What Is Clip Art?

Retro Styled Businessman Walking
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A catchall term for several types of non-photographic graphic images, the term clip art comes from the books of graphic images (such as those from Dover Arts) once used as a graphics source. Users would cut out or clip the desired artwork from the book to place into layouts. Later, it was common to scan the images from the books.

Today, clip art comes on CD-ROM or can be downloaded from the Web. Clip art comes in many styles and can be used as-is or as a starting point for creating custom illustrations and logos.

Some clip art is public domain, meaning there are no copyright restrictions. However, most clip art, even when available free on the Internet, carries some type of copyright that may limit the ways it can be used. Electronic clip art comes in both bitmap and vector formats.

Clip art may be produced using traditional drawing methods or created on the computer. Sometimes photographic images are lumped under the heading of clip art.

Digital stamps used in rubberstamping are a specialized form of digital clip art.

Creating Clip Art

  • How to Draw encourages even those who think they can't draw a stick to explore drawing. The tutorials include both traditional drawings with pencil on paper and computer drawing.


  • Drawing Vector Images starts with the basics of how vector drawings differ from those you might create in a paint program and describes the software you need for drawing vector clip art.


  • Create Graphics for Desktop Publishing is a large collection of articles and tutorials (including those, above) with an emphasis on creating clip art using graphics software.

    Where to Find Clip Art

    • Dover Clip Art Books let you clip it (they are often printed on just one side of the page), scan it, or use the digital form on the CD that accompanies many of the books. You'll find collections such as Celtic Alphabets, Vintage Advertising Illustrations, Children's Silhouettes, Music Illustrations, and Bookplate Designs just to name a few.


    • In addition to Dover, several software publishers put out CD collections of clip art, usually featuring thousands of clip art images and photos and sometimes fonts too. Some packages come with their own software for browsing the huge collections more easily. 
    1. Nova Development (under the Print Creativity product category). Their Art Explosion Brand features collections from 300,000 images on up.
    2. Broderbund carries the ClickArt brand with over a million pieces of clip art and photos in some packages. They also have smaller specialty collections such as for Weddings or Holidays.

    Using Clip Art Aesthetically and Effectively

    Having access to a variety of clip art can expand your options in design projects using desktop publishing software. However, using clip art properly mean taking a little more care than simply finding a picture you like.

    • Before You Use Graphics refers to both photographs and clip art and any other type of non-text images. It's a quick rundown of what you need to know about formats and color.
    • Use less clip art and you'll actually create a better document.
    • 10 Ways to Modify Clip Art shows you how to get more mileage from the clip art you do use.