Differentiating Between Common File Types

Article 4 min
Learn about the most commonly used graphic design file types, what they are and how to get the best quality.

As a visual information specialist, it can sometimes be overwhelming to decipher between the various file types at your disposal, and some file types can only be opened using specific software. Understanding the differences between these file types is essential to using them properly and getting the best quality out of each.

Below is a list of the most common file types, what they are and what they are used for:

Characteristics and Uses of Various File Types

For creating images, like logos or illustrations, as they offer the designer multiple tools to assist with manipulating lines and creating multilayered artwork that is entirely editable. AI files can also be used with tablets or touch screens for drawing directly on the picture or image.

  • Are vector files that can generate files of different formats (such as JPEGs, PNGs, PDFs, etc.) and sizes; can only be opened using Adobe Illustrator.
  • Gives the designer the power to maximize or minimize images to any size without altering the integrity of the image, as each part of the design is produced using objects rather than pixels.
  • Are based on mathematic equations (known as Bezier curves), making the objects resolution-independent.

For supporting projects involving the creation of logos or icons of any size. Also, if an image is saved as an EPS file, it can be sent to just about any printer.

  • Used to transfer an image or artwork, generally a vector file, into another application.
  • Can be expanded to any size.
  • Can be opened using vector graphics editing software such as Adobe Illustrator, Freehand or Adobe Photoshop.
  • Can be enlarged or shrunk to any size while maintaining integrity because it is the only file format saved as vector.

For creating animated graphics like banner ads, email images and social media memes. They are also good for creating small icons.

  • Are generally raster graphics; among the most widely used universal web image formats.
  • Can be animated and can allow transparency of one color.
  • Can be exported in several highly customizable settings, reducing file size. 
  • Have become trendy online because they are relatively simple to produce and users can create imaginative animations out of images.

For desktop publishing when creating books, brochures, magazines, newspapers, flyers, etc.

  • Are extensions for page layout files used by Adobe InDesign and can be either vector or raster, depending on the imported image type.
  • Is the default file type for Adobe InDesign; whenever working in InDesign, you are working with an INDD file.
  • Incorporate everything a page layout needs, including fonts, formatting, swatches and styles.

For maintaining the integrity of pictures and images. These files can show all the detailed parts of the image without getting mired with each layer. Additionally, JPEG files can be shared across multiple platforms, making them one of the most versatile file types.

  • Are compressed images that do not support a transparent background;  compression level in JPEG files varies in resolution, with high quality for desktop printing, medium quality for web and low quality for email. 
  • Are compressed so the file does not include multiple layers and cannot be edited in any way.
  • Has a recommended standard resolution of 300ppi at 100% for printing, as anything less will start to show the individual pixels, making the image look blurry or pixelated.

For sharing documents because the PDF keeps its integrity even when emailed or transmitted across multiple platforms and can be password protected. It can also be used to create digital fillable forms that can be signed using a Common Access Card.

From a design perspective, one of the best features of the PDF file is that the file can be multilayered. This allows the designer to adjust and edit the document without difficulty. However, it is crucial to note that if the original file was a flattened file type (i.e., JPEG, PNG, PSD) and then saved into a PDF, it will not retain the editing features.

  • Are a universal raster format that preserves and embeds all elements of any source document while keeping the integrity of the design aspects (such as vector information).
  • Presents a document with text and images that anyone can easily open, download and share across multiple platforms.
  • Are viewable and printable by anyone with PDF reader software such as Adobe Acrobat Reader.
  • Are created and edited with tools such as Adobe Acrobat Pro and Adobe Illustrator.

For creating web-based platforms for logos and graphics that make up websites. An upside is they are usually a small file size, not hindering computer speed when opening a web page.

  • Are flattened raster graphics created with pixels, or the small squares of color that, when all put together, build a picture. If you make a small image large within a PDF, you will start to see the pixels.
  • Are formatted with built-in transparency but can also display higher color depths than JPEG, which means higher resolution.
  • Keeps a transparent background.

For editing and adjusting pictures and images or to combine multiple pictures. PSD files can also be used with tablets or touch screens for drawing directly on the picture or image.

  • Are file formats that contain graphics and photos created in Adobe Photoshop image editing software and can only be opened using Photoshop.
  • Are raster file types, made up of pixels and one or more layers. When you use the layers within the program, you can combine and edit elements as a whole or individually.

For logos, icons or images such as charts, tables or infographics that need to appear sharp, accessible by screen readers and optimized for the web.

  • Are vector file formats, written in XML code, that can be resized without losing quality.
  • Store text information as text, as opposed to images, allowing search engines to identify graphics by keywords.



(Accessed 2024, March 14). SVG files. Adobe.

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