Choosing the Right Graphic File Type for a Publishing Task

Choose Graphics File Formats Based On Task

Vector illustration of file icons, for the most common file types.
Vector illustration of file icons, for the most common file types. Getty Images/Logorilla

Graphics come in many flavors 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.

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 your desktop printer, you may be able to use JPG and other formats including CGM and PCX with acceptable results; however, for high-resolution output EPS and TIFF will provide the least hassles and the best quality. They are the standards for high-resolution printing.

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

If you are sending files out for commercial printing, your service provider may not tell you this but it's likely they are charging extra (and adding time to your print job) to convert your graphics to a print-friendly format. Save time and money by using the right format for the job.

The simple 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:
Screen display under Windows Windows wallpaper
EPS Printing to PostScript printers/Imagesetters High-resolution printing of illustrations
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 lots of colors and transparency
Intermediate image-editing stages for JPG or TIF images
PICT Screen display on Macintosh or printing to non-PostScript printer
TIFF, TIF Printing to PostScript printers High-resolution printing of images
Screen display under Windows or printing to non-PostScript printer Transfer vector images via the clipboard