Vector Graphics – The Beginning

The very first 2D computer graphics were all vector graphics. Today, vector graphics, vector images, vector backgrounds or stock images are mainly used in the context of two-dimensional computer graphics. It is one of the many ways that a designer uses to develop images or a raster display. The other means include text, multimedia and 3D rendering. Practically all modern 3D rendering is done using extensions of 2D vector graphics techniques. Plotters that are utilized in technical drawing still draw vectors directly to paper.


But when and how did it begin? Where were vector images first used? Let’s find out.

The very first time vector graphics were used was in US SAGE air defense system. These systems were retired from U.S. en route air traffic control in 1999 and are suspected to still be in use. Vector backgrounds were not limited to military purposes, but were also used on TX-2 at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

Some systems had dynamically modifiable stored lists of drawing instructions that include Digital’s GT40. A home gaming system named Vectrex and other arcade games like Asteroids and Space Wars also used vector backgrounds.


Vector art is essential for clear, crisp printing. A series of mathematical curves are responsible for generating crisp prints and even resizing. Printing of a vector logo can be done on a small sheet of copy paper and can then be resized onto a large billboard without compromising on the image quality. Any image that is of low-resolution raster graphic will get pixelated if expanded.

If typographic characters are looked upon as images, the same considerations can be made for graphics. Previously, character sets were stored as bitmaps with the purpose of achieving maximum print quality and be non-scalable. Today, Adobe Illustrator and CorelDRAW are the major graphic programs that have incorporated many useful tools that aid in making work look photo-realistic.


Tools like Gradient Mesh or Mesh Fill tool let us create smooth gradients that seamlessly flow into each other. Other than these tools, there are “Live Trace Tools” that enable one to quickly trace an image or make it easy for one to trace bitmap textures to make it boundlessly expandable. Some tools enable you to perform “Live Effects” like drop shadows and blur. If you have an idea of all these tools, you know the formula behind creating exceptional vector graphics. A lot of artists prefer using a mouse or pen tool, but there are now advanced forms of input devices like Pen Tablets that have been designed to make the process faster and hassle-free.

So, that’s how vector images have evolved and have made their way into most of everything we see today. Not many know that those artworks that are commonly termed ‘design,’ are actually called vectors. It is no surprise that we are surrounded by them.

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