Clipart, From Pencil To Pixel

Clip art illustrates virtually every medium in the modern graphic arts. Whether paid or free, clip art has become the stock in trade of both amateur and professional desktop publishing. Originally, clip art received its name from the production process. Design teams would build scale models of a given layout as a ?paste up??that is, a larger version of the layout that would eventually be printed. The team photographed the paste up and used the negative to create the actual printing plate; however, previous to this, the paste up needed some pasting up. That is where the clip art came in.

Whenever the layout editor needed a graphic for the paste up, two options were available: produce it or find it. In both cases, the graphic was located separately before being cut out or ?clipped? to fit the space on the paste up. This clip art procedure carried over to the introduction of the first desktop computers with VCN Execuvision developing a professionally-drawn digital clipart library in 1983. Throughout the ?80?s and ?90?s, the popularity of clipart grew to fill the increasing need made by the rise of desktop publishing. Soon, gone were the days of physical camera-ready paste ups?though, as with clipart, the term persisted?and in came the days of Illustrator, PageMaker, Publisher, and more.

Of course, clip art is intellectual property. As the areas of distribution spread?especially with the advent of the CD-ROM in the early 1990s?clip art needed a solution to maintain its accessibility without losing usefulness. Clipart?s focus started to aim more for quantity over quality in 1995 as T/Maker introduced a 500,000-image copyright-free library. Because the industry relaxed its high quality standards of clipart, copyright became less of a concern as clipart creators became more willing to part with their art. In 1996, for example, Microsoft Word 6.0 offered clipart files as part of its program suite.

Modern clipart sprawls itself across the web, whether as decoration for a website or as actual web content. Image and graphics libraries seem to spring up as readily as weeds in the summer, ranging from lower-end groupings of images to high-quality, high-volume clipart libraries. Stock photography has also started to come into vogue as an alternative to clipart, which is usually illustrated by hand or computer. Of the several ways that clipart can be accessed, clipart in the public domain?where the creator has divested her or himself of all copyright and donated the art away?tends to be the most popular. An interesting problem arises, however, whenever clipart in the public domain is downloaded and edited. Technically, a person who edits clipart creates his or her own copyright for it. More and more, though, courts and laws are working to help facilitate the easy spread of clipart while preserving the rights of those who want to hold on to it. Generally, image copyright gets its lease royalty-free so that clipart users can tackle their project with one payment and no worries. Of course, free clipart still bounces around online and is often a viable alternative. All the way from pencils and paste ups to photos and desktop publishing, clipart makes its mark in the arts.

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