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A graphic is an image or visual representation of an object. Therefore, computer graphics are simply images displayed on a computer screen. Graphics are often contrasted with text, which is comprised of characters, such as numbers and letters, rather than images.

Computer graphics can be either two or three-dimensional. Early computers only supported 2D monochrome graphics, meaning they were black and white (or black and green, depending on the monitor). Eventually, computers began to support color images. While the first machines only supported 16 or 256 colors, most computers can now display graphics in millions of colors.

2D graphics come in two flavors — raster and vector. Raster graphics are the most common and are used for digital photos, Web graphics, icons, and other types of images. They are composed of a simple grid of pixels, which can each be a different color. Vector graphics, on the other hand are made up of paths, which may be lines, shapes, letters, or other scalable objects. They are often used for creating logos, signs, and other types of drawings. Unlike raster graphics, vector graphics can be scaled to a larger size without losing quality.

3D graphics started to become popular in the 1990s, along with 3D rendering software such as CAD and 3D animation programs. By the year 2000, many video games had begun incorporating 3D graphics, since computers had enough processing power to support them. Now most computers now come with a 3D video card that handles all the 3D processing. This allows even basic home systems to support advanced 3D games and applications.

Updated: April 1, 2009

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