Choosing a file type for printing isn’t easy because it varies depending on the type of print project that you will do. Before deciding on the file format, it’s crucial to first learn about image file formats, the different types, and how they differ.
Image File Formats
Each graphic you see online is considered an image file. Whether it’s printed on plastic, paper or a T-shirt, the origin of a printed design is always an image file. Image files come in various formats and have different uses.
When you have a print project, choosing the right file type is important, because whatever file type you select can affect the outcome. It could go two ways: either it turns out picture perfect or it could end up as a missing graphic or a misprint with the wrong colors used.
Raster Images vs. Vector Images
Image files are classified into two categories: raster images and vector images. Raster images are graphics composed of pixels and are usually used in photos, digital artwork, or websites. These are also dependent on resolution and can appear blurred or “pixelated” when enlarged.
Vector images, on the other hand, are graphics composed of geometric shapes. These are curve-based and resolution-independent. They can be enlarged up to any size, and retain their clarity, sharpness, and detail. If you’re not sure about which category an image file format falls under, then here is a quick guide:
File Types for Printing
Now that you know the difference between raster and vector images, it’s time to delve into the various file types used in printing.
Stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group
Widely used image format
Pixel-based and easily adjustable
May lower in quality when compressed and saved
Best used for: Images, online photos, artwork
When NOT to use: If you need graphics with transparency, when you need a layered and editable image
Short for Portable Document Format
Used for print files and web-based documents
Has a strong graphics foundation, no matter the device, web browser, application, or operating system
Can display various images, documents, spreadsheets, and form fields without any issues
Best used for: Most files, final design, production, web documents, posters, booklets, magazines, flyers
The best choice for the printing of high-resolution illustrations
Usually has a single design element that can be included in a bigger design
Best used for: Large signs and banners, vector logos
When NOT to use: Artwork, photographs, or when you need to display images online.
The default file format for Adobe Illustrator
Based on the standards of EPS and PDF file formats
Can be exported to JPEG, GIF, TIFF, PNG and PSD for editing and web use, and into PDF and EPS for proofing and printing
Best used for: Editing a vector design, creating a brand mascot, logo, or icon, a single-page print piece, or if you require a set type for a logo.
When NOT to use: Editing images
The default file format for Adobe Photoshop
Original files that can be edited with multiple layers and adjustments
Usually used to create and edit raster images
Can also be exported to other image file formats
Best used for: Retouching photos, editing artwork, animation and video, website and app mockups, digital images for the web such as banner ads, videos, social media images, email headers, etc.
When NOT to use: Posting photos online or when you’re ready to submit the design for printing.
Short for Portable Network Graphics
An alternative to GIFs
Features built-in transparency, which allows a user to layer their images
Better compression and can show higher color depths
Best used for: High-quality, transparent web graphics, illustrations with limited colors, small files with short text, colors, or shapes.
When NOT to use: Any print project, photo, or artwork
Stands for Tagged Image File Format
A file format designed to handle raster or bitmapped images
Typically used in photography and desktop publishing
Best used for: High-quality print graphics, scans, artwork, and printing photos
When NOT to use: When dealing with web graphics
Also known as Graphics Interchange Format
A web image format used for banner ads, animated graphics, social media memes, and email images
Best used for: Web animation, images with transparency, small image files
When NOT to use: Photographic-quality images, printing, and editing layered images
An image format containing unprocessed data from a digital camera or a scanner’s sensor
Can be edited using photo editing software such as Adobe Photoshop
Other variations of raw formats: NEF, DNG, and CRW
Best used for: Shooting and editing photos
When NOT to use: When handling web graphics or ready to print photos
Short for Scalable Vector Graphics
A vector image format that is XML-based
Can be scaled, indexed, compressed, and searched in a smaller file size
Can also be edited in text editors and other graphic editing software
Best used for: Diagrams and graphs for web publishing
When NOT to use: When you require a file format for a print project.
In graphic design, there are two types of color models: RGB and CMYK. RGB is a color model that is short for red, green, and blue. When combined, these light-based primary colors produce other colors. Files that are saved in this model are often used for mobile phones, videos, film, and web optimization.
CMYK is a color process that represents four colors – cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black). CMYK is the best format for printing because printers can best read this format and in effect produce the best color quality.
Choosing the appropriate file type varies on how you intend to use your print project. Before saving your files, make sure that the format is one that your printer can process or accept. Knowing the correct file type to use for your project will not only save you time and money, but it will also prevent any mistakes or quality issues during the production process.
People Also Ask: Questions That Cross the Minds of Print Clients
What is the acceptable format for printing?
The correct file format for printing depends on the print project.
Is PDF or PNG better for printing?
For printing, PDF images are recommended. PDF files are also an excellent choice for flyers, posters, magazines, and storing images online. If you are planning to edit and save your file multiple times, PNG is the proper file type for this.
Is PDF or JPEG better for printing?
PDFs are more suitable for printing because they can retain various formatting information from different desktop publishing applications – making it the preferred choice of most printers. Unlike with JPEG where you have to save image files individually, PDFs can combine images and text in one page without any form of altering on the layout or quality, , so proofing and printing is easier.
What file format is good for CMYK print?
PDFs are ideal for CMYK printing because it’s universally accepted, compatible with most applications, can retain complex vector images, and produce great color clarity.
Do you use CMYK or RGB for printing?
The color model used for digital monitors is RGB, which makes it more suitable for any visual content viewed through a screen. With RGB, red, green, and blue are added on top each other to create the correct pigment. CMYK on the other hand, is the standard used by printers and is a subtractive color model. This means that the brightness of each layer of cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black) are reduced to produce the correct colors for the actual print material. For print products, we recommend CMYK because it gives more accurate results.
Elisha is a copywriter with over 11 years of experience in web content writing. In her spare time she loves playing with her dogs, cooking/baking, delving in home decor, watching sitcoms, playing games, shopping, and finding hole-in-the-wall restaurants.