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  • Writer's pictureJudith Davison

JPEG vs PDF. Does it really matter?

PDF, AI, JPEG, PNG, PSD, INDD, GIF, TIFF. Arggggh, so confusing. Even for those of us who studied it at university! Clients often tell me a big area of confusion for them is different file types and when to use what.

Fortunately your designer will handle the more technical side....most of the time. However, if you are involved in marketing and design for a small business or your own start up, chances are you will come across these terms.

This quick cheat guide should help with the lingo!


Before we get started

First a few helpful pointers before we dive in. Let's split the files types into two categories: Working Files & End Files.

1. Working Files (or artwork files): AI, PSD and INDD. Working files are the original files your designer sets up when creating artwork for you. They are most likely working in one of the programs from the Adobe Creative Suite*. The most common Adobe programs your designer will use to create your work are Illustrator (AI), Photoshop (PSD) and InDesign (INDD). To view these types of files you must have the relevant Adobe program installed on your computer.

2. End files: JPEG, PNG, GIF, TIFF, PDF. These working files are then converted to a wide range of file types that are more readily available without a special program on your computer (e.g. JPEG, PDF or PNG). Many of these end files are interchangeable and can be converted into each other but generally they are used for different purposes.


Let's compare


Key takeaways

Before your eyes glaze over, here's 5 key points of difference you might find helpful:

  1. AI files are scalable. Other files (including PSD and JPEGs) are not. This means if you enlarge an AI file, you will not lose any quality. If you enlarge other files, they will gradually lose quality - aka - a blurry image!

  2. Transparent backgrounds. Can be tricky! If you are asked for file with a transparent background, then you need to provide either the original artwork (AI) or a PNG file. I'll spare you with the technicalities as to why this is the case (one word - compression..... see - need to know basis!)

  3. Artwork files are key. You may never see one but you should know that some designers, agencies and logo sweat shops (aka fiver.com) retain these files which becomes problematic for clients down the road if changes are needed. It's a good idea to clear this upfront when starting work with a designer.

  4. JPEG, TIFF, PNG and GIF are all essentially the same type of file - they all squash an image into a storable/sharable form. The difference lies in the quality of the image and the size of the file. None of these types are not multi-page files.

  5. JPEG quality drops when images are edited and saved. If you plan to continually edit your files, JPEG is not the format for the job. But if you need to display photos online, JPEGs are just right.

I hope that sheds some light on file types. While you are contemplating how did things get so confusing..... let's all be thankful that at least we don't have to deal with floppy discs anymore!

* a side note for the designer savvy.... yes there are definitely more options outside of Adobe programs to work with. However in my experience the most accepted industry-standard programs are the Adobe ones.

The Jones Creative Studio helps niche businesses and start-ups navigate the world of marketing & design. Follow them on Instagram @thejonescreative

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