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Clip art | Clip Art 101

High quality images have never been easier to find online and a good image can make your document look better whether you are communicating with parents, students or administrators.

Whether you're publishing on the Web, creating presentations or worksheets, composing a newsletter, or writing to a friend, nothing captures an audience's attention faster, or holds it longer, than an appealing image. Nothing helps people remember what you write more than just the right image does. Included: Tips for finding free clip art and incorporating it into your digital documents!

Word processors, desktop publishers, HTML editors, authoring packages, presentation tools -- the number and kinds of applications available for creating documents grows constantly. Everyone has his or her personal favorites. Regardless of how you present your content, however, the format in which you present it can ultimately make or break your presentation or lesson.

Nothing is more boring -- or more forgettable -- than a page of printed text. Whether you're publishing on the Web or from your desktop; creating presentations, work sheets, or quizzes; composing a parent newsletter; or simply writing a letter to a friend, a few good images can make a tremendous difference in the success of your final product. Visual images can illustrate concepts, clarify content, create and sustain interest, and increase understanding and memory. In addition, they just plain make you look good!

So what's a non-artist to do? Consider clip art! Clip art, "canned" digital images designed for documents or Web pages, is the easiest kind of graphic device to obtain and use. Most likely, many of the software applications you use already include some clip art. Don't limit yourself, though! Plenty of Web sites provide extensive files of clip art -- much of it free. In fact, capturing clip art images from almost any Web page is easy!

To use clip art resources effectively, however, you need to be aware of the clip art formats available, the procedures for obtaining clip art, and the relevant copyright laws.

After you read this article, check out Web Clip Art at for more information about clip art.


Although hundreds of different clip art formats are available, you might want to stick to the most popular formats. That will help ensure that you can use the clip art you obtain in all your applications. You'll encounter three clip art formats most often:

  • GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) This format compresses images to allow faster transmission. Widely used on the Internet, GIFs are easily animated for online use. Not all applications can accommodate animated GIFs, however. Because GIFs are limited to 256 colors, they're not suitable for use with some publishing software.
  • JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) This format also compresses images so they're easier to transport and store. JPEGs don't animate well, but this is an excellent format for photographs.
  • Bitmapped Image An older format, used less often today than JPEGs and GIFs, bitmapped images consist of tiny dots, or pixels, of color. Bitmaps require a great deal of memory to open and store, and the images are easily distorted by changes in size.


Now that you know what you're looking for, do you know where to find it? Check out some of these clip art sites.

  • Clip Art Connection This site provides lots of animated GIFs in a searchable database as well as links to thousands of clip art images in ten separate collections. Although the site contains a brief description of each, the collections aren't categorized by topic, which makes finding a particular image difficult.
  • Barry's Clip Art Server This site provides its own collections of images and animations as well as links to a number of other clip art sources. The images are clearly categorized, so finding graphics relating to particular topics is easy. The animations are listed only by page, though; you might have to browse all 17 pages to find what you're looking for.
  • Microsoft Office Clip Art and Media This site offers a number of "clip tips" as well as clip art in a variety of categories, from Abstract to Web Elements.
  • Clip Art Gallery Discovery School offers hundreds of original clip art images and animations.
  • Classroom Clipart Here you'll find more than 30,000 free clip art images in more than 700 categories.


Once you've located the clip art you want to use, downloading it to your computer is a snap!

  • Place your cursor directly over the image and right click the mouse. A pop-up menu will appear. (MAC users simply depress the mouse and hold it down until the menu appears.)
  • Select Save Image As from the menu.
  • A dialogue box or window will appear, requiring you to select a file location.
  • Select the drive and folder where you want to store the image. (You'll find remembering where you save images easier if you create a folder on your hard drive called Images and place all your clip art in it.)
  • Select the format you wish to save the image in. You may not have a choice, but if you can save the image as a GIF or JPEG, do so.
  • Name the image something that will allow you to identify it later.
  • Click Save.


Although, many sources of free clip art are available online, occasionally you'll also find images you'd like to use at other sites. These images are as easy to download as the free ones; you should be aware, however, that copyright laws do cover online material. You might want to keep these general guidelines in mind as you search the Web for that perfect image:

  • All material is copyrighted unless the source states explicitly that it is free for the taking.
  • If you're interested in a copyrighted image, contact the owner and ask for permission to use it. Be sure to specify where and how the image will be used. Most owners will grant educators permission to use their work.
  • Keep a copy of any written permission you receive.
  • Never use a copyrighted image without crediting the source.
  • Try to avoid using a non-copyrighted image without crediting the source.
  • Don't copy images directly from a source to your site. Download both copyrighted and non-copyrighted images to a disc or hard drive first.


If you're looking for images that aren't canned or commercial or if you would simply prefer to create your own images, you have a number of options.

  • A drawing application, such as Microsoft Paint or ClarisWorks, will allow you to create your own original digital drawings. These programs save art as bitmaps, however.
  • A digital camera will come in handy if you want to photograph student work, school events, and field trips. Some digital cameras save pictures in unusual formats, which other applications may not easily accommodate. If you want to resize, crop, or edit an image, you'll need a separate graphics application to import, modify, and convert those images to the format you need.
  • A digital scanner can quickly convert hard copies of images into digital graphics. This method is probably the most practical for three reasons: Student work can be created in any medium and then scanned. The software to edit images is usually included with the scanner. Scanners are relatively inexpensive.

Whatever your graphic preferences are, the images you need to make your documents and presentations truly outstanding are never more than a click away!

Article by Walter McKenzie
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World


Updated 07/15/2011