thanks!


Good question. This was mostly answered already, but I’ll try to put my spin on it.

There are two kinds of operation: vector and raster. If you’re familiar with Illustrator, think of Vector as a thing you can only do with strokes, and Raster as a thing you can do with any design.

With vectors, you can cut or score - score being a thin, low-power line, useful for some designs and for (you guessed it) scoring paper to fold.

With raster, you can engrave pretty much anything: vectors, strokes, bitmaps, etc. The laser goes back and forth, firing as it goes, to render a bitmap of your design.

Now, the higher the resolution of the source image the better, up to some limit (72-1000 dpi depending on settings). Images made of vectors (meshes, gradients, filled shapes, etc) are basically infinite resolution for engraving.

So, to answer your question: you would not see any difference between a vector file and a sufficiently high resolution bitmap.

There’s no quality advantage to using the gradient mesh tool vs. a bitmap (e.g. photoshop image) at high DPI.


Perfectly clear! Thanks, y’all!