What is the difference between vector based and pixel based image production?

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Vector based graphics are generated using vectors, or mathematical instructions for direction and proportions. This requires the storage of two end-points in 2D space. If you had cartesian math (XY coordinates) in high school, this should ring a bell. Vector graphics are typically used in applications requiring lines, such as CAD or mechanical drawings, architectural design and electronic circuit board layouts. The advantage of vector graphics is that it doesn't require lots of disk space to store big drawings or pictures. Also, the vectors can be extremely accurate, depending upon the precision of the numbers used to record each vector and so can be zoomed to extremes. Vector based graphics aren't as effective for rendering 3-dimensional surfaces, such as those used in games, primarily because those objects can't easily be broken down into line segments. Vector images can be scaled to any size wihtout loosing "sharpness" (those jagged or fuzzy edges you see when you zoom in a lot on a pixel image).

Pixel-based image production renders a picture within a fixed-sized window. The size of the window is determined by the number of pixels, or picture-elements, that the screen has. A standard computer display screen may have 1024 pixels across by 768 pixels top to bottom. This gives a drawing canvas area of 786432 total pixels on which to draw. Each pixel can be drawn using whatever the color depth, or resolution, that the graphics card supports. PCs now have graphics cards that can render more color shades in a pixel than the eye can discern. The advantage of pixel-based rendering is that, depending upon the resolution of the graphics card, great detail can be shown. The disadvantage is that, because each pixel is rendered individually, each pixel must be stored separately. This can take up significantly more disk space than vector-based rendering. Another disadvantage is that at magnifications greater than the "native resolution" of your screen, edges of the image become fuzzy or jagged (depending on the rendering engine).

Interestingly, with the advent of modern-day graphics engines, vector-based image generation is often used in conjunction with pixel-based rendering. Many graphics engines use 3D vector triangles to represent parts of the surface of an object internally. Then, another part of the engine projects the rendered 3D vector images onto a 2D pixel-based screen in real time. Thus, you have fast, efficient storage and representation of images in memory with the high detail of pixel-based rendering. This is essentially how modern computer and video games work.
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