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  • Writer's pictureAlli Beck

What the png? A simple guide to image file types

You know that file formats are not created or used equally. But is is tricky to know which format to use for what and why. Why use a png vs a jpeg? Why send a logo in a pdf? What the heck is an eps? 

This week, I am providing you an easy guide that will help you sort out these mysteries and use the correct file type for the correct application. 

First, there is a few brief foundational things that are helpful to understand. There are two categories that you need to consider: print vs online. Some file types are better suited for printing, while others are better for online. 

Also, image file types can be vector or raster files. Vector files use mathematical formulas to determine shape, so it that can be blown up as big as you would like and still maintain their form and quality. Raster files, however, are made up of tiny pixels. As you expand the file, the pixels can become visible, and the lower quality the file, the sooner that happens. That’s why you should always have a vector file of your logo. There may be times you need to put it on a vehicle or a billboard, so you want it to be sharp at large sizes. 

Here is a brief overview of file formats and how to use each one:

png (Portable Network Graphics)

A png is a raster photo file that is great for online use. What stands out about a png is it has the ability to have transparency in the background. This is useful for logos online. Instead of a white square around your logo, your logo will seamlessly fit into a background. It also retains its quality well when compressed to smaller sizes. 

Best use: Online. Where transparency is needed in the background. 

jpeg (Joint Photographic Experts Group)

A jpeg is a common raster file type used for photos, especially online. Jpegs can be printed if they are high quality, but they are best used for the web. They have a fuller color spectrum than pngs, so they work best if that is a concern for the photos you use on your site or social media. They can be prone to quality loss each time they are edited or emailed. 

Best use: Online. Best for full color photos. 

pdf (Portable Document Format)

A pdf is probably best know as an easy way to share text documents. However, has become an industry standard for printing graphics and logos as well. If you submit something to a printer, such as a brochure or business card, pdf will likely be an option for submission. This is a versatile file type that you can use to share information with graphics in it, without worrying that things will get shifted around on different computers. 

Best use: Submitting print files to a printer. A good vector file options for logos. Sharing documents.

gif (Graphics Interchange Format)

Gif was originally a file type that allowed for sharing photos and graphics online. It has been replaced by the png for this use, however, it supports animation. So now you may see gifs as repeating video clips or animations in motion. 

Best use: Simple web graphics or adding character to a blog post or an email. 

svg (Scalable Vector Graphics)

This is a new format that makes vector capability available for the web. Since it is new, some older computers or browsers may not support this file type. It is something we may start seeing more and more in the future. It also supports animation and interactive features.

Best use: web graphics

ai Adobe Illustrator

Illustrator is the go-to software for graphic designers and illustrators. You can use it to create vector formats and is a standard for logo creation, illustrations and even print documents. It is often referred to as a “native file,” since it retains the ability to be edited or manipulated. Since most people don’t have a subscription to Adobe software, it is not usually accessible to the general public.  Most designers export out other file types for every-day use. AI files can be submitted to printers.

Best use: Vector file creation such as Logos, illustrations, and print pieces

eps (Encapsulated Post script)

An eps file is a universal and flexible file type can be both a vector and raster file. It used to a standard to handle files for printing. It has, however, gone out of use in favor of the pdf. 

Best use: Sending graphics to print. 

Although image file types are not the most exciting part of web and graphic design, they are likely part of your every-day life as a business owner. It is important to know when to use what for different applications. Hopefully this guide helps you make smart decisions as you handle web and print graphics for your business. 

Now that you have a better understanding of these file types, why not zoom out and take a closer look at your website? I have a free resource for those of you who are not seeing the results you want from your site. You can download my free website audit checklist here.


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