Image File Formats and When to Use Them

PDF (Portable Document Format) files can be used for print and screen viewing, if you are creating a PDF from your design program here are some common presets and what they’re used for. Your vendor may have a preference on which preset to use, discuss your project with them before saving a PDF for printing. PDF’s are handy, as they can be viewed without expensive software, but you will want to name your PDF”S appropriately, so you know what is for screen and what is for printing.

  • Press Quality This will keep your photos and images in the original color space and resolution they were created with and embed your fonts. Use for Offset and Large Format Printing. You may need to edit the set up to add crop marks, bleeds, etc. based on your printing destination. Use for Printing.
  • High Quality PDF This will keep your photos and images in the original color space and set resolution of raster images to 100 dpi and embed your fonts. Use for Desktop Printing.
  • PDF X1a This preset will convert your images to CMYK and embed your fonts. Be sure to include Cropmarks and Bleeds when saving your pdf. Use for Printing.
  • Smallest File Size This will save a reduced file size (as in kilobytes versus megabytes, not dimensions of your page), converting your file to a low resolution raster image. Use for Screen Viewing Only.
  • EPS: While this file kind is printable, it is usually an extremely large file size, when working in large and grand format sizes this may cause processing issues. This format is generally considered outdated. Use for Printing.
  • JPG or JPEG: These raster files often compress file data to make the files smaller depending on the quality level you used to save the file. The difficulty with JPGs is the more you open a file, manipulate it and resave, the more compression is added which leads to loss of image quality. If that happens, we can see “JPG artifacts” start to form in areas where dark and light colors meet, these can be blocks of mismatched color that halo an image. At large format sizes this results in muddy and unacceptable prints. If you open a high resolution JPG and make an edit, consider saving it as a PSD to avoid further compression. Use for Original Captures or Screen Viewing Only.
  • PNG: This file format is intended for screen viewing and website use, however can be saved as high resolution. It’s not a preferred file type for printing as PNG does add some compression to file quality, our recommendation is to Use for Screen Viewing Only.
  • GIF these files are usually animated or small snippets of video. Use for Screen Viewing Only.

Provide your layout files if you’re depending on your vendor to adjust color, manipulate photo color or resolution or make text changes. Many print vendors will not support Quark Xpress, Corel Draw, or some of the freeware design programs, talk to your vendor about how to handle these.

  • Indesign: Packaged Indd with fonts and links included separately
  • Illustrator: Packaged Ai with links and fonts included separately, also provide a PDF of the layout with the “Illustrator default” preset with “Preserve Illustrator Editing Capabilities” is turned on. You may wish to outline type before sending off Illustrator files, depending on the vendor.
  • Photoshop: PSD or Tiff with layers included and fonts provided separately. PSD is the preferred format for photo images being placed in InDesign and Illustrator.