Whether you’re trying to learn graphic or web design or you’re a non-designer trying to do a DIY graphic project, you’ve probably encountered the many confusing file types graphics come in or need to be exported in. If you’ve ever found yourself scratching your head and saying “you need a J- WHAT?” then this is for you.
Here is a little list I put together of the most common files types and what they’re used for:
If you’re dealing with photographs, this is the most common file type you’ve probably ever seen. It’s a file format that was created specifically for photographs. JPG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. It’s a method of compression that keeps as much information in the photo as it can (colors, digital info, etc.) while keeping the file size at a decent size for storage and email. It’s also the file type digital cameras capture photos in and store on the memory card.
* This is appropriate for both web and print and can be opened by anyone.
This file type is specific for graphics and illustrations – basically things that are non-photographic. It’s a file type that is limited to a 256 color palette (which is why it can’t be used for photos) and can be used for animation effects on the web. Have you ever noticed those fun flashing words on websites and side bars? Those are all .GIFs!
*This is only appropriate for web display and can usually be opened by anyone.
PNG stands for Portable Network Graphics and was created as a superior alternative to the GIF. Essentially, it’s a GIF on steroids.
The PNG file format supports truecolor (16 million colors) while the GIF supports only 256 colors. That means both photographs AND basic illustrations can be saved as PNG although you can’t make animations with it like you can a GIF.
Even though photos can technically be saved as PNG, you never want to do that because it will create such a massive file size that you won’t be able to email or upload a photo without delays and file issues. A lot of printers also require photos to be JPG instead of PNG due to file storage.
* This is appropriate for web illustrations (especially when a transparent background is needed) and for some print (although not common) and can be opened by anyone.
4) Vector Files
This is not necessarily a file type but a graphic type. This will probably be the most confusing of the bunch.
A vector does not contain pixels and therefore can be used on large scale marketing materials such as logos, banners, window decals, clothing, product packaging, building graphics, and billboards – basically anything that is an illustration that needs to be re-sized in various ways without losing quality. So if you’re a business, you MUST have your logo in a vector format in order to use it for multiple things.
Having said that, Vector files can be exported into any type of file format for other uses. The NBC logo you see to the right is a PNG for the purposes of the internet but rest assured that NBC has a copy of the file in it’s original vector format for use on billboards, magazine ads, etc. ;)
The most common files types for a vector graphic are .EPS and .AI (created with Adobe Illustrator). Vectors can be exported into almost ANY file type but most printers request the native file of .EPS or .AI.
* This file type is appropriate for print. Most vector graphics can only be opened by anyone who owns the software it was created in such as print shops and other graphic designers.
Many people are accustomed to PDFs being used for business documents, but it’s so much more! PDF stands for Portable Document Format. It can embed and encapsulate graphics, fonts, colors and other digital information required to view a file.
It is used most commonly for business documents and files for printers such as books, manuals, publication advertising, postcards, and marketing materials. It also commonly used to download multi-page documents off the web.
A PDF document can be created using a combination of GIFs, JPGs, PNGs and Vector files and all be saved as a PDF and sent to anyone to open. It has quickly become the standard for sending information from one person to another. Although you can’t display a PDF on a website as an image, anyone can download a PDF from a simple link from a website and view in their PDF viewer.
*This is appropriate for print and downloading from the web. It is not appropriate for web display. It can typically be opened by anyone with a PDF viewer which comes standard on most of today’s computers. It is the most requested file type by professional printers today.
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