The term "clip art" originated through the practice of physically cutting images from pre-existing printed works for use in other publishing projects. Before the advent of computers in publishing, clip art was used through a process called paste up. Many clip art images in this era qualified as line art. In this process, the clip art images are cut out by hand, then attached via adhesives to a board representing a scale size of the finished, printed work. After the addition of text and art created through phototypesetting, the finished, camera-ready pages are called mechanicals. Since the 1990s, nearly all publishers have replaced the paste up process with desktop publishing.
After the introduction of mass-produced personal computers such as the IBM PC in 1981 and the Apple Macintosh in 1984, the widespread use of clip art by consumers became possible through the invention of desktop publishing. For the IBM PC, the first library of professionally drawn clip art was provided with VCN ExecuVision, introduced in 1983. These images were used in business presentations, as well as for other types of presentations. Many people credit Apple Computer with providing desktop publishing with the tools required to make it a reality for consumers, with the introduction of the Macintosh's graphical user interface (GUI) in 1984 and the LaserWriter laser printer in late 1985. After software maker Aldus introduced PageMaker in 1985, professional quality desktop publishing became possible with consumer desktop computers.
After 1986, desktop publishing generated a widespread need for pre-made, electronic images as consumers began to produce newsletters and brochures using their own computers. Electronic clip art emerged to fill the need. Early electronic clip art was simple line art or bitmap images due to the lack of sophisticated electronic illustration tools. With the introduction of the Apple Macintosh program MacPaint, consumers were provided the ability to edit and use bitmapped clip art for the first time.
One of the first successful electronic clip art pioneers was T/Maker Company, a Mountain View, California company which had its early roots with an alternative word processor, WriteNow, commissioned for the Macintosh by Steve Jobs. Beginning in 1984, T/Maker took advantage of the capability of the Macintosh to provide bitmapped graphics in black and white; by publishing small, retail collections of these images under the brand name "ClickArt." The first version of "ClickArt" was a mixed collection of images designed for personal use. The illustrators who created the first "serious" clip art for business/organizational (professional) use were Mike Mathis, Joan Shogren, and Dennis Fregger; published by T/Maker in 1984 as "ClickArt Publications."
In 1986, Adobe Systems introduced Adobe Illustrator for the Macintosh, allowing home computer users the first opportunity to manipulate vector art in a GUI. This made the higher-resolution vector art possible and in 1987 T/Maker published the first vector-based clip art images, despite widespread unfamiliarity with the bezier curves required to edit vector art. However, graphic designers and many consumers quickly realized the enormous advantages of vector art, and T/Maker's clip art became the gold standard of the industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1994, T/Maker was sold to Deluxe Corp and then two years later to its main rival, Broderbund.
With widespread adoption of the CD-ROM in the early 1990s, several pre-computer clip art companies such as Dover Publications also began offering electronic clip art.
The mid-1990s ushered in more innovation in the clip art industry, as well as a marketing focus on quantity over quality. Even T/Maker, whose success was built upon selling small, high quality clip art packages of approximately 200 images, began to get interested in the volume clip art market. In March, 1995, T/Maker became the exclusive publisher of over 500,000 copyright-free images which was, at the time, one of the world's largest clip art libraries. This licensing agreement was subsequently transferred to Broderbund.
Also during this period, word processing companies, including Microsoft, began offering clip art as a built-in feature of their products. In 1996, Microsoft Word 6.0 included only 82 WMF clip art files as part of its default installation. Today, Microsoft offers clip art as part of over 140,000 media elements in the Microsoft Office product suite.
Other companies such as Nova Development and Clip Art Incorporated also pioneered the marketing of large clip art collections in the late 1990s, including Nova's "Art Explosion" series, which sold clip art in increasingly large libraries up to a million images.
Between 1998 and 2001, T/Maker's clip art assets were sold each year as a result of some of the largest mergers and acquisitions in the computer software industry, including those of The Learning Company (in 1998) and Mattel (in 1999). All of T/Maker's clip art is currently marketed through the Broderbund division of the Irish company Riverdeep.
In the early 2000s, the World Wide Web continued to gain popularity as a retail software distribution channel, and several companies pioneered the sale of clip art through online, searchable libraries, including Clipart.com (part of Jupiter Media), WeddingClipart.com (part of Letters and Arts Incorporated), and GraphicsFactory.com (part of Clip Art Incorporated). Because of the Web, clip art is now not only sold through retail channels as packaged bundles of images, but also as individual images and subscriptions to entire libraries (which allow you to download an unlimited number of images for the duration of the subscription).
In the mid-2000s, the clip art market is segmented in several different ways, including the data type, the art style, the delivery medium, and the marketing method.
Clip art is divided into two different data types represented by many different file formats: bitmap and vector art. Clip art vendors may provide images of just one type or both. The delivery medium of a clip art product varies from different types of traditionally boxed retail packages to online download sites. Clip art is sold via both traditional and web-based retail channels (as with Nova Development products), as well as via online, searchable libraries (as with Clipart.com). Clip art vendors typically market clip art by focusing either on quantity or vertical market specialty. The marketing method often goes hand in hand with the art style of the clip art sold.
To compete largely on quantity, some clip art vendors must produce or license new and old clip art collections in volume. Clip art marketed in this way is often less expensive but simpler in structure and detail, as is typified by cartoons, line art, and symbols (e.g. Nova Development, http://www.iClipart.com and http://www.GraphicsFactory.com). Clip art which is sold according to smaller, specialized subject genres tends to be more complex, modern, detailed, and expensive (e.g. WeddingClipart.com, GoodSalt.com).