Essential File Types: Quick Reference Guide

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When you start working with a designer or building a website, you will start to become familiar with new terminology like the names of file types. This can be confusing at first but once you get the hang of it the acceptable file formats you will be a digital pro.

So while you are getting your head around it all, we have come up with a quick reference guide to all of the essential file types you may use in the future.


Joint Photographic Experts Group 

You will probably already be familiar with a JPEG or JPG file. It is the most common file type for all kinds of images. JPEGS are usually saved into 3 levels of image qualities automatically. On saving you should be given a choice to select high, medium and low-quality or resolution JPEG images. Not all programs offer you the choice, it depends on which one you use.

You may wonder why you wouldn’t automatically go for high quality each time, but that is because type of file is a different size and high-quality JPEG’s are huge. So high-res JPEGS are not always suitable for things like attaching to emails.

Tip: High-res JPEG’s are good for print with a dpi (dots per inch) of 300. Medium-res JPEG’S are good for websites and digital graphics with a dpi of 72. Low-res JPEG’s are good for emails.


Portable Document Format

Most people will have had experience receiving or using a PDF file as it is a common file type. They are easy to read documents that support text, design and images. Hi-res PDF’s are perfect for print publications, while low res PDF’s retain the formatting while making them easy to send and share over email. MS Word can easily export word documents into PDF’s which can be viewed from a multitude of free software programs.

Did you know? PDF’s were designed as an easy document distribution in the ’90s as a read-only format. Today they support hyperlinks, interactive sections and are used for everyday documents like forms, scanned documents, instruction manuals and eBooks.


Portable Networks Graphic

PNG files are similar to GIF files as they support transparency and are a low-resolution file type with a high image quality. PNG files support a 24-bit RGB palette and greyscale images. They are a very popular format for logos, web-based graphics, images and photos with no background and image files to be attached to emails.

Did you know? The PNG was created as an alternative file for the GIF file as a single image format replacement with better quality in the mid-’90s.


Encapsulated Postscript

EPS files are a type of graphics format to support and transport vector files that were created in Adobe Illustrator EPS files can be opened and edited in Illustrator, Photoshop and CorelDraw. EPS files can be resized to just about any size without compromising on image quality, so the perfect file type for creating billboard images and layouts.

Tip: When purchasing images online you might see that the file type is sold as EPS, this file has elements that are all fully editable, as opposed to a JPEG which won’t be. Speak to your designer before purchasing an EPS file to find out if it is the right type for you.


Tagged Image File/Tagged Image File Format

TIF files are high resolution, high-quality raster type image files that are a favoured file type for things like photographs for print. They can store images with support for multiple colours, layers and pages but are not suitable for web-based graphics as they are too big. Windows photo viewer and Windows photos are able to open TIF files and view them but not edit them.

Tip: TIF files can be edited and exported to other file types in Adobe Photoshop. Ask your designer to export the file type into something you can work with like a JPEG or PNG.


Scalable Vector Graphics

An SVG file is generally created in and can be opened with Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator.  Designers favour SVG files as they can be scaled to many different sizes without compromising on the quality of the images or design. Many graphics and layouts for web and print purposes are designed as SVG files so that they can be resized at il in the future without having to rebuild anything.

Did you know? An SVG file is just a detailed  text file


Graphics Interchange Format 

The experience most of us have in terms of using GIF files is on social media and text applications between friends and family. They are easy to use like emoji and stickers to communicate feelings & jokes. GIF files are the most common file type for animated images. They are suitable as web graphics as well as in attachments for emails. They are low res, low-quality files that are terribly outdated, they always look terrible but everybody loves them. So it looks like they are here to stay.

Did you know? GIFs are able to hold multiple images in one file but don’t have any sound. They have large, clunky file sizes and only support 256 colours.


Adobe InDesign

InDesign is another firm graphic designer favourite. When it comes to layouts for digital and print publication, there is nothing quite like it. Being an Adobe product, InDesign integrates with other file types from Illustrator and Photoshop, taking the whole design process to another level. InDesign makes the process for designing layouts, mockups and publications a breeze – if you have the software and know-how as INDD files can only be opened and edited in InDesign itself.

Tip: InDesign files are commonly exported to PDF files for sending, sharing and using and can be exported in high, medium and low quality/resolution files for their individual required purposes.


Adobe Illustrator

AI is a popular choice amongst graphic designers for the creation of vectors, logos, diagrams, illustrations, cartoons, charts and more. Anything that is created for the purposes of digital imaging or objects for print publications are often made in Illustrator. Designers are big fans of the software and it is not that easy to learn – just in case you were thinking about doing a quick DIY. AI files can be exported into other file types that feel less insane for the rest of us mortals to work with.

Tip: AI files can only be opened with and edited in Illustrator and can be resized in the original file without losing image quality.


Photoshop Document

Photoshop is another designer loved program that the rest of us might find difficult to navigate. It is a product that is part of the Adobe suite and is easily integrated with all of their other Adobe programs to build multiple layered creations with brilliant editing capabilities. If you don’t have Photoshop you won’t be able to open a PSD file, but luckily PSD files are easily exported into JPEGs, PNGs and PDFs for ease of use and has the ability to resize images.

Tip: Photoshop has the ability to resize images into all kinds of sizes in order to fit the project you are working on. Which can then be exported for web or print publication requirements.


Unless you are a professional photographer or working for a designer or a photographer, this is not a file that you would normally handle. But it is still helpful to know what it is. A RAW file is just what sounds like – it is an unaltered raw information file that is captured and uncompressed, ready for the photographer to take back to their studio and adjusted professionally.

They are gigantic in size and are of the highest resolution and quality. A raw file is not yet an image, it is a collection of data and information sourced from a camera’s sensor that is delivered to the cameras memory card. It will need to be exported to a program like Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, Adobe Camera Raw and then exported into a JPEG or similar file that can be edited.

Want to know everything about RAW files? We love this blog post by Anna Gray

MS Word Document
– nope.
Save it for your resignation letter.

Send it over in Publisher? Said no designer, ever.

Did you know that Apple Mac computers simply cannot even run Publisher? There are also many, many different versions – so even if you do come across a ‘rare as hens’ teeth’ PC based Designer, chances are their version won’t align with yours. Microsoft has declined to create Publisher for Mac because there are so many far superior publishing tools already available. There are a few conversion tools, but chances that they line up with the Publisher version the client is using is very slim.

Publisher is, however, far superior to MS Word when it comes to creating anything fancier than a letter, it wins the award for a good ‘internal’ design document for PC operators who don’t have time to learn Adobe In Design or fund the pricey monthly subscription. You just have to find a designer who would jump ship to PC to make it look beautiful for you.

Supplying a Logo?

When a designer asks you for an EPS file of your logo that is our ultimate request. This is because the file is a vector-based image that any skilled designer can open in Illustrator and use freely, scale, resize, place over the top of images or other colours etc.

It’s generally a file you have but probably can’t open.

And that’s the one we want.

Secondly, our favourite is a PDF version of your logo. Again this is because we can break it open in Illustrator and gather the vector elements.

There is one naughty file and that’s a jpeg ‘disguised’ as a PDF. A bitmap inside a PDF is a big disappointment to receive…it could have just been a jpeg.

To clarify: saving a jpeg as PDF does not make it a vector.

Supplying Photos

Best file choice is a jpeg being at least 2mb in file size. TIF files are overkill for web development projects because the high resolution is just not necessary. PNG’s with clear cut imagery are perfect, again as long as they are over 1-2mb per image.

And before anyone asks: No – photos saved ‘inside’ an MS Word document will not be accepted.

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