In computer graphics, a raster graphics image or bitmap is a data structure representing a generally rectangular grid of pixels, or points of color, viewable via a monitor, paper, or other display medium. Raster images are stored in image files with varying formats (see Comparison of graphics file formats).
A bitmap corresponds bit-for-bit with an image displayed on a screen, generally in the same format used for storage in the display's video memory, or maybe as a device-independent bitmap. A bitmap is technically characterized by the width and height of the image in pixels and by the number of bits per pixel (a color depth, which determines the number of colors it can represent).
The printing and prepress industries know raster graphics as contones (from "continuous tones") and refer to vector graphics as "line work".
The word "raster" has its origins in the Latin rastrum (a rake), which is derived from radere (to scrape). It originally referred to the raster scan of cathode ray tube (CRT) video monitors, which paint the image line by line by magnetically steering a focused electron beam. By association, it came also to refer to a rectangular grid of pixels. See also rastrum, a device for drawing musical staff lines.
Raster graphics are resolution dependent. They cannot scale up to an arbitrary resolution without loss of apparent quality. This property contrasts with the capabilities of vector graphics, which easily scale up to the quality of the device rendering them. Raster graphics deal more practically than vector graphics with photographs and photo-realistic images, while vector graphics often serve better for typesetting or for graphic design. Modern computer-monitors typically display about 72 to 130 pixels per inch (PPI), and some modern consumer printers can resolve 2400 dots per inch (DPI) or more; determining the most appropriate image resolution for a given printer-resolution can pose difficulties, since printed output may have a greater level of detail than a viewer can discern on a monitor. Typically, a resolution of 150 to 300 pixel per inch works well for 4-color process (CMYK) printing.
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