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Navigating
graphic file types

Overview

JPEG, GIF, PDF, WTF… don’t worry, we know you’re thinking it 😉 File types are confusing. And there are so. many. different. kinds. The point of this guide is to explain the common formats and best uses for each one. Let’s take the stress out of file types and make sure your designs appear and print just as you intended.

To begin, there are 2 categories of graphics files – raster and vector. And then there are multiple file types within those categories.

Raster file types

Raster graphics are made up of pixels – or tiny dots of color. When a raster graphic is resized, the pixels are either condensed or enlarged, which can sometimes result in blurriness or ‘pixelation.’

All raster files fit into one of two categories – ‘lossy’ or ‘lossless.’ Lossy images lose some quality and data during compression, compromising small detail, but decreasing overall file size. Lossless images do not lose any data or quality during compression, but will be significantly larger than a lossy file.

Raster images are mostly photos and web graphics.

JPEG (joint photographic experts group) files are best for non-professional printing and digital photo applications like websites and emails where small file size is more important than maximum quality.

  • Lossy compression
  • Print or digital application
  • Flat (does not support layers)
  • Does not support transparency or animation
  • Range of file size options
  • Best for detailed website images
  • Best for printing and editing
  • Unlimited color support
JPG file compression

GIF (graphics interchange format) files are best for graphics with few colors, icons and simple animations.

  • Lossless compression
  • Digital application only
  • Flat (does not support layers)
  • Supports transparency and simple animation
  • Small file size (smaller than JPG)
  • Limited color support
GIF files support animation

PNG (portable network graphics) are best for digital logos and graphics that require transparency and/or fading.

  • Lossless compression
  • Digital application only
  • Flat (does not support layers)
  • Supports transparency and fading
  • Small size
  • Limited color support, but more color depth than GIF
PNG file

TIFF (tagged image file format) files are best for printing large-scale images, where quality is more important than a small file size.

  • Lossless compression
  • Optimized for print
  • Supports layers
  • High quality is great for large-scale printing
  • Large file size
TIFF files can be used for billboards

Quiz time
Tiny dots of color that make up images are called what?
Pixels

Vector file types

Unlike raster files, vectors are resolution-independent, meaning they can be scaled up or down infinitely without losing resolution or becoming blurry. This is possible because they contain mathematical formulas that calculate positioning of the line art and points that make up the artwork.

Most well-known applications of vector files are logos, icons and illustrations.

PDF (portable document format) files are universal. They preserve and embed fonts, graphics and layout no matter the application used to create or open the file. PDFs are best for sending final graphic files to a production vendor. (ie: screen printers or full-service printers)

  • Universal across all browsers and operating systems
  • Commonly requested by print vendors
  • Can be exported from all Adobe programs
  • Digital and print applications
  • Editable within Adobe programs
PDF files can export with important information

EPS (encapsulated post-script) files are best for printing illustrations and simpler large format graphics.

  • Vector-based, but can support/contain raster elements
  • Not for photographs or edited images
  • Unlikely to be used online
  • Supports layers
  • Compatible with most vector editing software, not limited to Adobe programs
EPS files

AI (Adobe Illustrator) files are working files from Adobe Illustrator and are best for editable versions of vector logos and illustrations.

  • Editable vector designs
  • Commonly used for creating vector-based logos and linework
  • Infinitely scalable
  • Not for editing images
  • Resolution-independent
AI files

SVG (scalable vector graphic) files are two-dimensional graphics that are best for responsive and interactive web elements.

  • Resolution-independent
  • Web-based vector graphics, sometimes interactive
  • Infinitely scalable
  • Supported by popular browsers
  • Files can be searched, indexed, compressed and scripted
  • Small file size
SVG image file

Quiz time
True or False: Vector files can be scaled up or down infinitely without losing resolution or becoming blurry.
True

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