I am interested in working out terms to use for following things

  • If you draw drawings based on lines or segments, and don't worry about the areas they enclose just the lines themselves and how they glance each other. Currently I would say that this kind of drawing has a priority for lines. Or line priority.

  • If you draw with enclosed areas and close all your shapes then I call that you have you have a area or rather shape priority.

enter image description here

Image 1: Difference in thinking

So for example Illustrator is built with shape priority in mind. If for we take arbitrary feature like pathfinder it is unable to delete line segments. But perfectly capable of building enclosed areas. It is not until shape builder that you can consider deleting line segments, even then only if there isn't a area to choose over the line segment.

Now as a counter example. Engineering applications and documentation often are built on line priority. As far as explanations go that's all fine and dandy.

However does anybody know if the names line priority and area/shape priority have some known terms in well known literature.

4 Answers 4


I think based on the discourses I encountered both in architectural design and drawing classes (and since) and similar discourses in my original art and drawing classes decades earlier, I might go with "linear" and "contour"... in that contour is a multi-segment line (e.g. CADD polyline) drawn and perceived specifically to define a form.

Now, to be clear, a contour need not be closed per se, but... the emphasis in creating the contour is not primarily its own linear graphic qualities, but rather the space, shape, area or form it delineates; its own intrinsic qualities are subordinate to its task in delineating form.

In architectural perspective drawing (or in many iso drawings) one uses "spatial boundary" line weight to help discriminate an object's boundary against space from a near planar edge... so the convention is that spatial boundaries are heavier, whereas planar transitions are lighter, and in-plane material transitions are yet lighter. This commonly-accepted visual hierarchy helps to make for quick easy comprehension of complex 3D formal composition absent other depth cues such as shading, atmospheric perspective (sfumato) - and in the process, the "spatial boundary" becomes what in life drawing classes I learned to call contours: that lineweight will transition from one "line segment" to anther to convey the "spatial boundary" quality.

Here are some examples of what I'm talking about (yes all are mine to post) - you can see (especially in the last two examples) that even when another hierarchy of lineweights is at play, the spatial boundary quality is of immense use, and makes contours easy to see: enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here And yes, there is a contouring error in this last one: it was a factor of the technique used to generate some of the original linework and the BIM tool used at that time - overall, however, the approach still reads well, even with that error. enter image description here


Using Illustrator, when vectorizing a bitmap image using Image Trace, among its options are: Silhouettes and Line Art that not only faithfully describe the two options, but the result obtained is similar as the images of the question.

enter image description here

Original, Silhouettes and Line Art enter image description here

After expand them, the result of Silhouettes are closed shapes and Line Art are separate segments:

enter image description here

  • 1
    LIne drawings are of course line priority but they don't necessarily carry the idea that line entities are separate. Often you see graphic artists make often line drawings with shape priority. The difference becomes up when you are doing T like shapes. But yes the silhouette thing is a good idea, although you could make silhouettes with line propriety too. I do it all the time.
    – joojaa
    Aug 16, 2018 at 13:29

Your "shape priority" description seems to correspond to what is called a "closed path" in Illustrator and other vector image editors. The other version on the left looks like open paths, made up of several paths, each with a different stroke attribute.

Here's a visualisation of the concepts

enter image description here

  • LIterature link? BUt ist more than about open paths its about thinking shapes being consisting of disseparate paths.
    – joojaa
    Aug 16, 2018 at 13:27
  • In your second example (Illustrator) still treats the objects in terms of shapes: each open path is still seen as a shape with no fill.
    – Luciano
    Aug 16, 2018 at 14:20
  • @joojaa - I see that everyone who has answered this question so far has a bit of a different take on it. I think the other answers are right too. These are all ways to describe lines and shapes. In my answer I was thinking more of terms used in vector image editing software such as Illustrator rather than anything else. Perhaps these are not what you're looking for, or perhaps I misunderstood your question.
    – Billy Kerr
    Aug 16, 2018 at 17:49
  • @joojaa - I can delete this answer if you think it's not relevant. No problem.
    – Billy Kerr
    Aug 16, 2018 at 17:52
  • @BillyKerr no dont ist okay, its just that i would have liked to see somebody else use the term than you. Any link will suffice that should be easy. THe reason why this answqer wont really work for me is that a person thinking in line priperity thinks of the path as closed even theough it is not as such. Techynically form the underlying software its all separate anyway.
    – joojaa
    Aug 17, 2018 at 6:31

For line-based images, I use the term drawing as opposed to images using shapes which I refer to as painting.

I know it may be simplistic; but, these define the "poles" of a continuum to me.

This may or may not include "pointillism" and other special techniques to render an image. These may involve more discussion about their placement between the points I use.

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