The History of Vector Graphics

November 18th 2020
3 minute read

If you’re an artist or a digital creator, you probably feel quite confident talking about vectors.

But few of us have ever stopped to think about the humble beginnings of vector graphics or consider the huge impact they’ve had on the graphics industry in general.

That’s why we decided to take you on a brief journey through the history of vector graphics.

Hop along!

The early beginnings

What are vector graphics?

In a nutshell, they’re a computer image format that’s defined by mathematical formulas and consists of polygons and shapes.

In layman’s terms, vector graphics are only composed of lines that connect 2d points. 

Vectors originally appeared in the 1950s when they were used in modified oscilloscopes applied as computer displays.

The displays in question had limited memory, so displaying bitmaps was virtually impossible.

In the beginning, vectors were mostly used by the military and the civil air traffic control in order to ensure planes stayed on the right course.

The gaming industry

It wasn’t long before vectors found a new home in the computer and gaming industries.

Computer graphics pioneer Ivan Sutherland is often credited for giving vector graphics a boost in popularity in 1963. The first home gaming system that featured vectors was Vectrex, and various arcade games soon followed: amongst them Asteroids, Space Wars, and more.

Grand debut

However, vector graphics have to thank the advertising for their huge popularity.

From leaflets to catalogs to the gigantic billboards and branded household items we see daily, vectors are the king of modern design.

Most design work is done with vector graphics or vector elements, mostly thanks to the need for responsive web design.

The only reliable way to create graphic elements that automatically resize to fit your computer, tablet, smartphone, or laptop is by using vector graphics.

The standard format for vector graphics, or the scalable vector graphics (SVG) was introduced in 1999, but the SVGs are far from the only format.

Designers and advertisers today often work with vector formats like Adobe Illustrator (.ai) when creating logos for digital or print media.

Encapsulated PostScript (.eps) is a less popular, older vector format that doesn’t support transparency as modern vector formats do.

PDF vectors are quite common and are particularly suitable for exchanging documents across platforms.


This brings us to the end of our journey through time and the brief history of vector graphics.

Did you know, you can also edit and save vector elements in SVG format using Mediamodifier!

Head over to the Mediamodifier Free SVG Editor and try it.

Quik tip: You can even copy-paste your SVG code directly from Adobe Illustrator and continue editing your SVG right in the browser.