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Understanding File Types

There are a ton of different file types your artist can deliver to you. Each one is different and serves a unique purpose. This is a quick reference guide to help you when communicating with your artist or printer. This is just a basic overview because lets’ face it, we don’t really care about all the ins and outs. We just want to know what file type to ask for or deliver for a specific situation.


When it comes to files types, you are basically balancing file size and quality. They type of file you ask for will give you a mixture of these two properties. So the type of file you ask for will most likely be determined by where your image will be displayed.


Popular Raster file types



JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. This is a popular file type in both digital and printed media. JPEGS generally do pretty well when they are optimized so they look good and maintain a pretty small files size. This is a good all-around file type that has been a staple for years.


One of the main down falls is that JPEGS can’t display a transparency. In other words you have to have a background. So if you want a figure cut out and displayed on your webpage a JPEG is not the file for you.



PNGs are Portable Network Graphics. PNGs are primarily used for websites. Unlike JPEGs, PNGs are great to use when you want to create an image without a background. The tradeoff is that they don’t do as well when they are optimized and generally are a larger file type than JPEGS.



GIFs or Graphics Interchange Format are actually pronounced like JIFF. GIFs where very popular in the 90’s because they are good for creating tiny animated images. In my opinion GIFs should stay in the 90’s. You rarely see these abominations anymore, but occasionally you have to deal with them.


Popular Vector file types



EPS stands for Encapsulated PostScript. Most printers love EPS files. These are a kind of a universal language for vector programs. No matter what program you use to create a vector image you can create an EPS file. EPS files are great for print, can be pretty “heavy” and are not web friendly.



SVGs or Scalable Vector Graphics are used primarily on the web. They are a great alternative to raster images on the internet. Unfortunately, the software companies missed this memo and until recently SVGs could not be displayed on most web browsers. That oversight has been corrected and the SVG is gaining the popularity it deserves. Look for this to become the new standard for internet images.


Popular Video File Types



Mov Is short for a movie file. This is a Quicktime file developed by Mac. They work great for Internet sites such as YouTube as well because you can compress them without a large loss of quality. Video Producers love Final Cut, Macs, and subsequently MOVs. However, IT professionals hate MOV files because no one’s Quicktime player is ever up-to-date….ever.



Audio Video Interleaved files are basically the video files that PCs and PC users like. I’m no video editor but I think they do reasonably well with compression, but the file size is generally a lot larger than MOVs, I mean a lot larger.



FLVs are Flash Video files. These are videos created by a popular program called Flash. Flash is used for a lot of games and animation. It is really a pretty amazing program, but in my opinion the video files are lacking. The audio and video on longer FLV files tend to get out of sync and you find yourself flashing back to the Kung Fu movie from the sixties.


IT professionals also hate FLV files because once again, your Flash Player update stays current for about an hour and a half. It also possesses security risks because hackers can hide a virus with the code of Flash files.



An MP4 is basically an MP3 with an extra dimension for video. I don’t know as much about video, but in my opinion this is a good all-around file type to use for internet viewing. It can be displayed on pretty much any computer and holds up to compression very well.


Other File Types



Portable Document Format is a magical file format that was developed to solve all of the file format issues. PDF files can be raster or vector. PDFs are great for print as well and can be multiple pages. They can even be 3D! PDFs are a great all around file format. While they can’t be displayed on web pages they are internet friendly and used for White Papers and downloadable forms.


I should mention that PDFs can contain hidden viruses as wel,l and as a result IT professionals loath all things created by Adobe.



WAV files are sound files named accordingly because sound travels in waves. This is a popular file format but the files are generally pretty large.



 MP3, MP4, and MPEGs were named not for the file type but because of the company who developed them; the Moving Picture Experts Group. MP3 are audio files made popular by iTunes because they maintain pretty high quality with a relatively small file size.



a ShockWave Flash file is similar to a FLV. Both files are generated by Flash programs with the same advantages and disadvantages that I mentioned earlier. The main difference is that SWF files are interactive. They are mainly used for banner ads and kid’s games.



There are plenty of other file types out there but these are the main file formats that deal with art. I hope this helped clear up some of the confusion without putting you to sleep.


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