What is a Vector Graphic?

What is a Vector Graphic?

Did you know that the pictures you see on your computer are made up of very small colored dots called pixels? It’s true! Get really, really close to your computer screen and you’ll see what I mean.

Extreme closeup of pixels

That’s too close, back up! Did you see them? Pixels are so small that when you look at them from a distance you don’t notice the individual points. Most of the pictures you see on a computer are called raster graphics or bitmaps. These types of images are made up of rows of thousands of differently colored pixels. Some common raster graphic types are jpeg, gif, and bmp.

Raster graphics are good for photographs, but I find the format terribly boring. My favorite kind of graphic uses mathematical expressions to build images out of points, lines, curves, and shapes. This type of image is called a vector graphic. Vectors are the paths that make up the shapes in the graphic. The curve and position of these paths can be changed by adjusting control points.

Because vector graphics are just a set of mathematical instructions, their file size is much smaller than raster graphics, and they can be scaled to any dimensions without losing quality. If you enlarge a raster graphic too much, you will start to see the individual pixels that make up the image. That doesn’t happen with vector graphics. Now do you see why I like vector graphics so much? They’re… they’re so beautiful.

Scaling raster and vector graphics

Vector graphics are perfect for images that do not require photo-realistic detail such as maps, line illustrations, and cartoons. The most common format is the Scalable Vector Graphic (SVG) format. The SVG format was created by the W3C—the organization in charge of developing the world wide web standards. Creating and editing SVG files is easy with a free and open source application called Inkscape. The humans responsible for this website use Inkscape to make cartoon drawings of the cast and crew of The Hello World Program.

What is a Vector Graphic? was posted by on . Jay is one of the three humans that run the behind-the-scene affairs of The Hello World Program. He is interested in spreading the good robot word over the vast Inter-webs. His contributions to the show include editing, web programming, design, and music composition.

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