Most of us rely heavily on computer graphics without even realizing it. If you spend any amount of time online, on your phone, or in front of the TV, you are staring into the very heart of computer graphics.
To put it simply, computer graphics is the practice of using digital images to convey conceptual ideas and data. Icons and sketches are just two examples of the many different kinds of visual representations out there. The moment you boot up your computer, you’re bombarded with visuals, even if it’s just the wallpaper.
Beginning a study of computer graphics can be challenging. If you do any sort of search online, you will quickly find yourself drowning in a sea of unfamiliar terms related to web design and computer science. If you’re looking for a basic overview of computer graphics, this primer should do the trick, covering topics like:
- Intended Functions of Computer-Generated Imagery
- Varieties of Computer-Generated Imagery
- How and when to apply each
- Resources for creating visuals on a computer
There are two distinct kinds of computer graphics
The field of computer graphics can be broken down into two distinct subfields: raster graphics and vector graphics. They both have the same overarching aim (a high-quality digital image), but they approach this aim in different ways, each with their advantages and disadvantages.
Images created using a raster scan
It’s safe to assume that raster graphics will be the norm in the public’s everyday experience. Raster images, also known as bitmaps, are built from tiny colored squares called pixels. Raster images are the ones that, when zoomed in far enough, look like a jumble of blurry squares.
It’s possible to create intricate images with a wide variety of colors and gradients in a raster image. This opens up the possibility of making a very realistic-looking image for the user. What matters most is the ppi, or pixels per inch, which determines how sharp the image is. More pixels per inch allow for a smoother overall gradient because more individual colors can be contained in the image. An 8-ppi image, for instance, would allow for a smoother transition between colors than a 4-ppi image.
A picture’s quality decreases as it’s enlarged, and this is affected by the pixel-to-inch ratio as well. An image with a low ppi will look blurry and composed of distinct squares, or pixels, if you zoom in on it or scale it up to print it larger. Consequently, a higher-resolution image can be magnified more before its quality is compromised.
Pixels are essential to raster graphics, but mathematical formulas are used to create paths in vector graphics. This equation, also called a vector, specifies the path’s form, color, and boundary, if any.
Vector graphics’ lack of detail stands out most when compared to their raster counterparts. Due to the fact that vectors are made up of shapes, each of which has its own color, gradients, shadows, and other forms of complexity are not possible. That’s why you should stick to using vector images for straightforward designs that only use a few colors.
Vectors have the advantage of being infinitely scalable without degrading in quality because they are mathematical in nature. This is because the mathematical equation is recalculated when a vector image is enlarged, so it still looks as sharp and clear as before, only larger. This is why vector images are ideal for logos, straightforward product artwork, and basic illustrations but fall short when it comes to more intricate tasks like painting or photo editing.
Computer graphics software categories
You’ve probably heard of Adobe Photoshop and other popular graphics programs like it, as well as free alternatives like Microsoft Paint. Even though there are many options for computer graphics software, they all have their advantages.
Naturally, raster graphics and vector graphics require different programs. Photoshop, Microsoft Paint, and open-source alternatives like Pixlr and GIMP are all examples of popular raster programs. Check out our comparison of Photoshop and Lightroom if you need help deciding between the two popular photo editing programs. Tools like Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw are examples of popular vector programs.
Which one is the better option?
What you hope to accomplish with your image will largely determine whether you use raster or vector graphics.
Do not use vector graphics if you intend to create or edit a complex painting digitally, as they impose severe constraints on the level of detail that can be achieved. Similarly, vector graphics are more flexible and produce a clearer image if you only intend to create a simple image, such as a logo or a chart.
It’s possible that circumstances won’t allow you to pick your own path. Because photographs always use a raster file format, raster editing programs are required for any photo editing. Since you’ll probably want to make extensive changes to a complicated photo, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.
It’s important to remember that many projects use a hybrid approach, combining raster and vector images. A booklet or brochure, for instance, could have a logo or graph rendered as a vector image, followed by a raster image depicting a product, model, or location in great detail. Learning how to work with both raster and vector images is helpful if your job involves creating marketing materials.