Have file-formats ever confused you? If you are sending your files off for printing or you want to upload them to your blog, it is good to know which file format to use when. After spending so much time creating, you want to make sure to have the best quality possible.
Why do you need to know the different file formats?
Every file format has its pros and cons. Some are better for the web, others are better for print. If you want to avoid blurry photos or images that are not displayed correctly, you have to understand and make use of the different file formats available.
How do you make use of file formats?
You always have to consider the usage of the file before you can pick the format you need. It’s important to know what you want to do with this file. There are three categories you want to decide on.
The original file
These are e.g. logo files or photos. These files should always stay as they are which means you don’t want to work in those or save them to a different format. You’re risking losing data, so better don’t touch. If you need these files for a project, save a copy or import them into the file you’re working on.
The work file
When you’re working in Photoshop, Illustrator or other design software, your files can have different layers, layer masks, transparency and more included. By exporting them in a different file format, these things will get lost. So always save a work file to make sure you can come back and re-edit it later on. These files are usually saved in the software’s own file format e.g. PSD or AI.
Sometimes you will have to share a working file with others. This can be someone you’re working together with e.g. your designer or print shop. Work files are also called open files because you can still access and edit. Make sure to never share open files other than with your designer or collaborator if you don’t want anybody to make unauthorized changes. The difficulty with sharing these files is, that there can be a loss of data or some elements won’t be displayed right when opened on a different computer or with a different version of the software used.
The shareable file
Once you have a finished file you can export it in a different file format which is easily shareable. But there is another thing to consider before you do so. Will you use this file online or for print? Files you save for web are usually raster files and the colors are in RGB mode. Files you save for print are vector files that need to be in CMYK mode. Raster or pixel files are mostly images or photos while vector files use only lines and graphs. The advantage of vector files is, they are endless scalable without losing quality. For more explanation, read this post: Most used design terms explained
This doesn’t mean, you can’t print raster files or vice versa.
What are the most common file formats?
Following now are the most common file formats divided into print and web. Each has advantages or disadvantages listed below. If you are still unsure what format you should use, you can always ask or look up what is required. Print shops often have guidelines on their website and social media channels also give you information about what file formats they accept. If you need to resize your images, check out this tutorial.
File formats in general
(website, blog, social media etc.) = .jpg/ .png
(business cards, flyers, brochures etc.) = .pdf/ some forms of printing require .eps
Work/ Open file
(projects in progress) = .ai/ .psd