File Formats in Graphic Design Explained

File Formats in Graphic Design Explained Complete Guide

Graphic designers work with images, vectors, logos and every kind of graphics and once we finish every project we need to send the final files to the client, and many beginner graphic designers have the question what kind of files we need to send the client and the answer can vary depending on various factors as it will be printed or will be in a digital environment.


That is why I created this post, to have a basic guide for every file you will need to use in Graphic Design and what are their characteristics, what is the difference between an .AI file with .psd? if you want to know the answer read this article.


Difference between Raster Files vs Vector Files

The first step to know which file formats are in graphic design is important to know that usually they are divided into two main categories, Raster Files and Vector Files, and depending on the design project you are working on you will need to use one type or another, so let’s see the difference between Raster image files and vector image files.


  • Raster Image Files


Raster images are made by a series of pixels or individual blocks that are used to form an image and raster images have a defined proportion depending on the resolution of it, this factor makes raster images not suitable for a variation of size and if you stretch a raster image the image will generate pixels to fill the new space making the image look distorted and blurry in some cases.


If you find any image online or any printed magazine it will be a raster image, and raster images are used in photography as every time you take a picture it is saved as raster file and depending on the number of pixels it has the quality will be better and some raster image files examples are .jpg, .png and .psd that we will see later.


  • Vector Image 


Vector images, unlike raster images, are formed by mathematical equations calculated by computer, these equations are assigned with color, stroke or thickness to modify the shapes. As vector images are not based in pixels makes them more suitable for resizing as they never will lose quality, they are resolution-independent.


This quality makes vector files the best for logo design projects as you always can use them in different sizes without losing quality, some examples of vector files are .ai, .pdf or .eps.

Vector Images vs Raster Images Difference Explained


High Resolution vs Low Resolution

To differentiate a High-Resolution Image among Low-Resolution Image it’s important to understand what is DPI and PPI. DPI is dots per inch and PPI is pixels per inch, and these units measure the number of pixels in an image.


Depending on the number of pixels per inch of an image we can determine the resolution of it, for example, 72dpi is a low-resolution image format used for websites and 300dpi is a high-resolution image used for printing devices.

Raster File Formats

Now that we already have seen what are raster images and the main difference between vector images, let’s see what are the most used raster file formats used by graphic designers and their characteristics.


Before start talking about all raster image files it’s important to note that all of them can be saved into two primary color models, CMYK (used primarily for printing purposes) and RGB (Used for web and digital purposes) if you want to know more about the difference between CMYK and RGB you can read this post about color theory where I explain it.


JPEG stand for Joint Photographic Experts Group and it is a lossy raster image format, being JPEG or JPG the most well-known file format for designers and non-designers. The most important quality on JPEG images is that they have a sliding scale of compression making the file size smaller without losing too much quality, but depending on the amount of compression it can increase the pixelation of the image.


JPEG file format commonly used in online formats, photography, email graphics and large web design images like banner ads.


  • You should use JPEG Files for
    • Online photos and artworks: JPEG Files are really small in size compared with the quality of the photo making it the best format for web images making the load and download of the image faster.
    • Print photos and artwork: If your JPEG file has a high resolution and low compression makes it suitable for printing purposes.
    • Send a preview Image: If you are designing a logo design and want to send a preview to the client for feedback, you can use a JPEG file format is the size of it very reduced and more suitable for emailing purposes.


  • Don’t use jpeg images for:
    • Images with transparency: If you want to use transparent images for your web graphics avoid using JPEGs as they don’t have a transparency channel and making the background solid color, instead use PNG or GIF file formats.
    • Editable and layered images: If you want to edit your image in layers then avoid using jpegs as they are flat images meaning that once you save the file it all will be saved into the same layer, instead use .PSD file format, being a file format fully editable.
JPEG File Format in Graphic Design Explained


GIF Files stand for Graphics Interchange Format and it is a lossless raster image format very popular for web design image format and used for animated graphics in email images, social media memes and banner ads. The lossless characteristic in GIF images makes them highly customizable settings that reduce the color and image information reducing significantly the file size making it very suitable for web design purposes.


  • Use GIF Images for
    • Animated graphics for web design.GIF Files can keep all the animation frames and timing information in on a single image, and you can use Photoshop to create short animations and save them as GIF File.
    • Images with transparency. GIF files are also a good option if you want to use images with transparent background as this file has an “alpha channel” that can be colored in any color and background.
    • Small size image file. If you are looking for the Image file size that allows a high compression for simple icons and web graphics GIF is the best image file format as it can shrink tremendously the image size.
  • Don’t use GIF Images for
    • Photographic-quality image. As GIF files can have a high resolution, they are only limited to 256 colors and photos use thousands of colors, making them look weird when converted to GIF File.
    • Print an image. For the same reason as the previous one, if you want to print an image avoid using GIF Files as they are only limited to 256 colors, instead you can use formats as TIFF, PSD and JPG.
    • Layered and editable images. GIF Files are flat image format making them completely uneditable once they are saved if you are looking for an editable image file try to use PSD.
GIF File Format in Graphic Design Explained


PNG or Portable Network Graphics is a lossless raster format and is known as the next-generation GIF. PNG file format has transparency quality and the ability to display a higher color depth and use millions of colors, due to the high amount of colors and transparent background makes them perfect for web design purposes.


  • Use PNG For
    • High-Quality transparent web graphics. As mentioned on the description PNG file format has the quality to create the transparent background as it has a variable “alpha channel” that can have different degrees of transparency, it is also great for web design graphics as they have vibrant colors than GIF files.
    • Illustration with limited colors. If you need an illustration with limited colors and small color palette PNG Files are the best.
    • Small Image Size. If you need an image with reduces size you can use PNG images as they have the ability to shrink file size, PNG files are especially useful for graphics with simple colors, shapes or text making PNG Files perfect for web design.


  • Don’t use PNG files for.
    • Photos and artwork. Due to high color depth in PNG format makes it easy for this file size to handle high-resolution photos, but due to the fact that PNG is a lossless format, can make the file size very large, instead, you can try to use JPEG Files.
    • Print projects. PNG files are optimized for screens and digital environments, you can print PNG Files but it’s more recommendable to use JPEG or TIFF Files for that purpose instead of PNG.
PNG File Format in Graphic Design Explained


TIFF Image file or Tagged Image File Format is a lossless raster image format with high quality, this makes TIFF images really popular in photography and desktop publishing. You can find TIFF Files when you take a photo using a professional digital camera, and the high quality of TIFF files makes them very large in size.


  • Use TIFF Files for
    • High-Quality Print Graphics. Among RAW Files TIFF are one of the highest quality image files available for graphic designers, making them perfect for printing purposes especially for large sizes.
    • High-Quality scan. If you need to scan your documents, artwork or photos by using TIFF Files you assure to have the best original file.


  • Don’t’ Use TIFF Files for
    • Web graphics. If you want to use graphics in your web design, don’t use TIFF Files as it is an image format optimized for print and not web design due to their large size, instead of it it’s better to use PNG or JPEG Files for web images.
TIFF File Format in Graphic Design Explained


RAW Image file as the name can suggest containing the unprocessed data of photography taken by a digital camera or scanner. RAW Files are usually used by photographers and this file stores the unprocessed and processed data of the image into two separate files making it easier to later edit the image using editing applications like Photoshop, some famous raw formats are CRW used by Canon or NEF used by Nikon.


  • Use RAW Files for
    • Shooting and editing photos. Set your camera to RAW when you are making a photoshoot to capture the most versatile image that you later can edit with photo editing programs.


  • Don’t Use RAW Files for
    • Web Graphics. As this type of file is made for editing purposes to use web graphics is better to convert your image into JPEG once you are fine with the result.
    • Print Photos. As many printers don’t accept RAW files it’s better to convert your image into accepted file types as JPEG or TIFF for high quality.
RAW File Format in Graphic Design Explained


PSD is the file format used by Adobe Photoshop and it’s a layered image format, PSD files are the original design files that you can edit using multiple layers and effects. PSD files are used to create and edit raster images, but the fact that it can contain multiple layers also make it capable to work with vector layers and once you are fine with the result you can export your image into any raster image file listed above.


  • Use PSD Files for
    • Retouch Photos. If you need to add any effect, color correction or add text to your photo use a PSD file format.
    • Edit Artwork. If you need to edit artwork for printing or digital purposes that contains a photo, painting or drawings use Photoshop to edit all the elements of your design.
    • Digital Images for Web Design. Use PSD Files if you want to create social media images, banner ads, email headers or any image used for web graphics, and using photoshop to create them you make sure to use the correct size and they are optimized for the web.
    • Website or App Mockups. The layers characteristic of PSD Files makes it perfect to create Mockup for UI Elements.
    • Animation and Video. If you want to create simple video clips and animations you can use PSD files to add graphics, filters and text.


  • Don’t Use PSD Files for.
    • Send a preview to a client or post it Online. If you want to send a preview of your design to the client or post your photo online it’s better to use a JPEG File format as it is more suitable for that purpose.
    • Print photos. As it happens with RAW Files, PSD file format is not accepted by many printers, so it’s better for you to use JPEF or TIFF File formats for printing purposes.
PSD File Format in Graphic Design Explained


Vector File Formats

Now that we know what are Vector Images let’s see the different types of file format more suitable for vector images and their characteristics.


PDF Files or Portable Document Format is an image file format used to display graphics and documents in a correct way in any device, application, web browser or operating system. PDF Files among vector images also can display raster images, form fields and spreadsheets and it’s a very popular file format used by printers to send the final design into production. You can save into PDF file format in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator making it easier for you to send your design into print.


  • Use PDF Files for
    • Print. As it is the prefered file format among printers it makes it the perfect choice to send your design into print.
    • Display documents on the web. PDF files are great to keep your design into one package, especially for posters, flyers and magazines making it easier to view, download and print.


  • Don’t use PDF files for.
    • Edit Your Design. PDF files are great to contain your design but not to edit it, instead, you need to use Photoshop to edit raster images and illustrator for vector graphics, you can check this post where I talk about the difference between Photoshop and illustrator. However, everything from editing to merging PDF documents is much easier with the right tools.
PDF File Format in Graphic Design Explained


EPS file format or Encapsulated PostScript is primarily used for vector format images but it also can include vector and raster image data. EPS file format is usually used to include a single design that later will be used into a larger design.


  • Use EPS File format for
    • Send a Vector Logo. EPS is a great file format for sending your logo design to a client, printer or other designers, as it is a vector file format, your logo design will always be looking at the correct resolution.


  • Don’t Use EPS File for
    • Photography or artwork. As EPS is primarily used for vector images it is not suitable for raster type of works as photography or artwork, instead of it you can use PSD, TIFF or JPEG file formats for that.
    • Display an Image Online. If you want to show your design online, instead of using EPS formats, use other files more suitable for web purposes as can be JPEG, PNG or GIF.
EPS File Format in Graphic Design Explained


SVG or Scalable Vector Graphics are XML based vector image file format used for two-dimensional graphics, the main characteristic of SVG files is that you can scale your design and by compressing it making the file size less than other file formats, making SVG files perfect for web design.


  • Use SVG File Format For
    • Computer Generated Graphics. If you want to use a two-dimensional design as your logo design using minimum file size for your web SVG files are the best.


  • Don’t Use SVG File Format For
    • Printed projects.
SVG File Format in Graphic Design Explained


AI Files are the image file used by Adobe Illustrator to save and edit Vector Images and its based on EPS and PDF Standards. As mentioned AI files are primarily used for vector graphics but it also can include raster images. You can export AI files into other Vector files as PDF or EPS, and also Raster File Formats as JPEG, PNG, GIF, TIFF or PSD for web design purposes.


  • Use AI file Format for
    • Edit Vector Design. Adobe Illustrator is a vector graphics editing software and as mentioned you can edit your vector design using AI Files.
    • Design Logo, Icon or Brand Mascot. If you want to create any vector graphics as logo design or icon design use Adobe Illustrator as it will make your design scalable to different sizes.
    • One-Page print piece. If you want to create Poster design, business cards, flyers or notecards and combine it with raster images use AI files.
    • Set Type. Adobe Illustrator is a great software to edit and develop typography and typefaces as it has incredible tools to do it, so if you want to set type for a logo using AI files.


  • Don’t use AI files for
    • Edit Raster Images. You can use raster images in Adobe Illustrator for larger composition, but if you want to edit it and modify a raster image, it’s better for you to use PSD Files as Photoshop has more tools for editing photography.
AI File Format in Graphic Design Explained


If you found this post useful you might like to read these post about Graphic Design Inspiration.


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