Here’s a tip I wish I’d known earlier…but why are there so many damn formats???!!!

June 28, 2012 at 12:52 pm (Day to day updates of my project research and development)

Here’s a great article that’s helping me to recreate my first chapter draft and produce the best graphics possible. I want to get this chapter perfect before I do the rest so I can confidently say that I like how it looks. Scary times, these are!

TIFF vs PSD vs EPS vs PDF vs…

It seems like every few months this topic pops up again: Which is the best file format to use for graphics? Some folks insist that everyone should use EPS and TIFF. Others think AI and PSD. And what about PNG or JPEG?! Here’s my take on the subject, after over 20 years of doing this:

EPS is a dying format. There is virtually no reason for you to ever save anything yourself as EPS. Here are good reasons to use an EPS file:

  • if you already have an old vector graphic (from Illustrator or Freehand or something);
  • if some software is making it for you (such as this Barcode plug-in); in this case, the software is likely doing special stuff that can only be done in PostScript, then encapsulated in the eps.

PDF is the current and future of publishing. If you have a vector Illustrator document, save it in PDF or AI (see below). The only reason to save a Photoshop document as a PDF is if you have vector type or “shape” layers. (No other format, besides eps, can save vector info from PS.)

AI (native Illustrator format) is great for most files from Illustrator, as long as you’re not using them in other programs. If you’re going to use them in something other than InDesign, consider using PDF instead. By the way, if you save an .ai file, make sure you include the PDF in it (that’s an option when saving), or else InDesign can’t read it.

PSD (native Photoshop format) is great for most files from Photoshop, as long as you’re not using them programs other than InDesign, and there’s no vector stuff in there that you’re trying to save. PSD has the benefit over TIFF in that it can save layers, layer comps, and duotones (or tri- or quadtone images).

TIFF is a terrific format that everyone can agree is useful, at least for raster (bitmapped) images in print workflows. You have the option to save transparency and layered files. A few years ago, I used TIFF for everything, but I have to admit that I’ve strayed more recently to PSD and JPEG. The main reason to use TIFF (instead of JPEG or PSD) is when you need a bitmapped image suitable for a lot of different programs, not just InDesign.

JPEG (or JPG, if you’re a three-letter extension kind of person) is totally great, as long as you’re talking about photographic images. Yes, you can use this for print, too, if you use the Excellent/Maximum quality. (There are plenty of people who say never use it for print. These are the same people who say that all printing must be done gravure. Ignore them.) For synthetic images with sharp lines (such as type on a solid background), JPEG is not so good because you’ll see artifacts. Of course, images saved with lower quality (higher compression) will also show artifacts, so be careful. Also, JPEG isn’t so good if you’re going to be editing the file repeatedly — it’s really a final-version file format. If you’re going to be editing the file in the future, consider PSD.

PNG is great for interactive documents (such as EPUB or HTML export), but not for print. This is the format you should use (instead of JPEG) if your graphics are solid colors against solid colors (sharp, non-photographic edges).

These days, when it comes to Photoshop images, I generally save PSD about 60% of the time, JPEG 20% of the time, and the rest split up between PDF, TIFF, and PNG. For Illustrator graphics, I use AI about 75% of the time, PDF about 20%, and other stuff about 5%.

There are lots of other formats, such as the old DCS (required for spot colors in the dark ages; not I just use PSD or PDF), GIF (not really relevant; png is better in many cases), and PICT (you’re kidding, right?)… but you’re going to be happiest if you stick with one of the formats above.


1 Comment

  1. John Neimier said,

    Oddest but useful thing you can place in an InDesign file as a Graphic is another INDD file! I went to print with a file with 2 .indd files placed as graphics, after making sure the printer could handle it and had a heads up, but InDesign collected not only the final file but the two linked to it as well. Why? I had two extensive diagrams with fly-outs that needed extensive style sheets, graphics and tables that I didn’t want to attempt in Illustrator – plus there was an English, French and Spanish version of them. The prepress people at the printer didn’t even realize they were there because they collected perfectly through ID.

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