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A Beginner's Guide To Working With Vector Graphics for eLearning Modules

Sometimes, when you are producing an elearning module, you just can’t find the right image for your content. Or you might find an image that’s almost right, but not quite for the message you’re trying to convey. Maybe it’s the perfect image, but it’s not available in your client’s colour scheme.

Many of these issues can be fixed with even a basic knowledge of Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. In this article, we will be learning how to make simple edits of vector images with Illustrator.

First of all, what is the difference between vector and raster images? Raster graphics use an array of pixels to construct the graphics, typically used with photographic image graphics. Your computer display is made up from grids containing small rectangles called pixels. The smaller and closer the units are together, the better the quality of the output image, however it also means it will generate a bigger file to store the image output data. If the number of pixels remains the same, enlarging your image will stretch the size of each pixel and the image will become chunky and blocky (pixellated).

Vector format files store the lines, paths, points, shapes and colours that make up a graphic as a mathematical formula. A vector design program uses this formula to construct the output image on your screen, providing the best quality possible, given your screen resolution. Since the vector formula file can produce a graphic scalable to any size and detail, the quality of the graphic is limited only by the resolution of your monitor, and the file size of vector data rendering the graphic stays the same.

Most image libraries now have many of their graphics available in a vector format. Usually, the most common format you might find vector graphics in will be .eps (Encapsulated PostScript file). You can open and edit these files with graphics programs such as Inkscape (which is free), or Adobe Illustrator.

When you open this file with a graphics program, you will find that your image is composed of a number of objects. Each object has an outline, or path, which is composed of lines and points. These paths may be freestanding lines, or form closed shapes which may be filled with a colour.

First, find the selection tool. This is usually the first tool icon available at the top left corner of the tool menu – a black arrow. With this tool, you can select single objects or objects that are grouped. Once an object is selected, you can move the object around your page, edit the fill and outline colours by clicking on a colour swatch, and copy and paste your selected object or objects just as you would with text, with Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V. You can also apply transformations to scale, rotate, or flip the object. If you are feeling ambitious, you can also edit the shape of the object by changing the curves on the paths or at the anchor points. If you’ve made a mistake, you can undo any of the changes you just made with Ctrl-Z. And finally, you can get rid of the object if it’s not working for you by right clicking on it and selecting Cut or Delete.

Once you have edited your object to your liking, you can save the document in the program’s default format to continue editing later, or export it to a raster format (such as .jpg, or .png) to be used in your elearning.

Congratulations! You’ve learned how to edit a vector graphic! Keep an eye on this space for more tips and tricks with working in Illustrator. In the meantime, you can check out our other articles on graphics in elearning – Gamificaton – 5 Great Tools to Make Great Graphics for Learning Games, How to Avoid Filler Graphics in Your Elearning, or Good Infographic Design.

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