File formats explained: PDF, PNG and more

Being a great designer is not just about creating excellent designs but is also about providing excellent service. One easy way to do this is by providing the correct file formats to your client.

Not only does this save your client time by avoiding confusion at the printer, it also builds trust and security in your designer-client relationship.

CMYK: Print designs

Photo: garryknight (via Flickr)

When designing for print it is important that you use a CMYK color mode. To learn more about color modes, please read RGB and CMYK: Saving in the Correct File Formats.

The following files are often used when saving print designs:

  • PDF (Portable Document Format) is a file format developed by Adobe Systems that can be universally downloaded and viewed by any computer that has the Adobe Acrobat plug-in. Today, PDFs are widely favored by most designers — it can be saved as an editable file which is great for clients.
  • EPS (Encapsulated PostScript file) is a vector format of your logo. It can be re-sized without losing image quality. Due to it’s high quality, it is commonly used with print elements such as business cards or brochures. If you ever question when to use it, ask yourself, “Will this be used for a high quality print?”
  • TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) is widely supported and works in almost any program. It produces a higher quality image than a JPG or PNG, but is not a vector format like EPS. It is widely used among publishing industries and photographers. It is best used in common things like invoices, page layouts or letterheads.

RGB: Computer-based designs

Photo: Yandle (via Flickr)

When designing for any electronic or computer device, it is important that you use a RGB color mode.

The following files are often used when saving computer-based designs:

  • JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) is a raster file best used for web-based designs because their compressed sizes load quickly. JPG images lose some quality but are great to use for emails, banner designs or anything web-based.
  • PNG (Portable Network Graphics) is a web-based file that does not lose quality when compressed. PNG files were created to improve on the quality of GIF files and are best used for the web.

How to give clients editable files



It is extremely important that you provide working files for your clients incase they need to edit your design in the future.

PSD (Photoshop) and AI (Illustrator) are uncompressed, working files that are created when using Adobe programs. Photoshop is a raster-based program and is mainly used for web-based designs while Illustrator is a vector-based program that is mainly used for logos. You need to provide working files for your clients incase they need to edit your design in the future.

If you use CSD (CorelDRAW), you should also provide the client with an editable PDF or convert your file to AI. For more information on the problems that can occur when doing this, please read CorelDRAW Problems: Publishing as AI and EPS.

By going the extra mile and making sure the client has all the correct files for their new design, you will be set apart as a trusted designer for their business.

What files work the best for you? Let us know in the comments below!

The author

Allison S. Gremillion
Allison S. Gremillion

Based in San Francisco, Allison (Alli) Stuart works as Head of Community Marketing at 99designs. When she's not writing articles and communicating with designers, she is working on her Children's Book. She also enjoys extreme sports, like sky diving and traveling to new places. Alli has a Fine Arts Degree with a concentration in Graphic Design from Louisiana State University, her home. Geaux Tigers!

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