If you run a business in our digital-focused world, you’ve most likely encountered file types. What are the different types of files when dealing with an image or graphic? We’re glad you asked, because whether you’re just a small business owner or a freelancer – getting the right images and files for your needs can be confusing. You might be thinking, I can just send this picture to whoever needs it or upload it to your site or social media. However, by using the wrong file type for let’s say, a profile picture – you’ll be unpleasantly surprised to find an image that’s low quality, cut-off, and massive in size.
Before we start identifying the best files to use for your website or other marketing channels, let’s do a quick overview of what a file type is in general and the most common file types you might encounter.
What Are File Types?
A file type is a classification (or way of identifying) a specific type of file. For example, a PDF and a MP3 file are two different file types that you may have heard of before. But what exactly are those letters after your file name? If you’ve seen a document like “mydocument.PDF”, then you’ve seen a file extension.
A file name is proceeded by a “.” and a combination of letters (or numbers), which are called file extensions. A file extension helps you identify what file type you’re dealing with.
Since we’re focusing more on images and graphics, we’ll be discussing the most common image file types (and which ones are best for your project). Have you ever looked to see what your image’s file type is? To get started, open your file manager (where you can access your images downloaded on your computer).
While not everyone’s PC looks the same, the screenshot above should be relatively similar to your screen (unless you’re on a Apple computer). To access your files from an Apple device, simply go to “Finder” and search for your image there.
Once you’ve found the image or graphic you’re looking for, don’t double click it to open it. We are just going to hover over the file in order to see the file type. In the image below, you can see the file type, date taken (or downloaded), the dimensions and size of your image/graphic, and the title.
This is important because we can now identify what file type each of our images are. Once you’ve discovered what file you currently have, you can make the decision to either use that specific file type, or download/request a new file that better suits your purposes.
Before we can determine which file type is best you’ll need to know the most common file types and what they’re best suited for. Feel free to download our file type cheat sheet for on-the-fly answers to your file type questions.
What are the most common image file types?
When you’re trying to find the best image to upload to your website or social media profile, you’re going to encounter several different file types to choose from. While some of these can be used to upload to your website or social media, there are other image file types that have different purposes. For example, if you needed to send a high-quality graphic to your printer – you may need a different file type than you would if you were uploading a profile photo to your Facebook business page.
To break it down, let’s go over what common image file types are available and what they’re primarily used for.
What Is A JPEG File?
One of the two most recognized image files you’ll see is JPEG (also known as a Joint Photographic Experts Group). A JPEG is known for its “lossy” compression which means as the size of the file decreases, so does the quality of the image. While JPEG’s are widely used on the Internet, in print, and even in documents – it’s important to stay aware of the size of your image. If you want a high-quality image, you’ll need to ensure you don’t make this type of file too small.
What Is A PNG File?
A PNG file is another commonly used image file type that you may use online occasionally. A PNG, or a Portable Network Graphic, is great for amazing online images. Using a PNG is not recommended for printing, but there is a reason PNG’s are so popular. PNG file types are considered lossless, which means you can edit them and not lose quality. However, these files start with low resolution.
The upside of working with a PNG file is you can save any image with much more color and even add a transparent background. This file type is perfect if you need to remove the white or black background from your logo.
What Is A GIF File?
If you need a quick loading image that’s not required to have a high resolution, a GIF is perfect for your web project. GIF’s are normally recognized as small moving animated images that loop. You’ve probably seen GIFS online or on your smart phone, but did you know that GIFs can also be used for images too?
GIF’s only use 256 colors, so they are naturally small files. However, if you have an image with basic colors – a GIF can help you load that image online quickly.
Raster Vs Vector Images/Graphics
While we’ve discussed the most used image file types, there are many more available to use. The three image file types listed above are considered Raster images. Raster images are made up of many pixels that all come together to form your image. If a raster image is resized, compressed, or changed – it often will lose its picture quality.
When using a raster image, it’s important to save the image as the exact dimensions you need. If you save it as one size and then compress or change the image later, you’ll notice a loss in resolution.
To prevent losing resolution in your images, there are file types known as vectors. A vector image is made up of proportional formulas instead of pixels. This gives them much more flexibility in size. Common vector file types include PDF, AI, and EPS, but can range to a variety of different file extensions.
The great thing about vector images is that they can be resized as small as a coin or as large as a billboard. Most often used for logos and other graphics, you can either create your own vector file (you’ll need to use Adobe Illustrator or a similar application) or ask the company that designed your logo to send you the original file. If you are running a business and ever need a new size of graphic, it’s better to have the original file stored so you can quickly access it and resize it on demand.
You’re A Regular File Type Wizard Now!
Getting the right file type for your specific project is CRUCIAL if you want to ensure a high-quality image. Whether you need to upload a picture to your website or print a beautiful family picture – knowing which file type is best can save you a lot of headaches in the future.
Make sure you don’t forget to download our File Type Cheat Sheet, so you’re never stuck wondering which image is best for your project. We look forward to seeing all of you in the new year and can’t wait to bring more great resources to you and your business.