Demystifying Design File Types: A Comprehensive Guide

February 23, 2022 2023-08-02T14:16:14
Demystifying Design File Types: A Comprehensive Guide

Designers and creatives work with a vast array of file types so their work can be used on a variety of different print and digital collateral effectively. From digital illustrations to web designs, understanding the different design file formats is essential for smooth collaboration, seamless sharing, and effective project management. In this blog, we will explore the most common design file types, their specific characteristics, and the applications they are commonly associated with.


Vector Files

Vector file formats are used for storing images using mathematical formulas to represent shapes, lines, and colors. They offer several advantages, including scalability without loss of quality, making them ideal for various design applications. Let’s explore the differences between the most common vector file formats:

1. AI (Adobe Illustrator) | File Extension: .ai

AI is the native file format of Adobe Illustrator, a widely used vector graphics software. It supports multiple artboards, layers, text, shapes, and gradients. AI files are editable and preserve all the design elements, making them perfect for complex illustrations and artwork. It’s important to note however, AI files are proprietary to Adobe Illustrator and usually require additional software or conversion to open in other applications. These files are most often handed off from one designer to another to allow editability. 

2. EPS (Encapsulated PostScript) | File Extension: .eps

EPS files are widely used in print and publishing environments. They contain vector graphics, and they can also include bitmap images. EPS files are versatile and can be opened by various design applications and print devices. If you’re putting together a poster, pamphlet, or any print collateral, consider using an .eps file for all logos and illustrations to ensure maximum quality. 

3. SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) | File Extension: .svg

SVG is a popular web-based vector format widely supported by browsers and web design applications. SVG files are XML-based, making them human-readable and easy to edit with a text editor. They offer great scalability, allowing smooth scaling without compromising quality. SVG files are widely used for web graphics, icons, logos, and interactive elements. If you’re adding a logo to a website for example, .svg is the way to go as opposed to the commonly used JPEG or PNG files which are rasterized and often much lower quality. 

4. PDF (Portable Document Format) | File Extension: .pdf

While PDFs are commonly associated with documents, they can also store vector graphics. PDF files are widely used for digital distribution, print-ready documents, and graphics. They preserve vector elements, fonts, and images while ensuring consistent display across different devices and operating systems. PDFs are highly versatile and can be opened by various applications with PDF support. 

Raster Files

Raster file formats store images as a grid of pixels, with each pixel containing color and brightness information. These formats are widely used for photographs and complex graphics, but they do not scale well without losing quality. Let’s explore the differences between some common raster file formats:

1. JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) | File Extension: .jpg, .jpeg

JPEG is one of the most popular raster file formats for photographs and web images. It uses lossy compression, which means that it sacrifices some image quality to reduce file size. As a result, JPEGs are suitable for images where some loss of detail is acceptable, and they offer small file sizes. However, excessive compression can lead to visible artifacts and reduced image quality.  

2. PNG (Portable Network Graphics) | File Extension: .png

PNG is a widely used raster file format that supports lossless compression. It preserves image quality without any loss of data, making it ideal for graphics, logos, and images with transparent backgrounds. PNGs are commonly used on websites and in digital designs where maintaining image clarity and transparency is crucial. One common misconception is you can have a white logo as a JPEG with a transparent background. This wouldn’t be possible, as JPEG images don’t offer transparency while PNG images DO. However, PNG files tend to be larger than JPEGs due to their lossless nature.

3. GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) | File Extension: .gif

GIF is a raster file format primarily used for simple animations and graphics with limited colors. It supports transparency and animation, making it popular for small, lightweight animations and social media stickers. GIFs use lossless compression for animation frames, but they have a limited color palette (256 colors), which can result in reduced image quality for complex graphics.

4. PSD (Adobe Photoshop Document) | File Extension: .psd

Similar to AI for vector files, PSD is the native file format of Adobe Photoshop, a powerful raster image editing software. PSD files support multiple layers, adjustment layers, masks, and other advanced features, making them suitable for complex photo editing and graphic design projects. While PSD files can be quite large due to their layered structure, they offer unmatched flexibility and edibility within Adobe Photoshop.


Designers work with an impressive variety of file types, each tailored to specific needs and applications. Whether it’s vector graphics for scalability and precision, or raster graphics for detailed images, understanding the characteristics and appropriate use of each design file type is essential for successful projects. By grasping the strengths and limitations of various formats, designers can optimize their workflows, collaborate seamlessly with team members, and deliver stunning visual creations that leave a lasting impact


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