Something that comes up regularly for my nonprofit directors is receiving quality image files and knowing which file format to use when. When I started my career as in-house graphics at The Metropolitan Opera, it was simpler. The images were for printing, there was one size, LARGE, we retouched, and color corrected them. If one of our star’s headshots turned a ghastly green versus a natural skin tone, I might as well not show up to work the next day! The image needed to be the correct color, and it certainly couldn’t be pixelated. Nowadays, a bigger problem is the lack of understanding of file formats. Oh, and everyone thinks they know how to use Photoshop (just because you can do something in the program doesn’t mean you should). Here is what you need to know about photo/art files.

Where do we start and what file format is best? Well, that depends. Is the image a logo/icon or a photograph? Is it for print or digital?

JPG: In general, digital photographs that come from your phone or photographer will be a jpg. The size can be small or large and used on the web or digitally for Powerpoint, etc. The goal is to have the original file before it has been “resized.” You can go from large to small but not back (yes, you technically can do it in Photoshop but DON’T). And, never, ever take a photo and convert it to a PNG! Don’t try to use a jpg that you converted from a PNG either; the quality was lost and is gone forever.

PNG: These files are for non-photo images like logos and some illustrations. They are an excellent file format for your logo to have a transparent background on your website or to place over a background on your slide deck. They are small in size and perfect for the web and digital space, not for print.

TIF: When I am creating something for print like an annual report, I convert the photographs from a high-resolution jpg (300dpi) to a TIF because it prints really well. Not very technical, but know this is the preferred file for printing.

Vector: Logos and icons should be vector. A vector file is scalable without quality loss and can be converted to many file formats for different purposes. You would send that file to your printer, embroiderer, sign company, and graphic designer. It could be labeled as any of these formats: AI, EPS, or PDF.

I hope this gives you a better sense of which format to use and why it’s important. One last thought regarding file size, JPGs should be as small as possible for websites and social media, so they load fast, but they need to be large for print. A great free resource for making your images load fast on the web is tinyjpg.com.