Digital File Types and Why They Matter for Your Business
“Just grab it from my website.” This is the most common response I get when asking a client for a file of their existing logo. Chasing down the correct digital file type is just part of the job, right?
I get it; as graphic designers and web designers, it’s our job to know and understand the importance of the various types of digital files. However, if we aren’t also giving our clients a basic understanding of the art we create for them, we’re doing them a disservice. Understanding digital file types and why they matter will set your clients up for success on future decisions such as printing advertisements, updating websites, and even revamping their brand. Because no matter how impressed they are with the logo you design for them, they will make changes at some point down the road.
If you’re new to design work, consider this sage advice from a fellow designer: share your knowledge with your clients. Starting, of course, with a basic understanding of digital files and how to use them.
Why Digital File Types Matter
The first order of business is helping clients understand why this topic is important. Why should they care whether you give them an SVG file versus a JPG or PNG?
More often than not, businesses invest in professional design work — branding, website, business cards, etc. — and assume that once the work is done, it’s done for good. The work created, however, is a business asset. It needs to be stored for future use in the same way you would carefully file your building lease agreement, banking information, or spare keys for the company car.
Here is the scenario I most often encounter: a client decides it’s time to revamp their business website. Their logo was created five years earlier by some independent graphic designer they contracted. When I ask for their logo's original (vector) files, I get blank stares.
“Just grab it from my website.”
I get the same response about brand guidelines.
Fonts? Logo variations? Color codes? Can’t you tell what they are by looking at our site, business cards, brochures, etc.?
And that’s when we have the tough conversation about brand assets: the importance of different digital file types; how I can’t recreate their logo from a JPG; how printing that billboard ad is impossible without a vector file.
The most challenging part is explaining what it will cost to recreate something from scratch.
When businesses understand the importance of that little .svg file you sent them, they know to treat their digital assets with the same respect they do their tangible assets.
They also understand that digital file type directly impacts time and money. With the correct digital file in hand, they spare themselves from unnecessary expenses on future projects.
Digital Image Basics: Raster vs. Vector
Now that we understand why digital file types matter let’s look at what they do.
It’s important to note one common differentiation between digital file types: raster versus vector.
On a very basic level, raster image files are made of pixels. The quality (high resolution or low resolution) determines the number of pixels. That number doesn’t change. So a raster image that is low resolution cannot be transformed into a high-resolution image. When enlarged, it looks pixelated (because you’re stretching the existing pixels, not adding to them).
Common raster file extensions include JPEG (or JPG), PSD, PNG, and GIF. There are others, but those are probably the most familiar extensions.
On the other hand, vector images are created from a mathematical algorithm using dots, lines, and shapes. The most notable feature of a vector is that it can scale to any size without losing quality.
Common vector file extensions include SVG, AI, EPS, and PDF.
Both raster and vector files have different applications. We’ll dive into each file type in just a moment, but a helpful rule of thumb is this: raster files are most commonly used for the graphics displayed on your website and for printing if the resolution is at least 300dpi. Vector files, on the other hand, are your source files. They are the originals, the files needed in order to print new swag, update your logo, buy that billboard ad, or redesign your website.
Raster File Types
JPG or JPEG is the most common digital file type you’ll encounter. The majority of images (think photography) online are JPGs. This is because they are compressed to reduce their file size, making them great for websites—the smaller file size loads on a webpage faster than other file types.
This file type is another popular choice for website graphics. Rather than high-resolution photos, PNGs are often used for logos, graphics, and illustrations. This is because PNGs tend to take up more space than a JPG. They utilize lossless compression, meaning data isn’t lost when the image is compressed (in contrast to JPGs). The other key difference is that PNGs can accommodate transparent backgrounds, making them popular for graphic and logo design.
The PSD extension applies to graphics created or saved in Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop is one of the most popular image editing software available. While it is an excellent tool for manipulating raster images, it does not accommodate vector images.
Those fun animated images we love so much are also raster images. The GIF digital file extension stands for Graphics Interchange Format. GIFs are very low-resolution graphics making them excellent options for projects or websites that need to load quickly.
This final raster file type is the largest and highest quality. TIFF is an excellent option for saving high-quality photography for print. However, its large file size makes it a poor choice for website graphics.
Vector File Types
Also known as Scalable Vector Graphics, SVG is a standard file extension for vector images and text. Several web browsers support SVG files, as do programs such as Adobe Illustrator or open-source software like GIMP. This digital file type is popular in web design. Their small file size doesn’t slow down page load speeds, and search engines can read their programming language, helping with SEO.
EPS is a standard file extension for saving design work. It is a universal vector file type that can be opened and edited on almost any vector-based software. If you don’t already have an EPS file of your logo or brand assets, I highly recommend reaching out to your designer for those source files.
This is the extension for digital files created and saved in Adobe Illustrator. Illustrator is a popular program for creating vector graphics. Artwork, logos, graphics, or designs made in Illustrator can be saved as .ai or as other standard vector files such as EPS, SVG, and PDF.
You’re likely very familiar with this digital file type. PDF is another universal way to store vector files. However, the unique thing about PDFs is that they can also be used to store raster files. This digital file type is most often used to share high-quality graphics or images with those who may not have access to design software. PDFs are also commonly used to send books to printers as the file type maintains the high quality needed for printing.
Digital File Types and Your Business
Different digital files impact your business, whether you’re a designer or a business owner. As designers, our responsibility is to ensure our clients understand the importance of that little .eps or .jpg at the end of the file name. That is the easiest way to avoid a difficult conversation when they search for their data years later (and you don’t have it on a hard drive somewhere).
As business owners, it’s our job to maintain our digital assets and store them in a way that is accessible in the future. Remember, your next web designer can’t give you a high-quality vector logo from a low-res JPG image. Forget buying that two-page magazine without your original vector brand assets or high-resolution photos. The best way to save time and money? Understand the significance of your digital assets.