Digital file types. So what’s the difference?

You hit save and are bombarded with a number of different file type options. If you are like most people you may only know what 1 or 2 of these options are. But do you really know what they do?  Do you understand the purpose? Here’s a quick run-down of the main file types and how they are generally used.

Let’s start first by understanding the difference between Vector & Raster. Raster images are comprised of pixels or individual blocks to form an image. These are most prevalent in photos whether on the web or printed. The downside of raster images is that if stretched from their original size the pixels will become blurry. JPEGs, TIFs & PNGs are all examples of raster images.

Vector images are far more flexible. Our good friend Wikipedia explains them as “images that use geometrical primitives such as points, lines, curves & shapes or polygons – all of which are based on mathematical expressions."  Sounds pretty technical, right! Basically this means they are built using formulas which when resized will automatically compute to maintain image quality (no math involved for you!).  This makes an ideal file type for anything that will be used on multiple platforms…i.e. business cards, truck wraps or billboards. EPS & PDF are basic examples of vector images.

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)

The JPEG is probably the most common form of raster image. The reason being is that JPEGs (also known as JPG) compress into a very small file. Making them easy to attach/email, share among your team or post to the web. These file types are also very compatible with programs like Word, PowerPoint & Publisher. The downside of the JPEG is that during the compression process in order to make the file smaller they lose some of the image detail. Making these a bad option for line drawings, logos or graphics as they will look grainy or pixelated.

TIFF (Tagged Image File Format)

Also known as TIF, this file type is very similar to JPEG however when compressed it does not lose image quality. This causes TIFF’s to be a much larger file. The image quality when printed though will be far better and more clear than a JPEG. Making these great when printing photos in larger formats. The downside to the TIFF is that due to their larger size they do not do well on the web.

PNG (Portable Network Graphic)

Like the TIFF file, PNGs can be edited without losing image quality. However they are still a low resolution file due to their compression capabilities. These files are used almost entirely for web images as they can be saved with more colors or with a transparent background.  Making them crisp and clear on websites.  PNG files do not print well however as they will appear pixelated or blurry.

EPS (Encapsulated PostScript)

The EPS is high-resolution file type used to save graphics for print. The upside of the EPS is that it is a universal file type that can be opened in almost any design program. This allows designers to share graphics with others knowing they will not lose formatting. 

 PDF (Portable Document Format)

The PDF was originally created by Adobe - yes the same Adobe who created Photoshop & Illustrator. According to Adobe, the “Portable Document Format is a file format used to present and exchange documents reliably, independent of software, hardware, or operating system."  This makes it an awesome tool for designers to share their graphic work with others – friends, clients or printers.  Another upside is that regardless of who you send your work to, the PDF will maintain image quality and will look the way you intended.

Although this does not include all digital file types, this should give you a basic understanding of what to use on your next project.