FILE FORMAT TIPS
Good quality printing starts with good quality images. If you’ve ever been confused over all the many different types of files, you’re not alone! While the large variety of image formats may seem overwhelming, we're here to help piece it together for you in a way that make sense.
VECTOR/RASTER | IMAGE QUALITY | PDF FORMATS | MICROSOFT FORMATS | QUIZ
VECTOR vs. RASTER FILES
First things first, we need to clarify the difference between the two major file types - vector and raster. Vector images are our #1 option when receiving most artwork. Raster images are pretty much only necessary when managing photos. Before we confuse you any further, we've put together a basic outline to help understand each file type and when they are best used.
"Painting with pixels"
Raster images are made of pixels. Pixels are tiny squares or dots that when combined form an image.
Best for photos and creating continuous tone images with soft color blends. They are also the
only format supported for web.
Most common image formats:
(originating from raster programs)
jpg, tif, png, psd
Photoshop or any photo editing/paint programs
Do not scale up well - Images must be originally created or scanned at a high resolution!
Large dimensions & detailed images
means large file size
Depending on the file format and its settings, a raster file can only sometimes be transparent.
The JPG images (shown on the left) leave a white box around. The PNG and TIFF files (shown on the right) support transparency.
Flat image made up of CMYK color values.
No Layers! The eyes and mouth can not be moved.
Can not be printed using spot colors - Only if the photo is a monochromatic tone of the spot color
Can only be converted to vector by recreating the entire graphic in a vector program.
Some forms of printing are unable to use raster formats. Ex. A 2-color rasterized logo is a flat
image, therefore can not be printed as a decal.
It will need to be reset as a vector.
The 2 colors must be separate layers.
"Drawing with vectors"
Vector images are mathematical calculations from one point to another to form lines and shapes.
Can be very easily converted to raster,
simply by the way you save the file.
Versatile to multiple forms of printing.
Ex. A 2-color vector logo used to make a
decal can also be used and printed
in a 4-color brochure design.
Shapes/lines based on mathematical calculations
Best for illustrations, logos or any
hard-edged graphics. Essential for anything
applied to products such as a window decals.
Most common vector graphic formats:
(originating from vector programs)
ai, eps, pdf
Illustrator, InDesign or any drawing programs
Ability to be scaled to any size
without ever losing quality
A large dimension vector graphic
maintains a small file size
The logo and smiley face lay
nicely over the orange background.
Each color and object is it’s own layer.
You can move the eyes and mouth around.
Spot colors can be easily changed such as switching a logo from blue/green to yellow/orange
IMAGE QUALITY & RESOLUTION
So now that you know the difference between vector and raster images, let's learn more about the quality of raster images. When talking about image quality and resolution, there's actually a bit of a difference between these two terms.
Resolution refers to the amount of pixels that make up an image. This quantity is also known as PPI (pixels per inch) meaning the amount of pixels in a printed inch. For printing, 300ppi is average for high resolution images, where as 72ppi is considered low resolution.
As for the quality of an image, we are referring to the amount of information in each pixel within the image. Basically, this determines if your photo looks good or bad. A good quality image will always have a large amount of pixels (high resolution). A poor quality image can actually have either a small or large amount of pixels (high or low resolution). BUT, regardless of how many pixels it has, it's still low quality! It will never retrieve the information it once had when it was a high quality image. Increasing the resolution may help make it not look so "boxy", nonetheless, it will still appear blurry. See examples below.
Blurry - Still Poor Quality
Increasing 72ppi to 300ppi
Original - High Quality
High Resolution - 300ppi
Pixelated - Poor Quality
Low Resolution - 72ppi
Text is another issue if you have a low quality image. You can see below how clean the letters look on the left side. As the quality gets lower, larger pixels form around the text making it appear fuzzy.
Web vs. Print
Websites can display images as low as 72dpi. Images this low will still look presentable only on the web.
The standard PPI for print is 300. We do accept lower resolutions, but keep in mind images may lose their quality and look pixelated. On smaller sized projects like a postcard, you might get away with using lower quality images. However, enlarging that small image to an 18x24 poster will dramatically reduce the quality of the picture. The best way to determine if your image is presentable or not is to zoom in really close. If you can not make out the text or a face, then it’s going to print that poorly. However, if you’re okay with it, we’ll print it!
PDF (Portable Document Format)
PDFs were invented by Adobe with the goal of capturing and reviewing information from any application, on any computer, with anyone and anywhere with minimal complications. You can view PDFs just by downloading the free Acrobat Reader software.
This is by far the best universal tool for sharing graphics because PDFs provide the ability to manipulate page order, size, color, text and more. That is if the PDF contains vector artwork and NOT a flat image.
This is the standard format we use to prepare files for print production so it’s important to send any print ready files as a PDF.
*If you are providing design components such as photos or text for us to design internally, they do not have to be in a PDF format. Photos should be sent in their original format. Learn about image quality
We often receive Microsoft-based files such as Word documents or Publisher files. These non-design programs are machine dependent meaning if you send us a Word document chances are it may look completely different on our computers. As these programs are updated and improved, settings change amongst each version. A computer that still has version 2011 will not have the same capabilities as one with the most current update installed. This results in fonts changing, reflow of text or pictures, ect. Not everyone has the same fonts loaded onto their computers so fonts may be substituted resulting in a final print you may not be happy with. This is why it's so important to send print ready files in a PDF format. The artwork will always be the same on any computer.