Understanding Vector versus Bitmap Images Flash

Flash supports two types of image formats: vector and bitmap. Vector graphic files consist of an equation that describes the placement of points and the qualities of the lines between those points. Using this basic logic, vector graphics tell the computer how to display the lines and shapes, as well as what colors to use, how wide to make the lines, where to put it on the Stage, and at what scale.

Flash is a vector program. Thus, anything that you create with the Flash drawing tools will be described in vector format. Vector graphics have some important benefits: They’re small in file size and they scale accurately without distortion. However, they also have a couple of drawbacks: Highly complex vector graphics may result in very large file sizes, and vectors aren’t really suitable for creating continuous tones, photographs, or artistic brushwork.

Bitmap (sometimes also referred to as Raster) files are described as an arrangement of individual pixels which are mapped in a grid like a piece of graph paper with tiny squares. Each square represents a single pixel, and each of these pixels has specific color values assigned to it. So, as the name implies, a bitmap image maps out the placement and color of each pixel on the screen.

Although bitmap images aren’t created in Flash, they can be used within Flash projects. To do this, you need to use an external bitmap application and then import the bitmaps into Flash. Unlike vector graphics, bitmap images aren’t very scalable, as shown below. Simple bitmap images are often larger in file size than simple vector graphics, but very complex bitmap images, for example a photograph, are often smaller (and display better quality) than comparable vector graphics.

Here’s JWL’s logo compare the unscaled vector graphic on the left to the unscaled bitmap image on the right. They both look almost equally acceptable, although the vector graphic is sharper.

Here’s JWL’s logo compare the unscaled vector graphic on the left to the unscaled bitmap image on the right

The rule of thumb is to use scalable, bandwidth-efficient, Flash-compatible vector graphics as much as possible within Flash projects, except for situations in which photographs or photographic quality, continuous-tone images are either desired or required. The difference between vector and bitmap graphics when scaled shows below

Here’s JWL’s logo again. Now compare the scaled vector graphic

Here’s JWL’s logo again. Now compare the scaled vector graphic

Most 8-bit raster images are .GIFs, and they are most frequently used for images with large areas of solid color, such as logos and text. Rather than use this image type in Flash, consider re-creating or tracing this artwork with Flash drawing tools. The final .SWF will not only be smaller, it will also look better in Flash.


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