Seth Woolley's Blog

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vexels - style or technique?(0)

Style or Technique

It has come to my attention that my last installment on vexels didn't adequately address a particular debate around what counts as a "vexel".

I mentioned that the community should decide what's really a vexel and what's not, however, some may want to know what I think.  Here it is.

The Debate

The particular debate revolves around the original style of vexels -- images that look like linearly posterized vector graphics that are originally concieved in a raster format.  While the technique remained similar, one longstanding member of the vexel community, as I understand it, began to add gradients to the layers.  The vast majority of the techniques used were identical and this was portrayed as a gradual evolution of the process.

The question was: is this change significant to create a new, different category of art that is not called a "vexel".

My Response

I don't believe a "gradient vexel" is not a true vexel, and here's why:


  • Vector graphics applications already support gradients natively.

  • As a results, VML, SVG, Flash, AI, and other vector formats all natively support gradients.

  • Gradients also scale like normal graphics.

  • Gradients are described with the same direction and magnitude as normal vectors in addition to specifying at least two colors (and optionally control points and curve descriptions) for the gradients.

  • The definition of a vexel, which I discussed in my previous post, which relies upon its relationship to vector graphics in a rasterized medium, doesn't preclude gradients -- I never made an exception for them.

  • The addition of gradients to the layerization process thus may be considered a more sophisticated form of "vexel" graphics.


The only major arguments against that I recognize are that:

  • The archetypical vexel when the term was coined did not use true gradients.

  • The addition of gradients may make vexels less recognizable an distinct as a style.

Why Ignore the Cons

While these are both true, they don't change the fact that the term and definition of "vexel" is just too general to prevent "gradient" vexels from being called proper vexels.

Further, they are the arguments of Platonic Idealism -- that Vexels have a "form" that they must follow, and that the nominalistic variations are not true to the "perfect" and "archetypical" form of the perfect "vexel".

I've never been an adherent of Platonic Idealism -- I'm an Ockhamic Nominalist.

Resolving the Dispute

Now that we know that gradient vexels are true vexels we should create a texonomy of vexels by making a couple terms for those that are "gradient" vexels or "non-gradient" or "classic" vexels.

I'm not going to say everybody should use my definitions, but I have some suggestion of "adjectives" that the community could use to modify the noun "vexel".  Which ones are the better adjectives (which may not even be these) will be determined by actual use in the community.

for "gradient" vexels
for "non-gradient" vexels


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Seth Woolley's Blog vexels

vexel vs vector(1)


Vexels can look however they want, but they must be done in a raster format/medium somewhere along the way (this means vector art saved for the web doesn't count) .  There's no one specific style in the definition of a vexel.  The term "vector-graphic style" means one has a wide range of latitude.  No one person can define a more narrow definition for vexel than is seen below, and as always, it's a matter of artistic interpretation what comprises most art.


A few years ago I grew tired of people doing vector-like graphics in Photoshop and calling them "vectors".  Vector-style, yes, but not actual vectors.  So I suggested the term "Vexel" for rasters done in the vector-style (from vector/pixel) so people could refer to the style and be completely specific as to what they meant.  The term caught on much to my surprise.

I never really intended to be the authority on vexels.  Honestly, I'd rather other people debate it and settle it themselves, but it appears there's been an impasse in the debate and events turned toward me.

I was approached by a couple people from my distant past ;) to clarify what exactly I meant when I came up with the term vexel.  What follows is the most terse definition:

vexel. v.,v.i.
The act of creating a vexel. (vexelling, vexelled, vexeller, vexellation, vexels)
vexel. n.
A form of digital raster art done to appear as vector-graphic style with raster-medium-specific features.

The medium is "raster", the style is "vector".  If you are using a vector medium, you aren't using a raster medium.  Watercolor might look like oil when you take a picture to all but a discriminating eye, but the mode of creation is still watercolor or oil.  By the same token, you can create all the line art you want as long as you are using the raster medium for manipulation (creation is even better) some of the time.

A vector image, for those who don't know, is an infinitely resizable representation of line segments and polygones with graphical attributes (color, width, bezier splines, etc.).  See Scalable Vector Graphics or Adobe Illustrator for archetypical examples.  When you view it on the monitor or printer it is converted to a raster image (an image composed of a grid/matrix of pixels) at some point.  All printers rasterize, mostly very late in the process inside the print processor.  Monitors generally do the rasterizing accelerated in hardware.  In 3D graphics, the rasterization is called "rendering", mostly because the algorithms for creating 3D graphics are a lot more complex and thus gain the term "render", which connotes some creative process.  For 2D rasters from 2D vectors, there's typically very little creativity involved, otherwise the term render could be used.

When the term vexel was originally created, the community was using raster graphic programs like Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro to draw the vectors by hand.  Apparently there's some discussion around the conversion of vector graphics to rasters and calling them vexels.  Artistically, I consider them vector images unless they've been touched-up with raster-specific manipulation that makes it lose its ability to be represented in a vector-style descriptive space.  The raster-specific features are a sine qua non (Latin, literally: without which, not) of vexels, otherwise it's just a vector-style art.  All vector-style art gets rasterized at some point in time to be represented, so that's a given.  I'd rather not confound the word vector with vexel and vice versa.  I intended it to be a different word for a totally new style being developed in the digital age.


If you have any comments to give, my current email is down as I complete my move, so use my work email at swoolley-at-panasas*dot*com and include the term "vexel" in the subject line so I can properly sort it out.

Seth Woolley's Blog vexels