Creative Potential of Vector Graphics for Architectural Glass Projects

Transform digital images into highly original laminated glass designs of virtually any size or scale
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Creating Vector Graphics

Vector graphics can be created in many different ways, each with their own benefits and challenges.

Vector Graphics Created from Scratch

Vector graphics can be created from scratch by using graphic design software such as Adobe Illustrator and/or Adobe Photoshop. An architectural firm might have the ability to do this in-house or may need to source an outside digital artist. It often depends on the firm and the complexity of the vector artwork required.

Simple vector designs can be created in Illustrator with drawing tools that give designers ample flexibility to produce deliverables that match a creative vision.

Complex vector illustrations often require expertise in both Photoshop and Illustrator—sometimes to a level that goes beyond the in-house capabilities of an architectural or design firm. Digital artists can be commissioned through outside services to meet these needs, but this adds time and costs to a project.

Raster Images Converted to Vector Graphics

Raster images can be converted to vector graphics by using a combination of Photoshop and Illustrator or similar graphics software. As mentioned, it is important to remember that this conversion process is more of a “translation;” a vector graphic will never be a true one-to-one depiction of the original raster image.

Before a raster image can be converted, it must be prepped through image editing software such as Photoshop. It can then be converted to a vector graphic in Illustrator. As much as Illustrator allows users to retouch raster images, Photoshop is far more advanced when it comes to preparing raster images for conversion, so users must work with both programs.

While Illustrator can provide high-quality finished vector artwork, it is not without limitations. Illustrator requires users to test various conversion and tracing settings to obtain optimal end results. Additional adjustments are also often needed—and entail significant back-and-forth with Photoshop—a factor that can be time consuming, require advanced experience with the software, and result in very large vector files, depending on the settings used.

Web Applications that Generate Vector Graphics

Web applications that generate vector graphics are a relatively new and growing option. Web apps may have less advanced features than some of their desktop software counterparts, but they can also provide plenty of advantages for registered users, including:

  • Affordability: Access to many web apps and design tools is free.
  • Accessibility: A user’s designs and projects are consolidated all in one place; with an Internet connection, they are accessible from anywhere at any time.
  • Efficient storage: Design and storage happens on the cloud, without impact to a user’s own storage capabilities.
  • Expanded design freedom: Preset filters and libraries of visual effects enable users with limited knowledge of graphic design software to create and customize complex vector artwork.
  • Product-specific output: The output generated from web apps is often tied to a specific product or deliverable, making it easy to tailor designs for a chosen application; for example, digital displays, print artwork, or as a graphic interlayer in laminated glass.

With this knowledge of vector graphics, we can now look at their use in one material specifically: architectural laminated glass.

Vector Graphics in Laminated Glass

Let’s begin by answering a basic question: What is architectural laminated glass?

Laminated glass is a type of safety glass that holds together when shattered—the result of one or more interlayers, typically of polyvinyl butyral (PVB) or ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), sandwiched between two or more layers (lites) of glass. The interlayers and lites of glass are laminated under heat and pressure to create safety laminated glass.

Laminated glass can consist of two lites of transparent glass, or one lite of transparent glass and a reflective glass backer, depending on end use. The former is typically used when the glass will be seen from both sides, as with doors, partitions, and room dividers. The latter is used when the glass will be installed against a solid surface.

Laminated glass is comprised of one or more decorative interlayers laminated between two lites of glass.

From an aesthetic standpoint, laminated glass offers tremendous creative reach. Think of the interlayers between the glass lites as a blank canvas: colors, patterns, and other graphic imagery printed on one or more interlayers create visual excitement. Different glass finishes and translucency levels enhance the finished picture.

Across products and applications, laminated glass is a remarkably versatile material. It can be specified in sizes up to 60 inches by 120 inches. It can be incorporated into walls, columns, elevator interiors, backlit displays, and other architectural features. It can be used indoors and out.

Finally, laminated glass has many functional benefits: it is easy to clean and maintain, can address a wide range of light-transmission scenarios, and may help meet project sustainability goals. The use of ultraviolet-resistant inks in the printing process helps ensure that the interlayer colors and designs retain their integrity over time. And the laminated structure protects the interlayer artwork from surface damage and fading.

Against this backdrop, it is easy to see that laminated glass is versatile solution with many advantages.

In the next section, we’ll focus on one advantage in particular: its use with vector images as a way to creatively address the growing trend of bringing artwork to public spaces.

A Perfect Canvas for Vector Graphics

The use of artwork to enhance public spaces is on the rise. Increasingly central to the look and feel of a space, the right art in the right place can have a positive impact on a building’s visitors, tenants, and staff.

In line with this trend, the use of regional or setting-specific imagery has become especially prominent. Whether bringing nature indoors, interpreting local scenes, or defining the atmosphere of a place, photography and other localized artwork can tell a compelling story.

Laminated glass is a popular choice for showcasing these visual narratives. Among surfacing material options, one of its primary benefits is that it gives architects and designers the flexibility they need to simultaneously address both creative and functional concerns.

Unfortunately, finding photography and other artwork of an appropriate size and resolution for use in large-scale glass applications can be a frustrating pursuit. Personal and stock photos—typically raster images—are often too small to achieve favorable end results. Custom artwork can be time consuming and/or expensive to source and produce.

Enter vector graphics. Their infinite scalability makes them an ideal interlayer option for laminated-glass designs of any shape or size. They offer astounding artistic reach. And as the art within the glass, vector graphics invite the imagination to soar.

Bringing Vector Art to Glass

As discussed above, there are many options for creating vector graphics, each with its own opportunities and challenges.

While traditional programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator offer vast creative potential, technologies are constantly evolving. Designers can benefit from exploring the options.

New web-based design tools and apps expand the possibilities for creating vector files and by extension, bringing photography and other digital artwork to architectural projects and materials.

Web apps that put design control at a designer’s fingertips make it easy to explore ideas, collaborate with clients, share work, manage projects, and make decisions on the spot.

Among the tools available on the market today, at least one app enables users to convert raster images of any size from any source into highly customized vector designs of any size or scale. The vector designs are then output and used as the interlayers for the company’s laminated glass.

This tool typifies one of the capabilities described earlier: a web app that generates product-specific vector output that ties to a specific product or deliverable—in this case, laminated glass.

Web Apps Offer Exciting Options

Technically speaking, the app referenced above transforms raster images into infinitely scalable, highly customizable vector artwork. By eliminating the size/resolution constraints of raster images, it allows designers to use their own imagery—from any source—to create highly personalized vector designs.

This means that as inspiration strikes, designers can capture the shots they want with their smartphone or tablet. They can select images from their own image libraries, use client artwork, scan print literature or material swatches, choose low-resolution stock images, or draw from numerous other image sources—the choice is theirs. The app gives designers the freedom to maximize casual photos with client-, local-, or project-specific importance.

It also gives them complete creative control, without the need for separate programs such as Illustrator or Photoshop. After dragging a source image into the app workspace, users can experiment with filters and abstraction levels, customize colors, patterns and dimensions, visualize designs in 2-D and 3-D, download and save their work, create projects, and request budget pricing—all without leaving the app.

So, while powerful tools such as Photoshop and Illustrator exist, web apps are increasingly worth investigating. The bottom line: designers have many options for creating and using vector graphics to bring their design vision to laminated-glass applications of any size or scale.

In planning vector glass designs, a few final factors come into play.


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Originally published in Architectural Record