Printing Basics Part 4 – File Formats

file types
There are a number of different file formats used in printing, and they depend largely on what program your print design was created in, as well as what kind of printing process will be involved in its creation.

The most common image format at the moment is likely the JPG. This is because it can exist in various color modes, including RGB (for viewing on a computer or device) and CMYK (the most common for printing). JPG files can also be compressed to reduce file size – though this is not recommended for printing. The more information in the file, the better the print will look.

PDF – which stands for Portable Document File – has become the most common “professional” file format because it allows for preservation of vector graphics, which print sharper than other types of graphics that are rasterized. They are essentially geometric shapes that can be scaled without loss of quality, whereas rasterized images (such as JPG) are created by pixels that will distort when stretched to increase size. This means PDF files can be used in many print jobs and still allow for high detail in a small file size.

Of all of the image formats available for usage, JPG and PDF are likely the most common because of their simplicity and relatively small files size. Many designers, however, will also provide you their design files, which are typically program specific, and popularly a part of the adobe family. These file types include the PSD – Photoshop and AI – Illustrator files. TIFF, or Tag Image File Format, files are also commonly used in printing.

There are quite a few image formats that you should avoid whenever possible. These are often created with the intention of keeping the file size to an absolute minimum in mind and usually the kinds of files that are created for publishing online. However with printing, the larger the file, the better the print will look. If you were consistently viewing print-ready files from your mobile device, your data usage would skyrocket in comparison to web formats.

A few of these smaller, web-friendly formats include PNG and GIF and are not recommended for printing. This is particularly because they use compression that reduces detail in favor of smaller file sizes.

So what do you do when you have an image that is for the web (PNG, GIF, etc) but you want to print it? If the file is at a high enough resolution or simply large enough, you may be able to convert to JPG by simply re-saving the file. However, if the image is very small because it is intended for the web, there is next to nothing that you can do aside from trying to recreate the image.

Some printing requires specialty formats, such as a Photoshop EPS file. In this case, this may be a result of needing a masking layer to position spot UV or spot inks in addition to the CMYK color layers. Other formats may include metadata for the printing press – such as some PDF files that have specific color profiles.

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