Important Graphic File Formats and When to Use Them

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Image: | Important Graphic File Formats and When to Use Them | Are you trying to figure out the important graphic file formats and when to use them? Read this article to learn more about graphic files.

File formats and image extensions have come a long way since the early days of computing.

There are at least 43 common file extensions in Windows. The number of file formats increases when you add the Apple operating system.

Many of these formats apply to images and graphics. Yet they vary depending on operating system and software. They even vary based on what you use them for.

Trying to understand when to use different graphic file formats? Read on to learn more.

Common Graphic File Formats

Whether a file is an image or a graphic, all software displays them the same way. They’re all rendered as pixels on a screen.

So, you’ll often end up using common image file formats when you’re working with graphic files.

The most common of the image file formats is JPG or JPEG. These are compressed image types that most software and devices can display.

They’re smaller files because they’re compressed. However, there’s a downside: Every time you open an image and save it, it compresses it further, and this causes a loss of image information⁠—though you won’t notice any difference until you’ve done so hundreds of times.

Make all your edits at once and then save to JPG for the highest quality.

You may wonder if there is any difference between JPEG and JPG. The short answer is no. The name is simply shorter because older versions of Windows needed a shorter file extension.

Whether you save your file as a JPEG or JPG, it’s the same file.

Other Picture Formats

You may also encounter TIF, PNG, GIF, and RAW. We’ll come back to RAW, but let’s look at the others.

Only certain programs can open TIF files. They preserve image information so they don’t compress or degrade images. If you do need to save file space, save images with LZW compression turned on.

GIF files allow for animation, which explains the popularity of GIF files on social media.

PNG stands for Portable Network Graphics. They’re common in web design because they can preserve transparency. That means you can display a logo without a background and the color underneath shows through. 

Another advantage of PNG files is they compress the image without losing data. This makes them a great choice for use on websites where you need to preserve hard lines.

The Problem With RAW Files

RAW further complicates matters. It’s a file format associated with photography, and it saves all of the available image data at the point you press the shutter.

Unlike JPG, it doesn’t compress this data into a single image file. Photographers use software like Lightroom to ‘develop’ the RAW file. They export it as a range of image types when they’re finished.

Despite RAW being the file type, different camera manufacturers have their own proprietary versions. Canon uses CR2, while Nikon uses NEF.

Older versions of Lightroom struggle to display newer versions of RAW. You can get converters to turn one RAW file format into another.

Other Graphic File Formats

The file formats we’ve already discussed tend to be used more often with photographs. There are other formats that you can use with other types of graphics. 

The image extensions tell you what program the graphic was made in. AI is Adobe Illustrator, so you can only open these files in that program. PSD is a Photoshop file.

EPS was a common file type for illustrations and logos. This is used less often now because of changes to the Adobe programs. 

You can now place an AI file into a PSD file, and vice versa. This reduces the need for cross-platform formats like EPS.

There is also one final file format that can be used for graphics. It’s sometimes overlooked because it’s more common in document usage. That’s PDF.

It stands for Portable Document Format. Most software can read these files, including web browsers like Google Chrome. 

PDFs are particularly useful for print-ready graphics projects like menus, brochures, or flyers.

When to Use Image File Format Types

You have one major consideration before you decide which graphic file format to choose.

Is the file going to be printed or displayed on a screen?

This will affect the quality of the image, how large it needs to be, and which software is needed.

Print-Ready File Formats

For printing graphics, choose the formats that apply the least amount of compression. Print-ready PDF, TIF, or software-specific formats like AI and PSD don’t discard image information.

Whatever you send to the printer is what you’ll get. If you’re working with RAW, export the file to TIF before you send it. However, if you’re sending photographs online that will be printed, high-quality JPG is sufficient.

Screen-Based File Formats

If the graphics are screen-only, you’ll choose different formats. These compress images to save file space. That means they load faster, which is helpful for websites.

Does your image need clarity, like a logo? Or does it include transparent elements? Choose PNG.

For regular images, choose JPGs. You can optimize them for the web to make them even faster to load.

Converting File Formats

You can convert file formats in two ways. The quickest way is to export your source file in a range of formats. 

What if you don’t have the source file? You may be working with a file someone else has sent you.

You can use image converters online. If you have a program like Photoshop, you can open the image and re-export it in your format of choice.

You can even learn how to convert PDF to JPG

Get Your File Formats Right

Now you know which graphic file formats to choose and when. The best rule of thumb is to decide what the file will be used for. That helps you decide on which is the best format for that specific purpose.

You can decide how much compression you can handle and how big a file size you need. Even if you don’t get the file format right the first time, you can always convert it later.

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