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Bitmap and Vector Images

There are two distinct ways of producing and representing a digital image.

A bitmap image is made up of pixels. If your monitor screen is set to 800x600,
then that is the total number of pixels on the screen. It is useful to think in
terms of graph paper or a grid. If you took an image and laid a grid over the
top then each square, or pixel, could be referenced. Each pixel can also hold
its own colour information.

When you save an image as a bitmap, this is the information that the
computer must store in memory – pixel 1 of row 1 is green, pixel 2 of row 1 is
green, etc.

The following image is a bitmap image:

Vector images are represented mathematically. A line, for example, is made
up of two coordinates – point A and point B. The computer holds these two
pieces of information and calculates the line between. Because the computer
only has to remember 2 points, the file sizes for vector based images are very

The following picture is a vector image:

Why would I want to create a vector image?
Vector images are scalable. Once you have created an image you can make
it any size and the lines will still be sharp. All you are doing is moving the
coordinate points further apart. The computer will still calculate the line
between. If an image is saved as a vector, the physical size of the image
should not affect the file size. This is extremely useful in the creation of logos,
brands and producing marketing materials such as posters, brochures and
web images. A logo should always be created using vectors for this reason.

Advantages and disadvantages of bitmap and vector images

Because bitmap images store details for each pixel, the file size is high, but it
also means that they can represent subtle detail such as those found in
photographic images. However, bitmap images do not scale well, and if you
were to enlarge the football image above, it would begin to pixelate – that is,
you would be able to see the individual pixels appear and the quality would be
compromised. You can see this below:

Vector images are small and are made up of areas of colour determined by
coordinates, so they are useful for line art, blocks of colour or more cartoon
style graphics and animation. If you enlarge the vector image of the kitchen
shown above, the quality of the image is not lost. This is illustrated below:

Why is file size important?
A computer has a finite amount of memory. Memory is used to store images,
but it is also used to process them. Opening a large file can slow your
computer down. Very large files can cause your computer to ‘hang’ (where the
computer ‘pauses’ all other functions to perform an action) or even to crash.

When you are using the Internet, the amount of information that you can
receive per second is determined by your method and breadth of access.

If you are using a 56k modem, you can access information from the Internet at
a maximum rate of 56 kilobits per second. That effectively translates to 7
kilobytes per second. So a 1 megabyte file will take a minimum of 142
seconds to access. In reality, this will almost certainly take much, much

There are also environmental reasons for keeping file sizes small. The longer
it takes for a user to download a file, the more electricity is being used. Also, if
many users are downloading large file sizes, the Internet can slow down. This
means that we use much more energy and time to find information than we
would if file sizes were managed responsibly.