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D1003 - What is the difference between bitmap and vector graphics?

by - Joseph Ganci

What the heck is a "vector graphic"? Is that a standard image?  Is it something so mathematically complicated I would need a PhD to look at it? Layman's terms, man!  I need layman's terms.  (Otherwise known as non-graphic designer terms").

There are basically two types of graphics: bitmapped and vector.  Bitmapped are plotted pixel by pixel. Vectors are plotted through mathematical computations, for instance draw a line from pixel point to pixel point, draw a circle of this size at this pixel point, etc.

Advantages of bitmaps is that they can look very textured and rich. For instance, any painting or photograph would use bitmaps.

Disadvantages of bitmaps is that when they are not compressed any bitmap of a certain size will take up the same amount of file space (and memory, and access speed) of any other bitmap of the same size and color depth. So, a Rembrandt that is shown in 640 x 480 in 256 colors would take the same amount of room as a solid color rectangle of the same size and number of colors. Also, you can't zoom in and out without losing clarity - things get to look blurred pretty quick.

Advantages of vectors is that they are very very small files (which means faster access speed and less memory needed) for almost any kind of graphic that lends itself well to being mathetmatically computed. This covers more types of graphics than you may realize. Vectors are great for web sites because of the limited bandwidth. They also have the advantage of allowing you to zoom in and out without losing clarity, and of being animated because the computer is just computing new iterations to create the animations.

A disadvantage of vector is simply that you can't use it to create rich bitmaps, but they can make some pretty spiffy graphics because they also have the ability to define translucency and such. Pretty nice stuff.

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