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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 this article about most used file format in graphic design as a guide when you are doubting what type of image file do you need to use in each case, hope you find this post useful and if you find it interesting I recommend you to read this post about the main differences between photoshop and illustrator.
If you have found this Blog Post about the different image files in Graphic Design you will be interested in these other articles about graphic design resources.
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