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Navigating File Types: What Formats To Use And When

Small businesses and non-profit organizations all face a common challenge: when a vendor asks for an electronic file of a logo, what do you send? Once designed, your logo is sent to you in a variety of formats, leaving you to navigate a virtual jungle of file extensions such as .JPG, .EPS, or even .TIF and .PDF.

.JPG, .EPS, .PDF, oh my!

Which one do you send when getting polo shirts for a golf outing? Which is the right size and format for the new web designer? Understanding the basics of what to send, what size, and what the different file types mean can make a huge difference.

Look around. There are logos everywhere and it is likely they were all produced differently. Some were printed, some were sewn, and others were rendered in a video. Each had different requirements and sizes when being sent into production.

Understanding Vector vs Raster File Formats

In general, there are two main types of art files: vector and raster. Understanding the difference between them can save a ton of time and cost in producing your marketing materials.

Raster files are graphics created using a pixel-based system. Pixels are small units of data that make up an image. For example, if you snap a picture of a rose with your phone, each of the pixels that make up the image is saved with color and location data. That rose photo will contain many red pixels and some green pixels for the stem. The number of pixels wide or tall is what determines the size and resolution. A larger photo may be 2,000 pixels wide and 2,000 pixels tall.

Vector files are created using points and lines based system. For example, if you would draw a vector formatted box, the file would consist of the four coordinates of the corners and the instructions to connect each with a line. While a raster file uses pixels to fill in the lines between the box corners, a vector file automatically draws the lines. This allows a vector file to scale as large or as small as needed without adding more data points.

Raster files are ideal for pictures and color intense images that require data rich files. Vector files are optimal for graphics that need to be scaled, making this the ideal format for logos and illustrations. There are several file formats for both raster and vector images.

Sending Files to a Designer

Sending Pictures to a Website Designer

Pictures can make an incredible impact on a website design. Crisp, clear, and vibrant images bring a design to life. Getting the right images to your website designer comes down to getting them the correct images at the correct size.

  • File Format Recommended: .JPG or .JPEG (most common format with digital cameras)
  • Raster or Vector? Raster
  • Size: Given in pixels such as a profile picture may be 200 pixels wide and 200 pixels tall. Always send at that exact size or larger. Never smaller.
  • What To Watch For: Make sure the images are clear and crisp at 100% actual size.
  • Don’t Do: When sending to the developer, don’t place the images into a program such as Microsoft Word, InDesign, or other layout program. Send each file individually to retain maximum image quality.


Providing Your Logo to a T-Shirt Maker or Embroiderer

Getting your logo onto apparel is a great way to spread around your business name. Whether sporting a polo shirt at a charity golf outing or getting T-shirts for your hospitality staff, making sure your brand comes across clean and professional is key. Logos are a bit tricky since they can come in a variety of formats. You may want to ask your designer for help in getting the right version.

  • File Format Recommended: .AI or .EPS
  • Raster or Vector? Vector
  • Size: Typically requested to fit a specific imprint area, such as 3”x 3”, depending on the project.
  • What To Watch For: Make sure any text within the graphic is converted to curves or shapes.
  • Don’t Do: If you have a program that opens your vector logo, do not stretch or distort it to fit the entire imprint area. It is ok if the logo does not take up the entire space. It is more important for the integrity of the graphic to remain intact. Keep it classy!


Sending Pictures for A Brochure or Catalog

Much of the file information for print images is the same as for the web. One major difference: SIZE. Web images are often requested as a pixel size (200 pixels x 200 pixels), print images must be larger and include resolution.

What is an Image Resolution?

Resolution means how many pixels must appear for every inch of the finished image. The most common resolution for print is 300 pixels per inch, or ppi (also sometimes still referred to as 300 dots per inch, or dpi). For example, if you have a catalog with a picture that is 4” wide, the image will need to be 1200 pixels wide (4” x 300 ppi). This sounds tricky, but even the most basic photo editors, such as Microsoft Picture can size an image and set resolution automatically for you.

  • File Format Recommended: .JPG or .TIF
  • Raster or Vector? Raster
  • Size: Typically requested to fit a specific area such as 4” x 4”
  • What To Watch For: Make sure the image is large enough to be trimmed down for design purposes. Always send the largest version possible.
  • Don’t Do: Don’t attempt to stretch an image larger than its original size. The image will distort and lose quality.


Putting a Sales Flyer or Instruction Manual on a Website

Some materials you deliver to your designer may not be images or logos. Documents are also a critical piece of your online presence, and delivering them in a usable format is crucial. Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF) makes life much easier.

PDFs are lightweight documents that can be generated in a variety of methods by many different programs and can be read by most computers and web browsers. Consult the knowledge base for your document’s program to determine the best way to generate a PDF.

  • File Format Recommended: .PDF
  • Raster or Vector? Either
  • Size: A standard page size such as 8.5” x 11” (letter) or 8.5” x 14” (legal), but it can be customized for your document. 
  • What To Watch For: Depending on how the PDF was created, the file size can become quite large. Be sure to create the PDF with the end user in mind. If the PDF is intended for the web, attempt to get the file size as small as possible.

PROTIP: PDFs can contain hyperlinks and other media. If you’re fluent in managing PDFs, you can create a highly interactive document for reference on the web.

What About Other File Formats?

With so many different file extensions and types, it can be difficult to remember all their specific characteristics and uses. Below is a partial table of some of the most common file extensions and their use.

File FormatRaster or VectorPrint or WebDescription
.JPG or .JPEGRasterBothPhotographs or graphic files with opaque backgrounds
.GIFRasterWebSolid color logos or line art
.GIF (animated)RasterWebLow resolution animated graphics
.PNGRasterWebLogo, illustration, or line graphic with transparent background
.TIF or .TIFFRasterPrintHigh resolution photograph or illustration
.PSDRasterPrintAdobe Photoshop file for images or textured illustrations
.AIVectorPrintAdobe Illustrator file for illustrations or line art
.EPSVectorPrintEncapsulated Post Script file for illustrations or line art
.SVGVectorWebScalable Vector Graphic for line art or logo images on the web
.DXFVectorPrintAutoCAD file exchange format for architectural or engineering drawings
.PDFEitherBothAdobe Acrobat web document format
.INDDEitherBothAdobe InDesign (layout program)
.DOCX or .DOCRasterPrintMicrosoft Word format
.XLSX or .XLSRasterPrintMicrosoft Excel format
.ZIPn/an/aCompression file format used to combine files and reduce size


What Should Your Business Do?

Be sure your business has someone on your team who understands the basics. Better yet, partner with either a freelance designer or a marketing agency, such as Signalfire, who can help guide you. Understanding file formats can be tricky when specific needs arise. Partnering with an expert will ensure the quality of your brand is upheld.

How can partnering with Signalfire help?

Signalfire can:

  • Ensure your logo and images are sized properly and saved in the correct resolution
  • Make sure your vendor receives the correct file format for the situation
  • Manage your files for use in a wide variety of mediums from video to embroidery
  • Create an on-demand library of critical files so they may be distributed quickly and properly
  • Ensure brand compliance and standardized looks for all of your branded components


Signalfire’s creative team has the knowledge and expertise to ensure your brand looks outstanding, regardless of the situation. Let us help apply professional standards to your existing brand or design a new brand with all of this in mind. For questions or to get started, contact us at 262-725-4500.