When you work with digital images, you’re likely to encounter
two main types of graphics: bitmap and vector. Bitmap graphics,
also known as raster graphics, are composed of tiny squares (pixels)
that are arranged in a rectangular grid formation. Vector graphics
are composed of mathematically generated geometric shapes such as
lines, curves, and polygons.
Bitmap images are
defined by the width and height of the image, measured in pixels,
and the number of bits contained in each pixel, which represents
the number of colors a pixel can contain. In the case of a bitmap
image that utilizes the RGB color model, the pixels are made up
of three bytes: red, green, and blue. Each of these bytes contains
a value ranging from 0 to 255. When the bytes are combined within
the pixel, they produce a color similar to an artist mixing paint colors.
For example, a pixel containing byte values of red-255, green-102
and blue-0 would produce a vibrant orange color.
The quality of a bitmap image is determined by combining the
resolution of the image with its color depth bit value. Resolution relates
to the number of pixels contained within an image. The greater the
number of pixels, the higher the resolution and the finer the image
appears. Color depth relates to the amount of information
a pixel can contain. For example, an image that has a color depth value
of 16 bits per pixel cannot represent the same number of colors
as an image that has a color depth of 48 bits. As a result, the
48-bit image will have smoother degrees of shading than its 16-bit
Because bitmap graphics are resolution-dependent, they don’t
scale very well. This is most noticeable when bitmap images are
scaled up in size. Scaling up a bitmap usually results in a loss
of detail and quality.
Bitmap file formats
images are grouped into a number of common file formats. These formats
use different types of compression algorithms to reduce file size,
as well as optimize image quality based on the end purpose of the
image. The bitmap image formats supported by Adobe runtimes are
BMP, GIF, JPG, PNG, and TIFF.
BMP (bit mapped) format is a default image format used by the Microsoft Windows
operating system. It does not use any form of compression algorithm and
as such usually results in large file sizes.
Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) was originally developed by CompuServe in
1987 as a means to transmit images with 256 colors (8-bit color).
The format provides small file sizes and is ideal for web-based
images. Because of this format’s limited color palette, GIF images
are generally not suitable for photographs, which typically require
high degrees of shading and color gradients. GIF images permit single-bit
transparency, which allows colors to be mapped as clear (or transparent).
This results in the background color of a web page showing through
the image where the transparency has been mapped.
by the Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG), the JPEG (often written
JPG) image format uses a lossy compression algorithm to allow 24-bit color
depth with a small file size. Lossy compression means that each
time the image is saved, the image loses quality and data but results
in a smaller file size. The JPEG format is ideal for photographs
because it is capable of displaying millions of colors. The ability
to control the degree of compression applied to an image allows
you to manipulate image quality and file size.
Portable Network Graphics (PNG) format was produced as an open-source alternative
to the patented GIF file format. PNGs support up to 64-bit color
depth, allowing for up to 16 million colors. Because PNG is a relatively
new format, some older browsers don’t support PNG files. Unlike
JPGs, PNGs use lossless compression, which means that none of the
image data is lost when the image is saved. PNG files also support
alpha transparency, which allows for up to 256 levels of transparency.
Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) was the cross-platform format of
choice before the PNG was introduced. The drawback with the TIFF
format is that because of the many different varieties of TIFF,
there is no single reader that can handle every version. In addition,
no web browsers currently support the format. TIFF can use either
lossy or lossless compression, and is able to handle device-specific
color spaces (such as CMYK).
Transparent bitmaps and opaque bitmaps
Bitmap images that use either
the GIF or PNG formats can have an extra byte (alpha channel) added
to each pixel. This extra pixel byte represents the transparency
value of the pixel.
GIF images allow single-bit transparency,
which means that you can specify a single color, from a 256-color
palette, to be transparent. PNG images, on the other hand, can have
up to 256 levels of transparency. This function is especially beneficial
when images or text are required to blend into backgrounds.
ActionScript 3.0 replicates this extra
transparency pixel byte within the BitmapData class. Similar to
the PNG transparency model, ActionScript offers up to 256 levels
Important concepts and terms
list contains important terms that you will encounter when learning
about bitmap graphics:
- The level of transparency (or more accurately, opacity) in
a color or an image. The amount of alpha is often described as the alpha channel value.
- ARGB color
- A color scheme where each pixel’s color is a mixture of red,
green, and blue color values, and its transparency is specified
as an alpha value.
- Color channel
- Commonly, colors are represented as a mixture of a few basic colors—usually
(for computer graphics) red, green, and blue. Each basic color is considered
a color channel; the amount of color in each color channel, mixed together,
determines the final color.
- Color depth
- Also known as bit depth, this refers to the amount
of computer memory that is devoted to each pixel, which in turn
determines the number of possible colors that can be represented
in the image.
- The smallest unit of information in a bitmap image—essentially
a dot of color.
- The pixel dimensions of an image, which determines the level
of fine-grained detail contained in the image. Resolution is often
expressed in terms of width and height in number of pixels.
- RGB color
- A color scheme where each pixel’s color is represented as
a mixture of red, green, and blue color values.