Graphic Art Basics and File Types for Marketing Creative
Have you ever been asked for an EPS of your logo? Vector artwork for a t-shirt?
Is your brain spinning in circles right now trying to guess at what either of those might mean?
When working with artwork for creative materials and graphics, you’ll want to keep the following in mind: The print world operates very differently from the web and productivity world. Knowing the graphic art format and file types needed for your project is essential for producing quality creative materials.
Here’s a quick guide to the formats and some of the most common file types used for creative artwork:
This is by and large the most important term to understand for printed artwork and creative.
Vector art is what you will most likely need to have on hand or obtain when working with a vendor to produce printed materials.
It differs from other types of graphics you may be already familiar with. The reason for this is because, unlike a photo or web image, vector art is made up of smooth lines and individual shapes.
Think of it as a group of separate, related elements that live together in one file — like family members who all live under the same roof. If your logo contains a circle, your company’s name beside it, and the name is underlined, then the vector art will contain (A) the circle, (B) letters for your company’s name, and (C) the line, each as a different “piece” of the same family.
What this allows is two key things:
1. It makes the artwork is scalable and not restricted to a given size.
Vector art can be printed as small or large as you or your client would like.
So if you have a logo on file in vector format that was previously used on a coffee mug, but one day you need to put it on a large outdoor sign, then the same art can be used for the sign and it will look good enlarged. This is very different from a typical photo or image you might have on your computer, which has preset maximum dimensions based on the size at which it was created. Photos and images like that can look fuzzy and distorted if enlarged beyond their maximum dimensions. They can only get so big before their quality is compromised.
2. It makes it easy for your graphic designer or graphic service vendor to edit the individual elements of the art.
So if the circle in the aforementioned logo is blue and you would like it to be green instead, a graphic professional can change it with no problem.
Another plus: Since the artwork contains only elements, it has no background by default. This means that it can be floated over another design object, such as a block of color, photo, pattern, etc. Like this:
Common vector artwork types:
EPS: Stands for Encapsulated PostScript. This is the standard for vector art and a generic file type that can be read and edited by any industry software.
AI: Adobe Illustrator format. Illustrator is one of the most widely used graphic design programs for logos and other types of creative artwork, and this is its native vector file format.
Vector art files are not typically used on the web and cannot display in most web browsers.
In contrast to vector, raster artwork does not contain separate elements at all. It is a square-edged, “flat” format composed of pixels. It is the image type that you are probably most familiar with already and have on your computer or devices. (JPEG photos are one example of raster art.)
Each raster image has a set number of pixels, and this number becomes a dimension based on the image’s resolution.
Resolution is typically expressed either in ppi (pixels per inch) or more commonly dpi (dots per inch).
Web image resolution: 72 dpi
Print image resolution: 300 dpi
The number of pixels in a raster image limit its maximum dimensions. So it cannot print or display larger than those dimensions without showing distortion (which is when it turns fuzzy and pixelated).
Since raster images are “flat”, they also cannot be edited in the same manner as vector art.
To continue the logo example from earlier, changing a circle from blue to green in a raster art logo is more problematic because the circle itself is not a separate element that can be easily selected and edited. Raster image editing more often involves adjustments to the image as a whole. Some examples include cropping, rotation and color correction as well as adding overlays (called layers) to create various fades and effects.
Adobe Photoshop is the industry standard and most common software used for raster image editing, although there are many other programs available with similar functionality.
Common raster artwork file types:
JPEG: This is a compressed image file, arguably the most popular image format of the present time. It is especially useful for photography, as it can display complex color schemes and more than 16 million colors. JPEG images can be used both for print as well as the web, and they display in any web browser. (The name comes from Joint Photographic Experts Group, the original committee that created the standard.)
TIFF: This is an uncompressed image file that was once a standard in the print industry. While still in use, it is less common now than in the past. Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) images are quite large in size compared to other formats. They are not compatible with all web browsers and devices and are not advisable for use online.
PNG: Image type PNG (Portable Network Graphics) is a compressed image format designed specifically for use on the web. It uses what’s called lossless data compression. That simply means that the full, original image can always be reconstructed from the smaller compressed file, as no data is lost during the compression. PNG images do not support the CMYK color space. Therefore they cannot be used for professional printing, although they work fine for home and office printing.
PSD: This is Adobe Photoshop’s native format. PSD (Photoshop Document) files store all of the information needed for Photoshop imaging and editing, including layers, masks and transparency. They are not compatible with web browsers and cannot be opened (to my knowledge) with any photo editing software besides Photoshop.
* Note: While PSD files can be used in various ways to produce other final print and web files, they are still a form of raster (not vector) art.
The World of PDF
PDFs (Portable Document Format) are one of the greatest things ever created, in this author’s humble opinion.
In essence, they are beefed-up encapsulated postscripts (EPS). In practice, they are self-contained, finished digital documents that can be shared cross-platform and read on any machine or device, no matter what software or operating system it uses. The only program/app required to view the file is Adobe Acrobat Reader.
In the print world:
PDFs are created from graphic design software, such as Illustrator or InDesign, that contain everything the printer needs to produce the finished product. All fonts and images can be stored as part of PDF itself, as well as color and trim information. (This is completely different from back-in-the-day when elements and fonts used in the design had to be sent to the printer as separate pieces, creating more work as well as potential for errors and glitches when the design was read in.)
In the web world:
PDFs are a ready-to-go, shareable format for digital resources. They can be any size, often either letter/A4 to match traditional paper, or custom dimensions to meet standard screen aspect ratios in order to accommodate display across various devices.
Perhaps most popular right now are PDFs as downloadable ebooks, which can be used in web marketing and self-promotion or included as a component of digital product packages and media kits.
For producing PDFs and other digital marketing, check out this great how-to creative guide for professional marketing materials to grow your business.
Go even further
Still curious about a particular file type or need more information?
Watch my video: Graphic Art Basics for Marketing Professionals
It provides an overview with answers to some of the most common questions about graphics and creative artwork.
Or feel free to ask about your specific project in the comments area below!