File Types and When to Use Them


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Have you ever received an email attachment you couldn’t open? Or uploaded a photo online that looked super fuzzy? What’s going on?

There are so many different file types. If you don’t work with them daily, how do you know which you should be using? I’ll break down some common graphic design file types and help you figure out when you should and shouldn’t be using them. At the end of this post you can even download a free in-depth cheat sheet for future reference.


This is the photo file type most familiar to most people. .JPGs are popular for a reason. Their small file size makes them perfect for easy sharing and email. They’re also super versatile. They can be opened in almost any program.

However, they don’t scale well. In fact, each time you crop or enlarge a .JPG it loses quality. Quality also takes a hit each time you save a .JPG file.

.JPGs don’t allow for transparent backgrounds. So they’re not ideal for things like a company logo or illustration. If you ever intend to place that logo or illustration on a colored background, your .JPG will have a white box around it.



.TIFs are also meant to be used for photos. But, they have much higher quality than a .JPG or a .PNG. The higher quality is going to mean a larger file size too. So they’re not great for emailing or sharing. Like the .JPG, .TIF does not allow for transparent backgrounds. But it will open in most programs.

.TIFs are perfect for professional photos or art prints. Fine artists who scan their work into the computer for reproduction should use this file type for their work.



.PNGs are ideal for the web. They set themselves apart from .JPG and .TIF by allowing transparent backgrounds. Though it won’t scale well, the .PNG doesn’t lose quality after multiple saves.



.GIFs had a real moment back in 2013 when their creator set the record straight about their pronunciation. If you missed that, you’ve probably still seen these guys all over the internet. They’re basically moving photos like this one.

Despite their very low resolutions, .GIFs do allow for transparent backgrounds and open easily in your internet browser. Use these for web and email.



The .EPS is a vector file type. Vectors are magical because they can scale up or down forever without losing any quality AND they allow transparent backgrounds. They can only be opened in programs like Illustrator or Photoshop, but they’re necessary for any professional application of logos or illustrations.



Another very common file type is the .PDF. They’re perfect for business use because they are so versatile. They can be saved as high or low resolution for professional printing or easy email attachments. .PDFs automatically embed any fonts and images into the document so you never have to worry about a .PDF missing content when you send it to someone else. They also have the ability to be sent as editable files. That means you can send someone a .PDF form and they can fill it out right on their computer to email back to you instead of printing, filling out by hand, scanning, and emailing.

.PDFs can be opened using the free version of Acrobat Reader.



.AI is the file format of Adobe Illustrator. This is where your logos and custom illustrations are born. Like the .EPS files, these allow transparency and will scale infinitely. They can only be opened in Adobe Illustrator.



Adobe Photoshop files will have the file extension .PSD. They can only be opened in Photoshop, but they also allow transparency. Anything created in Photoshop is made up of very small rectangular boxes, or pixels. When pixels are stretched the file appears fuzzy or pixelated. For this reason, you should only edit photos in Photoshop. Never create a logo or illustration here.



Adobe InDesign is where a designer brings together photos from Photoshop and illustrations from Illustrator to create booklets, brochures, or any kind of layout for a design project. Like .AI and .PSD, .INDD can only be opened using InDesign.


Collective File Type Cheat Sheet

Click here to download the free Collective File Type Cheat Sheet!

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