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How to ensure you get the file format you need Posted by Kerrie Brooks

You try to enlarge your logo but when you do it looks all pixilated; your image file is too big to upload to your website; you send your brochure to the printers but they say they need a master file. These kinds of problems are all too common when it comes to using prepared artwork files.

The solution? Let your designer know, at brief stage, how your artwork will be used, and get to know your file formats.

Why is artwork usage important?

Informing the designer how your artwork will be used once finished is beneficial to both of you. Firstly, it will help smooth the post-design process saving you both time and unnecessary frustration as your designer can send you the right file at the start. Secondly, it will ensure you get the best visual end result.

What are the different file formats?

EPS? JPG? PDF? TIFF? These might be common terms to those who know graphic design, but for the average person or company receiving artwork – whether it is for a logo or a brochure – these technical file names (or file extensions) are not self-explanatory.

So what file formats might you receive and what are the differences between them? Knowing this not only gives you a better understanding, but it can help you use the files correctly once you have them.

Vector vs. raster

Files come in two main image types: vector or raster (also known as pixel or bitmap). Specific file formats then fall under one of these types.

Vector

Vector images are constructed using proportional formulas. They are flexible and can be easily resized for purpose.

  • Primarily for printing purposes (but good on web for logos, charts, icons or hard edged graphics)
  • Unlimited resolution
  • Maintain quality when resized – ‘lossless’

Common vector file formats:

.eps – high resolution; large files; requires design software to open; master file suitable for all uses
.pdf – large files; capture and display rich information; easily readable with Adobe Reader; best file for securely sharing artwork; limited edit-ability
.ai – require at least the same version of Adobe Illustrator to open; easy to work with and manipulate; best for logos, graphics and illustrations
.svg – small files; store two dimensional graphics; support interactivity and animation; best for displaying simple graphics on the web

Pixel

Pixel images are constructed by a series of pixels, or individual blocks. They need saving at the exact dimensions for their intended use.

  • Primarily for screen and web use (high res can be printed at 300dpi – web standard is 72dpi)
  • High or low resolution
  • Pixilate (lose quality) when resized – ‘lossy’

Common pixel file formats:

.jpg – can be high resolution – suitable for print; don’t support transparency; best for photos
.png – low resolution; lossless; support transparency; great colour accuracy; best for graphics e.g. logos, icons
.gif – fast loading speed; low resolution; limited colour palate; most often animated; support transparency; best for simple web graphics
.tiff & .bmp – high resolution; large files – not good for web use; .tiff (and to a lesser extent .bmp) suitable for print; best for photos/images

Deciding how you will use your artwork

Before you submit a brief, think about what potential uses your artwork may have and what you want to be able to do with it. To help you clarify this, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will my artwork by used on screen, for print or for both?
  • If I want to use it on the web, how do I want to use it?
  • Do I want to be able to edit the artwork myself?
  • What software do I have?
  • Do I want the original source file?
  • Do I need my artwork to have transparency?

Once you have answered these questions you’ll have a good idea about what you need. Your designer will then be able to send you the right files.

Make your requirements explicit

Once you have decided what your requirements are, make sure this is included on your design brief and get it agreed before you commence – this will save any issues over what was to be included as part of your artwork package further down the line.
As a general rule for common artwork such as logos, having a master vector file plus several jpeg and other pixel formats for specific uses should cover all your bases.