Which Image File Type Should I Use?

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When using photos and imagery in marketing materials, it’s crucially important to use the appropriate image file type. In short, not all image files are created equal, nor do they perform equally. But with so many different file types floating around — JPG, PNG, GIF, PDF, EPS and more — how do you know which format is best?

NC State Extension Marketing and Communications has developed a simple guide to help you determine which image file type you should use for various resources.

Image File Type Guide

To determine the type of image file you need, start by confirming the final format and intended purpose of the resource you’re developing. For example, are you creating a t-shirt? A booklet for printing? A video clip?

From there, refer to the guidelines below to identify the appropriate file types based on the resource format.

  • Web / Digital Resources: JPG, PNG or GIF
    Incl. websites, Office programs, social media, etc.
  • Printed Items: EPS or PDF
    Incl. apparel, promos / swag, publications, posters, banners, signage, etc.
  • Videos: JPG or PNG
    Incl. all video clips (export the final video as MP4)

Along with the file type, the size and resolution also affect overall image quality. Learn more about Image Size and Quality and how each factor impacts image quality.

Overview of Common Image File Types

In addition to the details below, review this Guide to Image File Types from Adobe for a good summary of the differences between file types and how best to use them.

  • .EPS (Encapsulated Postscript)
    EPS is a vector file, which can be used at any size without loss of resolution or quality. EPS files can be imported into some document types (like PowerPoint), but design programs like Illustrator are needed to edit or create an EPS. Vendors typically require EPS files, which are a gold standard for print materials.
  • .GIF (Graphics Interchange Format)
    GIF is a type of raster file, which are images built from pixels. While GIF files are often smaller than JPG or PNG, the image is not as sharp (GIFs support fewer colors). GIF is a go-to format for animated images, like memes or web graphics.
  • .JPG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)
    JPG files are another type of raster file (made of pixels). The more pixels an image has, the higher quality it will be, and vice versa. Resizing a JPG / raster file stretches the pixels, for example, which can result in a blurry image. JPGs are best used for digital resources, like websites, social, etc.
  • .PDF (Portable Document Format)
    PDF is a unique file type from Adobe, which creates a high-quality replica of any file. PDFs should only be used on websites as a print option and not in place of text. PDFs can sometimes be used for printing, as many PDFs are vector files (while others are raster files). It depends on the program used to create the file. To quickly see if a PDF is a printable vector file, resize the image to see if it gets pixelated (if so, it’s not a vector).
  • .PNG (Portable Network Graphics)
    PNGs are similar to JPGs — yet another raster file — but they retain higher image quality and can have transparent backgrounds. PNGs are great for digital and web uses, especially images that include text, like infographics, instructions, text banners or screenshots.

Raster vs. Vector Images

For practical purposes, only vector files should be used when printing materials. Raster files are more appropriate for digital and web applications. PDF does not fit neatly into one category, and can be either a raster or vector file depending on the program in which it was created.

Common Raster File Types
Raster files can be opened and edited in a variety of software, including the Office Suite and Adobe Photoshop.

  • Joint Photographic Experts Group (.JPEG or .JPG)
  • Portable Network Graphics (.PNG)
  • Graphics Interchange Format (.GIF)
  • Tagged Image File Format (.TIFF)
  • Adobe Photoshop File (.PSD)

Common Vector File Types
Vector files can be opened and edited only in vector design software like Adobe Illustrator.

  • Scalable Vector Graphics (.SVG)
  • Encapsulated PostScript File (.EPS)
  • Adobe Illustrator File (.AI)
  • PostScript (.PS)
  • Enhanced MetaFile (.EMF)

Extension Logo Files

Extension logos are available in a variety of file formats for a range of resources.

Visit the Extension brand site to find more photo and image resources.