Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 141 / JUNE 1992 / PAGE S1

What are desktop graphics? (Compute's Getting Started with Desktop Graphics)
by David English

What is difference a decade can make. Nearly eleven years ago, I bought my first computer. I needed a graphics generator so I could put graphics on videotape. But when I discovered that a computer would cost only a few hundred dollars more, I took the plunge and spent nearly $2,000 for an Apple 11+ with 48K and a single disk drive.

So what kind of graphics capability did I get for my money? Four-color graphics running at the blinding speed of 1 MHz. And of those four colors, two were black and white.

What can you get today for $2,000? A 32-bit processor running at 25 or 33 MHz (as opposed to an 8-bit processor running at 1MHz), 4MB of RAM (that's 4,000K, as opposed to 48K), and an 8- or even a 15-bit video card (providing either 256 or 32,768 simultaneious colors). Spend another $1,200 and you can add a video coprocessor and increase the number of colors to over 16 million.

It's no wonder that we're seeing so much innovation in the area of desktop graphics. Just as desktop publishing programs are replacing the printer's typesetter, paint and draw programs are replacing the photographer's darkroom and the illustrator's drafting table. For relatively little money, talented artists are setting themselves up in one-room offices and creating professonal-quality work.

That's fine for professionals, but what about ordinary stick-figur artists like you and me? With the right clip art and a word professor, you can create your own letterhead and use it in a template for your business and personal letters. You could make your own Christmas cards by scanning your family members and placing their pictures in improbable situations. Experiment. Be creative.

What do you need? First, you need either a paint or draw program. Paint programs store graphics in dots and are usually limited to the resolution of the system on which they're created. Because of this limitation, an 8-color graphic doesn't automatically become an 256-color graphic when viewed on a Super-VGA monitor.

Draw programs (also called illustrations programs) use commands, rather than dots, to plot a line from point A to point B; so they aren't limited in resolution. A 300-dpi graphic can automatically becomoe a 1200-dpi graphic when printed on a 1200-dpi printer. Paint programs are said to use raster-based graphics, while draw programs are said to use vector-based graphics.

If you plan to output your work to a high-resolution printer, one of the draw programs would most likely be the best way to go. If you're working with photographic images, you'll want to use one of the new feature-rich paint programs that function as an electronic darkroon.

Add either a hand-held or a flatbed scanner, and possibly a pressure-sensitive graphics tablet, and you'll be ready to create new worlds, with landscapes and images never imagined before.

And all from your very own desktop.