When online image-editing site Aviary released Raven on Monday, the Holy Grail of image-editing tools had finally hatched. If you're new to the term, vectors are what allow graphic designers to create an image and scale it to any size without pixelation or degradation of quality. The Wikipedia vector entry does an excellent job of going into more detail about the differences between vectors and rasters, which degrade as you change their scale.
Beautifully, Raven only requires a Web browser and the latest version of Flash. In the words of Michael Galpert, co-founder of Aviary, "If you can watch a video on YouTube, you can use Raven." Because Raven supports vectorized images and is part of the Aviary toolset, users can share their images and critiques. This also saves the effort of e-mailing cumbersome, large, and layered vector image files to collaborate.
Raven uses a proprietary image format, called EGG, but can import and export files as SVG--the standard vector format. Because it's Flash-based, Raven does have some limitations. Importing images that are larger than the 2800x2800 pixels that Flash supports will cause them to be automatically scaled down, but that shouldn't be a big deal unless you're designing billboards. Many users should find Raven extremely useful for Web design needs.
The actual tools that Raven provides are perfect for basic vector editing. Once you've created your drawing, you can edit path nodes, transform a shape, or drag it to a new location. There are also tools for creating Bezier and lines and drawing freehand and calligraphic lines. Tools for making rectangles and gradient fills are also available. For each tool, a window pops up with helpful hot-key commands. For example, the edit path node tool tells you how to select multiple nodes, as well as editing or deleting a path's vertex.
The tools are laid out in a classic design, with the tool palette on the left and editing palettes on the right. The Layers and Fill and Stroke palettes are hideable to free up more screen real estate, as are the rulers. Surprisingly, there was practically no lag time in loading images, creating new shapes, or filling in gradients.
Normally, I'd recommend a freeware vector image editor like Inkscape, but there are some distinct advantages to Raven. The built-in tracking and display of image size, creation date, most recent modification date, comments, sources, derivatives, and versions, as well as the use of tags, makes your vector images immediately Web 2.0-ready.
Also, if you're working on a Netbook, you don't have to worry about blowing out your system resources since Aviary is all Web-based. In my attempts to get Raven to crash, I ran 20 tabs, including Gmail, YouTube, and Aviary in Firefox. Although it ate up a massive amount of RAM, 825MB, that's not a lot if you consider that included working on naturally resource-heavy vector images.
Because the images are vectorized, you have to export them before you can send them outside of the Aviary. When you're finished, though, you can Export it as a rastered image, and that will make it socially acceptable. There are a number of online tutorials for Raven, and 62 in total for Aviary, making getting started just about as easy as possible.