Vector Illustration vs. Photography for Brand Imagery

Raster or Vector: Choosing the Best Imagery Style for Your Brand


SEO

avatar Christalyn Duff | UX & Graphic Designer

If you’re like us, you’ve probably noticed the seemingly unavoidable rise of the Corporate Memphis illustration style. It’s particularly popular brand imagery for big tech and small startups, but we see it creeping up elsewhere too. And, unfortunately, experts feel that, “Corporate Memphis has contributed to a massive homogenisation and dulling down of the internet’s visual culture.”

We can’t help but agree. Many brands could do a lot better. 

However, from a business perspective, we’re not fully convinced that it’s NEVER the correct option for a brand’s imagery. While no one actually wants to show up to the party wearing the same outfit, you still want to be on-trend. Likewise, brands should have a distinct voice but still be a product of their times. 

So, when is illustration the right choice? Or why should a brand use photography instead of vector illustrations?

There are some practical things to consider. For instance, take these two images below. 

Vector Illustration
Raster Image

Now, keep these images in mind and consider this common client request:

Client:  “We need more diversity and the coffee mugs aren’t our brand colors. Can you just fix that?”

The Vector Answer: Sure. Select, color pick a few times and we’re done.

The Raster Answer: …we can either spend 20 minutes (or more) trying to fake a darker skin tone convincingly or spend 30 minutes looking for a new photo that has the same emotive qualities as the original BUT shows more diversity AND still crops nicely into the same aspect ratio AND will be easy to edit.


Sigh…

Photos require much more skill to adjust for scenarios like the one above. Doable, but time-consuming to make the changes seamless. Best case scenario: You’ve got an amazing in-house photographer that can take a replacement image to fit the needed specs. But let’s be honest — many businesses don’t have that luxury.

So, which one should you use for YOUR brand? Here are a few reasons you might select either as the visual language for your brand.

Vector Illustrations

  • Your offering is primarily digital or non-tangible
  • The magic of your product is mental rather than literally corporeal
  • Your offering is visually unappealing (septic tank cleaning, cremation services,  etc.)
  • You require the scalability of vector formats 
  • You need quick variations for color & rearrangement of elements

Raster Images

  • Your offering is a physical good or can be easily photographed (restaurants, leisure spa services, furniture, etc.)
  • The magic of your offering is a physical experience rather than an abstract benefit
  • You have access to — or can create — an image repository for your brand & products

Photography seems like your best option?

For those brands who use photography, we’ve got to mention quality. There is NO substitute for good, high-quality photography.

Professional Photography of Coffee Machine
Professional Photographer with Equipment
Cell Phone Photo of Coffee Machine
Amateur Cell Phone Photo

No amount of Photoshop is going to change that cell phone photo into one with the same polish and richness as the professional photo. While the cell phone photo is quick and more cost-effective, it comes with drawbacks. Namely:

Credibility

Humans process images 60,000 times faster than text. Instinctively, humans are really good at spotting when something doesn’t look right. And when they find a discrepancy, their trust in your offering takes a hit. 

Reliability

Once you set the tone for a visual experience, people will come to expect that of your brand now and into the future. While some visual elements may progress naturally over time, you will need to be able to recreate your visual style over and over again to foster a reputation of trustworthiness and reliability. 

So where does that leave us?

Neither option is a one-size fits all solution. We wish it were that simple.

Your brand visuals have a huge impact on prospect’s immediate reaction to what you’re offering. Select a visual style that enables you to build trust with your customers about your product or service.

The option you choose needs to be able to communicate to the customer what they’re getting. You’re not likely to expect gourmet food from a restaurant that uses clip art on their menu. Likewise, you’re likely going to be left wanting more information for a software that only shows stock photos of people using a computer.

All in all, do what’s best for you so your brand imagery is  informative, recognizable and trustworthy. 


Need help determining which is best for you? Reach out to get our expert input!