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The Basics of Exporting Digital Files: The Differences in Formats and Why It Matters

Ekta Mehta 2D graphics 6 Comments

After spending countless hours on a project, the ultimate question arises: How should you export your files? From still images, to video, to audio – different rules apply.

Understanding what separates the varieties of file formats available is only one piece of the puzzle in an ever-expanding art industry. The importance of different file formats and exporting images seems to be often overlooked as well-known knowledge when that is not the case. This article details a general guide to help in your decision-making when exporting a file.

Raster Graphics

Also known as Bitmap. Images are stored as a group of pixels.

.PNG
Portable Network Graphic – PNGs are lossless files and are ideal for transparency, offering alpha channel transparency. They’re also ideal for images that need to be edited further because of how much information they store. Since they store so much information, PNG file sizes are greater than those of JPEGs. Originally created as a replacement for a GIF, it’s the most used lossless image compression format. They also support images with complex color palettes (24-bit RGB, or 32-bit RGBA), along with grayscale, which allows for smoother fades and greater color accuracy. However, it does not support non-RGB color spaces (CMYK), as it was designed for transferring images on the internet. As a result, this makes it unsuitable for printing. Does not support any animation.

.JPEG/.JPG
Joint Photographic Experts Group – JPEGs are a commonly used, basic image format which lack the transparency found in PNGs and TIFFs. Due to a lossy compression method, the overall quality is affected which results in some information loss from the original image each time the file size decreases. They are often small in size and should not be used in situations where an exact replica of an image is needed. Nor are they suitable in situations that require multiple edits of an image, as the quality is lost during each decompression.

.TIFF/.TIF
Tagged Image File Format – TIFFs are usually lossless and offer a wide range of options. They are popular in various artistic industries such as graphic design, photography, and publishing. They are also an ideal format for images with large color-depth. TIFFs are used mainly when it comes to saving an image to be printed and are not ideal for website use as it takes a long time to fully load.

.GIF
Graphics Interchange Format – GIFs are simple animations that are most suitable for sharp-edged line art with limited colors. They’re primarily seen on social media for humorous purposes. They can be used for low-resolution film clips and small animations.

.RAW
A RAW file, sometimes referred to as a digital negative, is unprocessed image data acquired from a digital camera which cannot be printed or edited without file conversion. There are dozens of different raw formats in use, depending on the models of photography equipment. RAW image formats capture the light intensity and color of an image as precisely as possible and can be up to 6 times larger than a JPEG. Most raw formats make use of a lossless data compression to reduce file size without compromising the image quality.

.TGA
TGA files are also known as TARGA files and were made as one of the earlier raster types for specific graphic cards. While older, they are still used for game assets for more graphical color schemes such as cartoons or icons. They support, 8, 15, 16, 24, or 32 Bits. For realistic photos though, other file types give better results.

Vector Graphics

Images represented by curves, lines, points, and polygons.

.EPS
Encapsulated PostScript; a standard format for the importing and exporting of PostScript files. Contains primarily vector, but can sometimes contain raster. Can be placed within another PostScript document, which may allow a preview display on a screen.

.SVG
Scalable Vector Graphics; an image format for 2D graphics, animation and interactivity are supported. All modern web browsers have SVG rendering support. SVG images are defined in XML text files, meaning they can be compressed, indexed, scripted, and searched. They can be created and modified with both drawing software and text editors.

Video

.MOV
QuickTime; enables any form of compression to be used. Capable of handling multiple formats of digital video (GIF, H.264, etc), images (TIFF, JPEG, PNG, etc), and sound (WAV, MP3, AIFF, etc).

.SWF
Small Web Format; lossless. Contains video, vector, and sound. Designed for the most efficiency in sharing over the internet.

.AVI
A container or shell that allows any form of further compression to be used. Holds both audio and video data.

Program Specific

.AI
Adobe Illustrator; most ideal file format. Adored by designers and artists alike for its versatility in creating assets for both web and print. An absolute necessity in the art world, especially since all artwork produced are vectors.

.INDD
Adobe InDesign; a file type created from saving in Adobe InDesign. Used primarily for graphic design, newspapers, eBooks, magazines, and established publications. Raster and vector images may be used to create an ideal blend in a layout.

.PSD
Adobe Photoshop; a type of file that contains layers. Exports raster file types, often seen as a disadvantage in comparison to vector file types.

.PDF
Adobe Acrobat / Adobe Reader; a file type ideal for sharing images on any computer or application. Can be viewed without any design editing software. File can be easily brought back in to make further alterations.

Does Image Resolution Matter?

To put it frankly: it definitely matters, but it depends on the intent of your image. Images can be used for either the web or print, each requiring differing resolutions. Rule of thumb requires 72 DPI (dots per inch) for website displays, while no less than 300 DPI is the standard for printed images. The higher the resolution, the more detail presented in an image. Resolution can be identified by the width and height of an image, and also by the size of the pixels in the image. The number of pixels directly correlates to the amount of information found in an image. However, higher resolution often means a larger file size when exported. Since the majority of images floating around on your search engine of choice are JPEGs, grabbing any old image off the internet will ultimately result in a blocky, pixelated, distorted picture.

When in doubt, export your image with multiple file formats – I know I’ve personally used various formats all for the same image over the span of my time working with the Adobe Suite.

Article written by Dylan Kamalay

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