Understanding File Types

Every so often, you might find yourself knee-deep not just in a corn field but also in a sea of digital files. 

Whenever we’re finishing up a project or campaign, you will likely receive an array of file types. When you’re ready to get your new visuals out there or send off your files to the printer, how do you know which one to choose?

Let’s review the types of files and when and where to use them. 


.JPG – The Universal Visual 

What is it? The .jpg or JPEG is your go-to for photographs. 

When and where to use it? Use .jpg files for social media posts, website images, and email marketing where you want beautiful images without slowing down the page load time. 


.PNG – The Transparency Queen 

What is it? PNGs support transparency, allowing your images to blend seamlessly with different backgrounds.

When and where to use it? Perfect for logos or images that need to overlay text on your website, print materials, or presentation slides, maintaining crisp edges without a white box around them. 

A note on Hi-res vs. Low-res: Hi-res images are rich in detail and quality (300 dpi), perfect for print. Low-res images are better suited for online use (72 dpi).


.GIF – The Animation-Maker

What is it? GIFs are for those times you need a bit of animation – be it animating an icon or a super short, looping video clip without sound.

When and where to use it? Use them on your social media or website. Just remember, they’re not high-quality, but rather for capturing attention and movement.


.SVG – The Web Wizard

What is it? Scalable Vector Graphics (SVGs) are ideal for web use, allowing for crisp graphics at any zoom level, with the bonus of small file sizes. 

When and where to use it? Use SVG files for website icons, logos, and illustrations that need to look sharp on any screen. 

Bonus: SVGs are particularly nifty because you don’t have to be a designer to use them. Canva allows you to upload SVG files, making it easy to scale and change the colors of your graphics.


.EPS – The Printer’s Best Friend

What is it? EPS files are vector images that can be resized without losing quality, ideal for printed materials.

When and where to use it? Whenever you’re dealing with large format printing – think posters, banners, or even billboards – an EPS file is best. Your printer will thank you!


.PDF – The All-Rounder

What is it? The Portable Document Format or PDF is like the Swiss Army knife of documents, preserving the formatting across all devices. 

When and where to use it? Use PDFs for annual reports, brochures, and factsheets that you intend to share where they look the same no matter where they’re opened, from a computer to a phone. 


.AI – The Creative Canvas

What is it? AI files are the native format of Adobe Illustrator, used for creating complex illustrations and logos that are vector-based, thus scalable to any size.

When and where to use it? Ideal for the design phase. You might not handle these directly, but your graphic designer will use them to ensure your visuals look sharp at any size. 


.INDD – The Layout Master

What is it? INDD stands for Adobe InDesign Document, used for more complex layouts like magazines, brochures, or reports that combine images and text. 

When and where to use it? When creating layouts for print or digital publishing, your designer will likely work in INDD to bring images and text copy to life in a visually appealing way.


.PSD – The Photo Editor

What is it? Ah, the legendary Photoshop Document, or PSD, allows designers to manipulate images with endless possibilities.

When and where to use it? You might not send these files directly to your audience or printer, but they are crucial in the editing phase for your designer. 

Navigating these file types can often feel overwhelming but with a little knowledge about each, you can ensure you’re using the right file type for any project. And, as always, we’re here to help at every stage. 

For a quick reference guide, download the below infographic.

McCracken powers the brands that help our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities succeed. Let’s connect when you’re ready to start your next project!

Written by:
Eliza Mertz
Digital Content Manager at McCracken. She makes your media matter through interactive digital experiences.
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