Understanding the Different Types of Clip Art

You Won’t Go Wrong If You Use the “Right” Clip Art

Clip Art of various types of file formats
© Dixie Allan

The term clip art originally referred to books of printed images, symbols and other graphic designs that were to be cut out or "clipped" for use in documents, signs, posters or websites.

Clip art now refers to electronic collections of images for use in digital design, desktop publishing and for the Web. While the definition of clip art is flexible, U.S. copyright laws apply to all image types equally.

It is the intent of the copyright owner of the art that determines its legal use.

There are two types of clip art files. Vector based files or bitmap files.

Bitmap files are also called Raster files. Bitmap images are made up of pixels in a grid. The size of the grid is based on the image's resolution. For example, a bitmap-based image of 1 inch x 1 inch with a 600 dpi resolution would be defined by a grid of 600 x 600 pixels. A bitmap-based image is like a mosaic of pixels with each pixel holding a specific color value.

Bitmap-based files are more suitable for photo-realistic images that require complex color variations.

They are, however, not easily re-sized because each bitmap-based image is mapped to a non-flexible grid. If a bitmap-based image were to be enlarged, it would lose sharpness – the edges within the image would appear to be jagged or fuzzy.

Vector-based images generally contain well-defined elements such as curves and shapes of various colors.

Each element is defined mathematically by the computer. For example, if a vector-based image contains a red dot, then information such as the location of the circle's center point, the length of its radius, and the color red would be the essential information for this image file.

Vector-based files are more suitable for illustrations that require precise measurements.

They are also easily re-sized due to their mathematical nature. However, the vector-based file format has its drawbacks as well. It is not good for displaying photo-realistic images such as a photograph because images of this type generally do not contain well-defined shapes and curves.