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Vector drawing programs

Vector drawing programs are the most versatile and the most challenging programs to use. Some of the most popular vector applications are Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw, and Deneba Canvas.

Image editing programs work with pixels; vector drawing programs work in mathematical boundaries called vectors. Instead of a bitmapped image made of thousands of individual pixels, the separate parts of a vector graphic are each individual objects.

An advantage of working with vectors is that you can make changes constantly to entire objects without having to make the changes pixel by pixel. For instance, if you draw a box in a vector program, you can continue to change, as often as you like, the pattern or the color inside the box, as well as the pattern, color, and thickness of its border, and you can do it with the click of a button. You can do this because each part of the box, the inside and the border, are separate objects that you can manipulate endlessly with the drawing tools.

In a bitmapped graphic (like those created in an image editing application), you would have to select all the individual pixels inside the box or in the border before you could change it, and the sorts of changes you could do are limited. In fact, if you wanted to change the thickness of the border, you would have to redraw it.

Unlike pixel images, which should not be enlarged, there are no restrictions on enlarging or reducing vector images because you’re not resizing pixels—you are just changing the mathematical formula that defines the object. This makes drawing programs ideal for creating artwork such as logos that need to be used at different sizes.

Some vector-drawing drawing programs also have “page layout” features. This means you can create artwork in the drawing program and also import text and other graphics to lay out pages, package designs, or posters. You can then print the page directly from the vector program.

But you should never use a vector drawing program to create long document projects such as books and magazines—not even with a multi-page program such as Illustrator. Nor would you try to edit something like a photograph in a vector drawing program because a photograph cannot be separated into individual objects.

Just as some drawing programs can do page layout, page layout programs have vector drawing tools that let you create vector effects directly in the page layout program. But don’t bother to use the limited shapes in a page layout program for highly complex graphics or illustrations.

What makes the more sophisticated vector drawing programs so challenging is that it can be frustrating at first to learn how to manipulate the control points (discussed in Chapter 7) that create the boundaries of objects. However, taking time to learn them can help you create many important types of graphics.

Here are the sort of projects that lend themselves to vector artwork.

  • Special type effects You can bend, warp, distort, and otherwise apply special effects to text. You can also set type to move along a path.
  • Charts and graphs Most vector applications let you take the raw data from spreadsheet programs and convert it into compelling charts and graphs. Look at the financial pages of your local newspaper and you’ll see examples of vector charts.
  • Logos One of the most important uses for vector applications is to create crisp logos for all sorts of companies. The primary reason for this is that the logo can be scaled up or down to whatever size is needed.
  • Precision and symmetrical illustrations The mathematics behind vector illustrations makes it a logical choice for creating perfectly symmetrical art. The objects in a vector drawing can be easily rotated and duplicated in precise amounts. This is not as easily done with pixel-based software.
  • Technical illustrations Along the same lines as precision illustrations, vector applications are the best choice for any sort of technical illustrations such as assembly instructions, blueprints, and schematics. Many of these illustrations are handled by computer-aided-design (CAD) software which are much more complicated than design and illustration programs such as Adobe Illustrator.
  • Maps Cartographers (map makers) need the precision to create their maps as close to reality as possible. In addition to working with vector artwork, they often download raw data from satellites that is converted into vectors.
  • Repeating patterns The fashion industry uses vector artwork to quickly mock up the look of next year’s hot styles. Although there are specialized programs that convert the artwork into woven fabric, many designs originate in programs like Adobe Illustrator.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve similar results in a page layout program. It’s just that you could find yourself working too hard in one program, when another would be much easier. Remember, you don’t want to get stuck looking for oranges in a hardware store.

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