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What is Clip Art?

Amanda Piontek
Amanda Piontek

The term clip art as it is used today refers to an electronic image or graphic. Clip art pictures and illustrations have a wide variety of uses, including fliers, advertising, scrapbooking, desktop publishing, and printed publications. Computer graphics come in a nearly limitless number of categories and types. Cartoons, borders, backgrounds, sketches, and photo clips are all broadly referred to as clip art, and are available from numerous sources. The electronic pictures may come bundled with software, are available for both free and paid download from the Internet, or can be purchased on CD or DVD.

Historically, clip art illustrations were physically cut out of printed books. As computers became more common and affordable, manual methods of printing and publishing evolved into an electronic process. It was no longer necessary to clip images by hand and use them to lay out materials to be reproduced or published. The name clip art remained, and continues to be used, even though the old clipped images have been replaced by computer graphics.

Emoticons are considered clip art.
Emoticons are considered clip art.

An individual who needs to utilize electronic images can find them available in numerous places. The small illustrations often come bundled with software used for drawing, word processing, scrapbooking, and other pursuits related to writing, designing, or publishing. They can also be downloaded from a huge variety of websites on the Internet. Many images are available for free, while others require a fee. A person wishing to purchase a collection of computer graphics can also find them on CD or DVD.

Clip art may be used in scrapbooking.
Clip art may be used in scrapbooking.

Clip art is available in two different forms: bitmap, and vector. Bitmap (BMP) images are widely used and encompass common file formats such as Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) and Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG). They are rectangle-shaped images at a fixed resolution. Bitmaps are composed of black and white or colored pixels, and can become grainy or blurry when enlarged.

The second type of clip art file is known as a vector. Vector files utilize a mathematical formula to display the shapes, colors, and lines of an image without the use of pixels. They can be scaled to any size without becoming distorted or grainy, and will generally produce graphics of a superior quality when compared to bitmap file formats. The only drawback is that a person needs professional-level image editing or publishing software in order to utilize vector clip art files.

Electronic images can also be designed to move, blink, sparkle, and perform a host of other similar functions. Animated clip art is a novelty often found on web pages and in e-mail. Like regular, fixed computer graphics, animated images are available to be downloaded, and can be offered either free or at a purchase price.

Discussion Comments


I remember when I was on the school yearbook staff, we had to cut out any clip art from a stack of books. Sometimes the same piece of art would be drawn in several scaled sizes. It was very low tech, but it did work. The problem was that a lot of those clipped-out pieces would disappear forever. If someone wanted to use that same clip art the next year, he or she was just out of luck. Now those same images can be added to the page electronically, and scaled up or down accordingly.

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    • Emoticons are considered clip art.
      By: virinaflora
      Emoticons are considered clip art.
    • Clip art may be used in scrapbooking.
      By: Monkey Business
      Clip art may be used in scrapbooking.