If you are just starting out in graphic design, or are an avid DIYer the world of graphic file types can be a little daunting to say the least. You up load a graphic as a jpeg and it looks pixelated or “fuzzy” you send your logo in a png format and they are telling you it’s not usable. I’m sure you are saying… “it’s just a friggin picture!” “Make it work already!”
Much like the tools that a carpenter uses, each image file was created for a specific purpose. There are times where certain file types can be used in certain situations, but that usually require multiple factors such as size, pixels etc. Here is where you will find the “need to know” basics to get you able to produce great results with your graphics.
The best news is that there are only a few file types that you ever have to worry about. Each file type was only ever created for a specific purpose and that is why there are more than one (for example printed materials and online use).
Ready to begin?
There are 2 file formats raster and vector. Raster images are created via pixels. They range from the simplest of illustrations like a happy face, to complex like that of a photograph. The important thing to remember about raster images is that they are fixed. Which means that resizing makes them look terrible- especially when trying to make them bigger. Think of raster images as a final picture- the image that you want to use unchanged, or unadjusted.
Vector images are a totally different breed of images. Have you ever seen the movie the Matrix? Well vector images are like that, a series of mathematical language that speaks to electronic devices, and tells them what type of shape to render or show. So because each image is just a fluid language, they can be resized, or manipulated without any loss, because a new image is actually being created. What types of images are vectors? Usually text, logos, illustrations are some of the few that are created in vector format. More complex images, such as photographs, aren’t really suitable for this file type.
Mind blown yet?
Under each image file type are formats- here’s where things start to sound familiar- like JPEG, PNG, PDF, and many others. Let’s start off with raster formatted files and how they are used.
JPEG- Best used for the web and photography, you can make smaller without problems. This format is easy to use and smaller in size, but it not the ideal quality for reproduction, or graphically printed projects.
GIF- Best used in web design, and for their ability to be animated (yes all over facebook). If you are looking for a low file size that handles transparencies, this is your format. GIF has a lower color palette, so colors will not be as accurate, and if you are using transparencies it will cause the areas to look “rough.” It also helps to remember, the more colors, the higher the format, the slower the load time.
PNG- If JPEG and GIF had a baby this would be it. PNG produces a higher quality detailed image like a photograph, like a JPEG. It also can include transparencies, which is great if you are trying to use large files and don’t want to sacrifice the image quality. The only downside to a PNG file format is that too many of them can cause a slower load time for your website, so make sure you use sparingly.
TIFF (TIF)- This image is often used in print design and carries the term “print- ready”. This format is “lossless,” which means that nothing is lost when the file is saved and compressed. It also supports layers, which can make it a pretty big file. TIFF formats are not suitable for the web, and quite often, if you are not a professional designer, you won’t recognize this format because it is not commonly used.
PSD- This is a native format of Adobe Photoshop, so you can edit the file however you like without any loss. The PSD File is not something that you would use on a website, and once the file is flattened, so no changes can be made, it’s great to send to printers.
EPS- Remember when we talked about that mathematical language? EPS is the standard file format that creates the vector illustration- a must for any file that has to be resized (a logo for example.)
Of all the file formats, EPS is the most flexible. It can be opened in any program that supports vector file types, can be resized or altered, and is also print- ready. This format is usually used in the professional design setting as well, because it is a working file (the original file can be changed or altered).
AI- Another native file, this time of Adobe Illustrator. Anytime you work on a project within Adobe Illustrator you are working in the AI file format. This file is only good for sharing with your printer.
Wait! You missed one more! What about a PDF?
PDF- Adobe PDF is one of the most versatile files that you can not only use for print and web, but can contain both raster and vector images.. You can send it to your printer, or anyone else for that matter.
PDF files can also be downloaded off of your website ( I wouldn’t recommend embedding them), as it can be read on any PDF reader.
Now that you know all of the file types and what they are used for, here are a couple of rules when working with them.
Never try to make a small low resolution file bigger, the only result will be pixelation and poor quality.
The only reason you would take a high resolution image (photograph) and saving it as a lower file type would be if you are putting it on the web.
Once you convert a vector file type (EPS) to a raster file type (JPEG) the illustration will turn into a pixel formatted image. This means you will not be able to change or resize it any more, so make sure that you save both formats (just in case).
There is no easy way to convert raster image files to vector images files. The best thing to do in this case is to redraw the image. (This happens in many cases where a person will have a JPEG file of their logo and want it changed.)
Once you have a basic knowledge on the file types, it is pretty easy to acertain which one you would need for the project you are working on. And if you are not a designer, just ask your printer, or designer creating your project which one they need, because at the end of the day, you need the right tool for the project.
For a nice cheat sheet on file types and where to use them: