Types of Images: Vector & Raster Graphics

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  • 0:08 Use of Images
  • 0:50 Vector Graphics
  • 2:26 Raster Graphics
  • 4:25 Vector vs. Raster
  • 5:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Zandbergen

Paul has a PhD from the University of British Columbia and has taught Geographic Information Systems, statistics and computer programming for 15 years.

Software applications work with two types of images: vector graphics and raster graphics. Learn about the different characteristic of each type of image.

Use of Images

Many types of documents use images to illustrate a product or concept. Presentations, in particular, will become much more interesting when you have effective visuals. For example, a presentation on the marketing for a product is likely going to have an image of the product itself. When describing the manufacturing process of a product, you may want to include a diagram that shows the steps in the production process.

There are a number of specialized software applications to create and edit images, including illustration software and photo-editing software. In general, these applications work with two types of images: vector graphics and raster graphics.

Vector Graphics

Vector graphics consist of illustrations created using line work. In technical terms, you use points, lines, curves and shapes to create the illustration. Vector graphics are based on vectors, also referred to as paths. You can think of drawing with a pencil as the process of creating vectors, since you are drawing lines.

One of the key characteristics of a vector graphic is that the line work is sharp, even when you zoom in very closely. In a computer application, the line work is stored as a mathematical formula that describes the exact shape of the line. So when you zoom in, you are seeing the line in more detail but it remains a line.

You can alter how vector graphics look by changing the properties of the line and by filling in the area between the lines. This can turn a set of simple black and white lines into a great illustration. When you see a photo-realistic illustration that is not actually a photograph, the illustration typically consists of a very detailed vector graphic containing hundreds or thousands of lines.

Vector graphics are created and edited using illustration software. There are a number of different illustration applications. One of the most widely used ones is Illustrator by Adobe. Others include CorelDraw by the Corel Corporation and the open source applications Inkscape and Xara Xtreme. Vector graphics can be stored in a number of different file formats, including AI, EMF, SVG and MWF.

Raster Graphics

Raster graphics consist of illustrations created using pixels. In technical terms, you use a rectangular grid of cells of equal size and each cell has its own color. These cells are also called pixels. Raster graphics are also called bitmaps. Digital photographs are the most common type of raster graphics.

Digital photographs in general are raster graphics. If you have a digital camera, you may know that it uses a certain number of megapixels. This refers to the number of pixels used for a single picture. A defining characteristic of a raster graphic is that when you zoom in very closely, you start to see the actual pixels.

An important property of a raster graphic is its resolution. Resolution indicates the amount of detail, so a higher resolution means more detail. You can achieve a higher resolution by using more pixels, which is why a larger number of megapixels for a digital camera results in sharper photographs.

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