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What Is Clipart And How It Came Into Existence? Short History Of Clip Art And Of Clipart deSIGN

I heard about the existence of clipart may be somewhere around 1996. This was the year I started working with CorelDRAW for the first time. CorelDRAW always came bundled with some clipart graphics to my amazement. I think I first started working on CorelDRAW 5.

I was intrigued by the concept of clipart from the very beginning and since then I kind of developed a special feeling about it. I was kind of drawn with a magnetic force towards it. New clipart images excited me every time.

Back then I opened my first sign shop where I started doing different types of signs with vinyl lettering, illuminated signs, channel lettering etc. We also did some graphic design work in our shop for brochures, leaflets and other advertising printed materials. This is where I quickly realized how useful the clipart can be. And this is when I learned the difference between general use clipart and vinyl-ready or cut-ready clipart. I will dedicate a special article on the subject of what are the properties of vinyl-ready / cut-ready clipart and why it is so great. But now without further due, let us jump into our article:

What is Clipart?

Clipart refers to a collection of pre-made images, illustrations, and graphics that can be used to enhance documents, presentations, websites, and other forms of media. These images are typically designed to be easy to integrate into various projects, providing visual interest and aiding in the communication of ideas. Clipart can be in the form of vector graphics (scalable without loss of quality) or raster images (composed of pixels and resolution-dependent). However originally clipart came into the form of printed books, where people literally clipped out the images from the printed paper to glue them into their projects.

Short History of Clip Art

The history of clipart spans several decades (two decades short of a century) and has evolved significantly with advancements in technology. Here is a detailed look at its origins, early forms, initial uses, and the pioneers in providing clipart.

Dover Publications, established in 1941 by Hayward and Blanche Cirker, has been a significant player in the clipart industry, particularly known for its extensive collections of royalty-free images. Initially, Dover focused on republishing out-of-print books, but it soon expanded into producing a variety of illustrated books, including clipart collections.

Dover's clipart offerings began in the 1950s, targeting artists, designers, and crafters. The collections included diverse themes such as historical engravings, ornamental designs, and nature illustrations. These books were notable for being "permission-free," allowing users to incorporate the images into their own work without the need for additional permissions or royalties.

The clipart books were particularly useful for graphic designers, educators, and hobbyists, providing a vast array of high-quality, detailed illustrations that could be used in print and later in digital formats as technology evolved. Dover also adapted to digital advancements by offering their clipart collections on CD-ROMs, making it easier for users to access and utilize the images in various digital projects​.

Dover's clipart collections have remained popular due to their affordability and the extensive range of styles and themes available, making them a valuable resource for creative professionals and amateurs alike.

Clip art, as we know it today, began to take shape with the advent of personal computing and desktop publishing software.

In 1983, VCN ExecuVision, a presentation program for IBM personal computers, included the concept of digital image libraries, marking an early step towards modern clip art. However, the term "clip art" itself became more widely recognized with the popularity of programs like MacPaint, released by Apple in 1984. MacPaint allowed users to create and manipulate bitmap images, setting the stage for the proliferation of clip art libraries​​.

The T/Maker Company was among the first to commercialize digital clip art by producing and selling bitmap image collections under the name "ClickArt" in the mid-1980s.

By the mid-1990s, T/Maker had amassed a significant library of images, which was later integrated into Microsoft Word, making clip art widely accessible to the general public. Microsoft bundled clip art with its software, beginning with Microsoft Word 6.0 in 1996, which included 82 clip art images​​.

The earliest forms of clip art were often simple line drawings or basic illustrations, intended for use in desktop publishing. These images were distributed on floppy disks and later on CD-ROMs. With the rise of the internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s, online clip art libraries became common, allowing users to download images directly from websites​​.

Overall, clip art evolved from a niche product for early computer users to a mainstream feature in software applications, largely due to the efforts of companies like Apple, T/Maker, Corel and Microsoft. The digital revolution transformed how images were created, shared, and used, making clip art an integral part of digital publishing and personal computing.

I remember when we started to make our own clipart around the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003 I was blown away by these massive clipart packages from ClickArt and Art Explosion with hundreds of thousands of images inside.

It would takes us hours and hours to make one vector clipart image, how we could possibly compete with hundreds of thousands of images? It looked hopeless, but we hoped against all odds. We started with small vector clipart collections, which we offered on a CD. Here are some of our original and very first products, published 21 years ago in 2003:

But I was so much impressed with these massive big boxes with clipart, that I always dreamed of publishing our clipart in big boxes, the same size that would come CorelDRAW with its software and cliparts. So in time we managed to grow and start issuing Mega Packs in big boxes and many CD's inside.

As I mentioned before it was Corel Corporation, which introduced the reality of clipart to my attention. They still sell clipart packs today from inside CorelDRAW. This is what shows up inside the Welcome Screen:

It was around 2006, when our company Clipart deSIGN became partner with Corel Corporation and we licensed many thousands of our clipart images to be bundled with CorelDRAW and other clipart packs from Corel.

I personally was invited to become part of Corel's Advisory Council and help the development of new features, that were included in Corel X3 onwards. I was even listed as one of CorelDRAW experts inside of CorelDRAW X3 itself:

And one of my tutorials was included with those of other experts:

I have always considered CorelDRAW and Corel's clipart to be a living legend. And I was honored to somewhat become a part of this legend.

Modern Usage

Today, clipart is widely used by educators, business professionals, graphic designers, sign makers, web designers, publishers, hobbyists, home crafters and social media managers. It enhances visual appeal, aids in communication, and saves time in the design process. Clipart is often integrated directly into software applications, providing users with seamless access to a vast array of images.


Clipart has a rich history that spans from physical cut-out images to sophisticated digital collections. It has become an essential tool in digital publishing and personal computing, transforming how images are created, shared, and used in various fields. With companies like T/Maker, Dover Publications and Corel leading the way, clipart continues to be a valuable resource for enhancing visual content.

To be continued...

In a follow up article I will focus with more detail on the specific usage of clipart, as well the difference between vector and raster clipart, general use clipart and vinyl-ready / cut-ready clipart. And how you can recognize a high quality cut-ready clipart from a poor quality one.