Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 30 seconds

Choosing the Right File Format for Your Graphic Images

Having recently put together both a web site and some print materials for a personal project, I was confronted with the reality that not all graphic file formats are created equal. This is something that I've known in theory for years, but this was a good reminder that not everyone is aware of the differences among JPEG, GIF, TIFF, EPS, and others.

It can be a little surprising to realize that not all formats are good choices for different applications. For example, a JPEG might look great on the computer screen, but once you try to resize it for a print newsletter, the clarity of the image can suffer quite a bit. That's why you often see nonprofits' mailings that include rather pixilated and blurry pictures. Chances are, they pulled the image off the web, and it wasn't appropriate for their final purpose.

To avoid running into these issues, familiarize yourself with the different file types and their best uses. During my recent project, I had both a print designer and a web designer relying on some of the same images, so I had to be sure to have multiple versions of logos and other graphics to ensure that each phase of the work would turn out optimally.

Here are a few of the most common types and when to use them:

  • BMP: This stands for "bitmap," and while these files are usually pretty fast to download, they do not create a good quality picture. The files are also huge.
  • EPS: Encapsulated Post Script files use vectors rather than pixels, which is great when you want to resize your illustrations without losing the clarity. Adobe products tend to create EPS files, and these are used for both onscreen and print applications.
  • GIF: This common file type (short for Graphics Interchange Format) is used for simple images on web pages. The colors are limited, but they are small and load quickly for site users.
  • JPEG: Another common file type found online, Joint Photographic Experts Group files are capable of more colors than GIFs, although they do lose clarity when compressed. Typically used for viewing photographs via computer.
  • PDF: PDFs are created by Adobe products in order to allow you to view both pictures and text and can be used to send newsletters and other documents to the printer. The Portable Document Format can be created and viewed through a free document reader (Adobe Acrobat), but very high quality printing may require the purchase of a more advanced product.
  • PNG: Portable Network Graphics are generally used for graphics that will be used on a number of different backgrounds because pixels within the picture can be made transparent, allowing the background color to show through.
  • PSD: When working with Photoshop, projects are saved in the Photoshop Document file format during the design phase and are usually then converted to another format for printing.
  • TIFF: Tagged Image File Format files can create high-quality pixel (as opposed to vector) graphics that can be compressed and resized.
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