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What is a Graphics Editor?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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A graphics editor is a type of computer program that allows a user to edit and manipulate graphical images through a variety of methods. These types of editor programs are typically divided into one of two different types: either raster graphics editors or vector graphics editors. The differences between these two types usually affects what types of applications the program is used for, and how the final images created appear on a screen or when printed. A graphics editor program may be a freeware download with only a few features or expensive professional graphic arts software with dozens of tools and features.

Graphics editor programs are typically either vector-based or raster-based, depending on how the program allows a person to access and interact with computer graphics. Vector graphics editors are programs that are usually used for commercial illustration and produce clean edges that hold up to zooming and blowing an image up to great sizes. These programs use mathematical calculations and geometric forms such as lines, shapes, angles, and curves to let a user create visual images through a graphical interface. Graphics editor programs that use vector graphics create crisp, clean images because the shapes and lines created through them are precise.

Raster graphics editor programs, on the other hand, do not use mathematical or geometric measurements as the basis for creating artwork. Instead, a raster graphics program is pixel-based and allows an artist to work with an image by manipulating the base elements of the image. A pixel, or picture element, is typically the smallest basic unit of an image. This can often be seen in the artistic style of pointillism or in newsprint which is often made up of hundreds of tiny dots rather than solid lines. On a computer screen, an image usually consists of tiny points of light called pixels, and these individual units of color and value are used to create larger images.

The use of graphics editor programs that are raster-based is usually limited to photograph manipulation and similar fields, since they allow a user to manipulate color and tone quite easily. Lines created in a raster program, however, are not usually crisp and clean if examined closely. Both types of programs are available from a number of different software companies, and can be found as downloadable freeware or expensive professional software that can cost hundreds of American dollars to purchase and use. These types of graphics editor software are usually used by graphic artists, photographers, and other visual arts professionals.

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