Clip Art: An introduction to a timeless design resource

If you’re a graphic designer, marketer, or creative hobbyist, you have likely encountered clip art in your designs or presentations. Clip art has been around for decades, and its significance in contemporary graphic design cannot be overstated. In this article, we’ll be delving into the history of clip art, how it has evolved, and its importance in today’s design world, touching on its functional relationship with icons. Read on, and you’ll gain a new appreciation for this magical design element.

What is clip art?

Clip Art - Image 1

To understand the clip art definition, it is essentially a collection of pre-made images, illustrations, and icons that can be used in a variety of media. Clip Art or stickers serve several purposes such as improving the visual aesthetics of a project, offering an alternative to stock photography or drawing from scratch, and providing a means of visual communication to a wider audience. Its versatility in design makes it an irreplaceable tool for designers who don’t have the time, the budget, or the means to create original illustrations.

Additionally, clip art can be used as a source of inspiration for designers. Such as the basis for more complex designs or as conceptual aid in the design process. When designers are stuck, or the creative process has hit a wall, a quick browse through a clip art library can be a source of inspiration and transformation, thus giving clip art purpose that exceeds visual communication.

The history of clip art

It all began in the 1960s when computer technology was just starting to make its entrance into the world. Designers needed to create unique visuals quickly, and the solution came in the form of pre-drawn images that were commonly referred to as clip art. Clip art is essentially a collection of digital images, emoticons and graphics for use in design, presentations, and communication.

The first clip art libraries originated from print publications like newspapers and magazines, where illustrators would draw the images, and they would be clipped out and stored in searchable files. By the 1990s, clip art libraries had become commonly available on CD-ROMs, and these were used by designers in desktop publishing.

Clip art formats

Clip Art - Image 2

When picking a Clip Art image, you may want to consider the type of format to use. Since the 60s, the traditional bitmap or raster format has been in competition with a much more versatile, much more high-tech adversary called vector graphics. However, both have their own benefits for the modern designer and are still popular in equal measure. Let’s take a look at what sets them apart.

Raster format

Raster or bitmap clip art images are comprised of individual pixels, which create a grid of color and value. The main benefit of raster clip art is its detail; since each pixel can be a different color, raster clip art can be incredibly intricate and lifelike. As such, raster PNG and JPG files are excellent for designs that require realism or a high level of detail. However, they do come with some drawbacks. One downside of this format is that they can become pixelated or blurry if they are enlarged beyond their original size. Additionally, they are not very adaptable in terms of color or composition. If you need to modify or recolor a raster image, you’ll likely need to re-draw or modify it manually.

Vector format

Vector clip art offers some compelling benefits over raster files. Unlike their raster image counterparts, vectors are created using mathematical equations instead of individual pixels and can be saved as an AI (Illustrator file) or EPS. This means that vector images can be resized to any size without losing quality or becoming pixelated. They are also incredibly adaptable. Since vector images are comprised of curves and lines, you can modify, alter, or recolor them with ease. The one downside of vector clip art is that they do not have the same level of detail as raster images. As such, vector clip art is best used for designs that prioritize simplicity or that require scalability, such as logos, icons, and infographics.

The difference between icons and clip art

For those who may be unaware, the world of digital art and design presents us with a plethora of terminology and tools.

Although it is often easy to mistake one for the other, there exists a distinct difference between these two art forms. Icons are simple images that are extremely dexterous in representing an idea, a product, or a service. They’re made to be small and interactive, which is why they’re used extensively in apps and software. The clip art style, on the other hand, includes complex illustrations with unique layers. It is used mostly for larger print applications such as posters, social media banners, and marketing material in general. So, whether it’s creating an effective logo for a business or designing a company brochure, understanding the difference between icons and clip art will only enhance the final outcome.

Combining icons and clip art in your designs

Clip Art - Image 3

The art of design requires a keen eye for aesthetics and functionality, and the use of icons and clip art together can elevate any design to new heights. With the ability to convey complex messages in a simple and visually appealing manner, these design elements have become the go-to choice for designers working on a variety of projects.

  • Websites: With a combination of icons and clip art, you can build an immersive experience for visitors. Take the detail that clip art provides, and form visual features that support a brand’s identity. Such elements can lead to inspiring creativity, perhaps even forming visual narratives that help with the flow of your websites. Combining these striking elements with functional icons, such as home page, search and user icons, your website won’t only look competitive but perform at its optimal level.
  • Apps: Interface projects such as apps are screaming out for visuals that pull users in, and when it comes to app design, they are a much more personal experience compared to websites. Avatars are becoming more and more common, providing personalized features built around the user’s profile. Again we see a digital landscape where clip art and interface icons work harmoniously, building an interactive world for users to enjoy.
  • Presentations: Relying heavily on visual cues and plenty of infographics. A healthy combination of clip art and icons can support vital information quickly and efficiently for a large audience to understand without squinting from the back row. Using icons, you can represent data with graphs and charts yet still keep audiences on their toes with a little fun, infusing entertaining clip art visuals into your presentation.
  • Marketing material: The highly competitive marketing landscape is yet another spicy environment to let clip art images and icons run loose, grabbing that much-needed attention from an unsuspecting audience. Information needs to be conveyed quickly yet excite viewers enough to feel engaged, essentially leaning into what it’s selling. Combining creative clip art visuals with highly functional iconography could be the visual language needed for a successful marketing campaign.

Icons and clip art can be used to create stunning designs that not only function perfectly but also captivate audiences with their simplicity and sophistication. By skillfully combining these elements, designers can create functional designs that communicate ideas with ease and clarity, making them an indispensable tool for any successful project.

Combining icons to create clip art

Icons may be too simple to be classed as clip art. However, what happens if you combine icons together? If you are in an especially creative mood, combining multiple icons to form a multi-layered composition would most certainly qualify. You could even give it a shot at animating them for a bit of fun. Just look at the effects it has on these animated icons! And with more than 10 million icons available in the Flaticon library, you have more than your fair share of icon resources.

The pros and cons of using clip art

As with most things in this world, there are some ups and downs to using clip art in the traditional sense. Yet, whether you enjoy using them or not, they have charmed generations and look as though they will keep this up for a while.

The positives:

  • Time-Saving: Clip art provides ready-made images, which can significantly reduce the time spent on creating designs from scratch.
  • Ease of Use: Most clip art is straightforward to use, making it accessible even for beginners or non-designers.
  • Variety: With thousands of clip art images available, designers have a wide range of styles and subjects to choose from.
  • Cost-Effective: Many clip art libraries are free or relatively inexpensive, offering a cost-effective solution for budget-conscious projects.

The negatives:

  • Lack of Originality: Because clip art is widely available, using it may result in designs that lack uniqueness or personal touch.
  • Perceived as Cheap or Unprofessional: Due to its overuse and oftentimes simplistic nature, clip art can make a design appear cheap or unprofessional.
  • Potential Copyright Issues: Not all clip art is free for commercial use. Designers must be careful to avoid copyright infringement.
  • Limited Customization: While some clip art allows for color changes or simple modifications, most do not offer the level of customization that custom artwork does.

Clip art has come a long way since its inception in the 1960s, and its utility in contemporary graphic design is invaluable. Whether you’re a seasoned graphic designer or just starting, clip art can be a valuable tool in your designs. It saves time, inspires creativity, and allows for unique visuals without breaking the bank. Consider utilizing it in your next design project, and relish in the freedom and ease it provides.