What is Clip Art?

For those who forget the halcyon days of creating projects on Microsoft Word, “clip art” can refer to any images that are used for illustrative purposes. Typically, these images are hand-drawn or digitized in a simplified style, allowing for a wide range of applications. Many of us remember ’90s Word clip art, but those dated images barely scratch the surface of what the medium can do today. One thing hasn’t changed, though: clip art only concerns illustrations, not stock photography.

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Where did the name “clip art” come from?
It’s pretty literal — clip art originally referred to images cut from a magazine or other printed work, repurposed for a different project. Before computers could handle this job, designers would glue the pictures to a sheet of photographic paper, secure it to an easel, take photos of the page, and then use the negatives to make a mechanical plate for reproduction.
We’ve come a long way since those “paste up” days. With today’s computing power, it’s easy to deploy detailed clip art however you like. The Internet has also shifted the traditional clip art delivery systems (i.e. Microsoft Office and CD libraries) into a purely online space, where over a million images can be found with a simple Shutterstock search. 
Why use clip art over other images?
Sometimes, stock photography isn’t the right choice for the job. Clip art usually offers a more cartoon-like (and therefore, more universal) approach to a subject, whether it’s a policeman blowing a whistle, or a colorful arrow pointing towards future growth. They’re designed to be easily placed into a project’s layout. Unlike the rectangular edges of a stock photo, clip art can fit snugly inside a body of text, and the variety of clip art shapes allows a graphic designer to craft more compelling pages.
What formats do clip art files come in?
The two main formats are: 

  • JPEG: These rasterized images cannot be resized without changing their overall quality. For that reason, the resolution of the files needs to be high enough to ensure that images stay smooth and clear. They use the file extension “.jpg” or “.jpeg”.

  • Vector: Instead of predetermined pixels, vector art is created with an arrangement of individual shapes. No matter the image’s size, it will still look just as crisp. That’s because the file is actually geometric data in the guise of an illustration. To open a vector file, you’ll need creative software that can handle the format, such as Adobe Illustrator. Vectors commonly use the file extension “.eps” or “.svg”.

So, is there a difference between clip art and vector images?
All vector images can technically be called clip art, but not all clip art is made of vectors. Thankfully at Shutterstock, you can download nearly any clip art image in both JPEG and vector formats.
Where does clip art work best?
Though you may want to incorporate a blend of clip art and stock photography in your next project, here are a few applications where clip art stands out:

  • Magazines

  • Infographics

  • Business Presentations

  • Mobile App Icons

  • Website Templates

  • Branding/Logos

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