Design Files 101

*Psst* You’ll want to keep this one bookmarked.

December is here which means the time for gift giving has begun! My gift to you is below, a quick guide to better understanding the files that your designer barks at you for not providing properly. Because I want to keep this as short as possible, I’m not covering everything about these file types, just the necessities. There are also several file types not covered in this blog.

First, a few definitions that are very handy and will help create a better understanding of what the following file types mean.

For what we’re talking about, vector means that it can be sized infinitely. If something is vector art, it can be scaled from 1″ x 1″ to 500′ x 500′ and the crispness of the art will be maintained; it will not appear pixely. Vector art uses mathematic equations and geometric primitives (points, lines, and shapes) to create art that is clean. Vector art is also easily editable if you have the correct programs.

A raster is a grid, and in our case, it is a grid of pixels. Vector art and raster art are complete opposites from each other. Vector graphics can be scaled forever but raster graphics will lose quality as you enlarge them. An example would be photographs. Photos are composed of thousands and thousands of dots of color that are organized by a grid. If you try to take a 4″ x 6″ photograph and scale it up to 10x that size, you’re going to lose quality. 

This acronym stands for DOTS Per inch. This is used for printing, and it relates to the number of dots of ink laid down by your printer. The ideal resolution for printing is 300 DPI, 300 dots of ink per square inch being printed.

PPI is similar to DPI but stands for PIXELS Per Inch and is the measurement used electronically. This has to do with the amount of pixels in your art. Websites are built and sized using pixels, not inches, and the standard size for the web is 72 PPI. For example, the resolution of your TV might be 1024 pixels x 768 pixels.

Now that we’ve differentiated those for you, let’s get on to the different file types.

.ai – Adobe Illustrator (vector)
Adobe Illustrator is one of the Holy Trinity of graphic design (the other two being Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Indesign, both covered below). Illustrator is the program we use to not only create vector graphics, but the program best used for editing them. Logos are primarily created in Illustrator which means they are our FAVORITE type of logo files to receive. When you send us an .ai file, it usually means we are getting the whole package and it is completely editable and scalable. 

.pdf – Portable Document Format (vector)
PDFs are very handy files because, like their acronym says, they are portable. They can be read and opened in a variety of programs and they retain information on how they were built. 

.eps – Encapsulated PostScript (vector)
EPS is the generic vector art file. Adobe Illustrator files can only be opened in Illustrator, but .eps files can be opened and edited in any program that supports vector graphics. 

(Side note: .ai, .pdf, and .eps are all natively vector files. Unfortunately, sometimes you get noobs that save non-vector art as one of these file types. Doing that does NOT automatically convert rasterized art to vector. You cannot convert raster art to vector with the click of a button, it will have to be recreated from scratch. On the flip side, you can take vector art and convert it to raster art. Once you do this the art can no longer be scaled clearly.)


.jpeg (sometimes used as .jpg) – Joint Photographic Experts Group (not vector)
Jpegs mean pictures and files for web. A jpeg is NEVER going to be vector. If you want to put a logo or a photo on a website, jpeg is your friend. If you want to send your designer a logo and have them edit it, they will probably never talk to you again if you send a jpeg. Just kidding, they may not be happy, but with a lot of chocolate they will be your friend again.

.png – Portable Network Graphics (not vector)
A png is very similar to a jpeg in the way that it will never be vector and that it is a great format for web. The nice thing about pngs is that they have an option to save white as transparent (I’m sure that’s clear as mud). This means the rastered logo that you want to put on your website can be placed on top of a photo or a block of color without having that obnoxious white box around and behind it because it’s been converted to transparent. Jpegs will have the white box.


.psd – Photoshop Document (not vector)
A PSD file is one from Photoshop. Photoshop is where magic happens. Because it is a photo manipulation program, everything done in it is… That’s right! Rasterized! You have been paying attention!

.indd – Indesign Document (vector)
Adobe Indesign is a vector based program like Illustrator. So you’re asking, “What’s the difference? Why not use one or the other?” Indesign is actually the glue that holds together Illustrator and Photoshop. You make your graphics in Illustrator and you make your photos pretty with Photoshop and then you use Indesign, a layout software, to combine them to create gorgeous magazines, brochures, and posters, etc.

My hope is that with this gift of knowledge, you now have a better understanding of the files your clients and designers and salesmen send you! Happy Holidays!