Like watercolours, spray cans and crayons, vectors are just a tool. But in the right hands, powered by the right imagination, the results of vector-based graphics can be spectacular.

There are certain areas where vectors really seem to take flight. For character art, the ability to render figures in a couple of shapes is hugely attractive. “I think there is something appealing about the simple, geometric shapes that vector-based characters are made out of,” says Jon Ball of illustration and graphic design firm Pokedstudio.

The combination of the digital crispness of vectors with raw, natural scenes makes a gorgeous counterpoint, which hints at a sharper version of nature hiding inside your computer, like a 21st-century Narnia. Of his style of work, Adrian Ven Delzel says: “I needed a medium that enables me to give expression and inspiration to thousands of details; the light forms and lines [of vector art] seemed very attractive for this.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the whizzy features in Adobe Illustrator and forget about the artistic basics, though. Adrian believes that just because Illustrator puts the rainbow at your fingertips, it doesn’t mean you have to make use of the whole spectrum. He bemoans “the strange use of colours – often you come across very good compositions, very well thought-out, but they’re ruined by their colour range.”

Meanwhile, illustrator Gary Fernández argues that there’s a more fundamental issue at hand, one that lies at the heart of the phrase ‘digital art’. “I feel that digital is considered an end, rather than a means. In general, people tend to think about how to resolve an image in the least time possible, rather than thinking about how to obtain a better image. The result is an image that lacks soul and is crammed with effects.”

Each of the artists we showcase here has gone beyond the boundaries of genre to create illustrations that, while they’re made from vectors, are so much more than their means of creation. Perhaps the key is to master the tool – and only then, focus on the work.