Choosing the Right Graphic File Type for a Publishing Task

Choose graphics file formats based on task

What publishing format saves images?

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Graphics come in many file formats but not all file formats are suitable for all purposes. How do you know which is best? In general, there are graphics formats suitable for printing and those for on-screen viewing or online publishing. Within each group, there are also formats that are better than others for the same task.

What Publishing Format Saves Images?

As a general rule:

  • Use GIF, PNG, and JPG for online publishing.
  • Use EPS and TIFF for print publishing.

If all your printing is sent to a desktop printer, use JPG and other formats including CGM and PCX with acceptable results. For high-resolution output, EPS and TIFF provide the least problems and the best quality. EPS and TIFF are the standards for high-resolution printing.

In addition to the formats in the chart shown below, there are proprietary graphics file formats. These are bitmap or vector formats used by specific graphics programs. Although some desktop publishing software recognizes the common formats such as PSD from Adobe Photoshop (bitmap) or CDR from CorelDRAW (vector), it's generally best to convert these images to TIF or EPS or other common graphics file formats.

If you send files out for commercial printing, your service provider may charge extra (and add time to your print job) to convert graphics to a print-friendly format. Save time and money by using the right format for the job.

The chart below outlines the best use of several common formats. Match the format to your job either by starting with graphics in that format or by converting other artwork to the desired format.

Format Designed For Top Choice For
BMP Screen display under Windows Windows wallpaper
EPS Printing to PostScript printers and Imagesetters High-resolution printing of illustrations
PDF Screen display, especially the web Online publishing of non-photographic images
JPEG, JPG Screen display, especially the web Online publishing of photographic images
PNG Replacement for GIF and, to a lesser extent, JPG and TIF Online publishing of illustrations with many colors and transparency, intermediate image-editing stages for JPG or TIF images
PICT Screen display on Macintosh or printing to non-PostScript printer Exchanging graphics between various Macintosh applications.
TIFF, TIF Printing to PostScript printers High-resolution printing of images
SVG Screen display under Windows or printing to non-PostScript printer Transfer vector images via the clipboard