Hey! We’re back with another volume of Designer-Speak for Clients. First, we talked about basic design principles that might help clients give better creative direction. This time, we’re going into the kind of files your designers handle.
At Design Pickle, our designers create graphics using Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe InDesign. They can create anything from icons to illustrations to brochures to magazine layouts to… you get the idea.
And when your designers are done, they usually give you the files in what they deem to be appropriate formats, according to your instructions. But handling multiple files and file types can get a bit confusing. Sometimes, you’re stumped from the start—you don’t know what to ask for. (Pro tip: When in doubt, just tell your designer what it’s going to be used for, and trust them to decide.)
That’s why we created this short guide about file types, so you can impress your friends by knowing the difference between a JPG and a PNG file. Kidding aside, these are helpful pieces of stock knowledge when you’re juggling marketing projects, switching designers, organizing files, or printing images.
There are tons of design software out there, but at Design Pickle, we stick to common industry standards—our designers use Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. Strictly speaking, Design Pickle clients don’t need to know this part at all. But since they’re getting the source files for each completed project, they’ve maybe wondered at times why designers use certain apps for certain things. So let’s look into it.
Adobe Photoshop or PSD Files
Adobe Photoshop is used mainly to create and manipulate pixel-based images, meaning photographs and complex illustrations. Photo effects, filters, and brushwork are things that are done in Photoshop.
One can still create logos, icons, and similar graphics in PSDs, bearing in mind that it has limited vector capabilities. (More later on what a vector is!)
Adobe Illustrator or AI Files
In a word, Adobe Illustrator is the best at creating vector graphics. Instead of creating and modifying pixels, your designer is working with fully scalable vector lines and shapes. This means logos, icons, vector illustrations, and a lot more.
Adobe InDesign or INDD Files
Adobe Indesign is used to create multi-page layouts, like booklets, books, and magazines. INDD files support typography-heavy designs, and can play host to a variety of graphics. With enabled spreads and automatic pagination, InDesign is truly optimized for longer, larger layouts. It’s even able to include PSD and AI native files in the layout, a great way to keep the graphics editable.
Our designers export finished designs in the following formats: JPG, PNG, GIF, or PDF. They’re all different because they use different methods of compressing—or rendering—your designs into easily viewable, readable, and useful formats.
JPG or JPEG
JPG (named after the Joint Photographic Experts Group) uses a “lossy” compression method to downsize files. That means what it sounds like — when you save a JPG to smaller than the original file, some graphics information is lost.
For photographs and realistic images with many colors, a JPG would be your best bet. Don’t be discouraged by the losing part in lossy image compression — it isn’t always a bad thing. A JPG is an economic, fast-loading way to render large photographic files. That’s why it’s the standard file format for most digital cameras.
The PNG (Portable Network Graphics) file type supports “lossless” data compression. You don’t lose color information when resizing. PNG also supports transparent backgrounds.
PNGs are great for line drawings, icons or logos, images with transparent backgrounds, and files with limited color information. So your website logo, email signatures, and icons, headshots, and web product images work great as PNGS. Small PNG files appear on websites to be crisper and even text-like, unlike tiny JPGs which usually have a blurred look.
If file size is not an issue, you can also save complex photographic images as PNGs. Lossless compression means you don’t lose any of the original details. However, this will make much heavier files than JPGs of the same dimensions.
GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format. Like a PNG, this file type uses lossless data compression. However, when it comes to photos, GIFs can’t achieve the high-resolution capabilities of PNGs. Why? Because they’re only limited to 256 colors at most. That’s why GIFs are well-suited to very simple graphics with fewer colors, such as logo files and icons.
More popularly, GIFs support animation.
The most important question is, is it pronounced “gif” or “jif?” You decide.
The PDF (Portable Document Format) is a widely used, open standard file format invented by Adobe. It’s an electronic image that works just like any document; it can feature text, images, and a wide variety of graphics. It’s different from your regular word and text documents because the format is so widely accepted, that everyone can view it and see the same great design.
PDFs work well for both print and digital documents that feature stylized text-heavy layouts, like newsletters, brochures, slideshow presentations, and multi-page publications. They’re reader-friendly because they support and render text as text, not as an image.
PDFs can also be used to save vector information. This is especially useful for logo files and other vector-based graphics like merchandise designs.
Bonus: Raster vs. Vector
You may come across these two terms when dealing with design.
Raster images, or bitmap images, are laid out on a pixel grid. They are made up of little colored squares — those are the pixels. Photographs are usually raster images.
Raster images are measured by pixels. Pixel dimensions are simply stated as the document’s file size in pixels. Pixel resolution is information usually required by printers. PPI, or Pixels Per Inch, is the number of pixels contained in an inch on your digital screen. Printing images would usually require a minimum PPI of 300.
Vector images are infinitely scalable or resizable, and so are always in perfect condition. Why? The answer is math. (Que horror. No worries. Designers don’t like to think about it much, either.) A rasterized straight line is made up of a row of pixels. A vector straight line is actually just two dots — point A and point B — connected by a computer algorithm.
Vectors are used to create logos, illustrations, technical drawings, icons, simple illustrations, and even 3D models.
There you go—an in-depth rundown on the kind of files your designers handle on a daily basis. A little knowledge about these files can go a long way: with file management, designer communication, or even migrating between projects or teams.
But really, our awesome clients don’t have to be fluent in Designer-Speak to be awesome clients. When in doubt, your designer can always help.