Understanding File Types

PSD, JPG, PDF, IDK? Acing the basics of this alphabet soup will save time and hassle whenever you share files with printers or design teams, and make sure brand visuals always look their best.

At Circa, we see this kind of stuff a lot: high-res photos from expensive professional shoots getting lost or swapped for low quality versions by accident; logo files reduced to small, low-resolution save-outs when working master files get lost; artwork from print ads repurposed, unchanged, on bloated websites that take forever to load.

Believe it or not, there’s a real cost associated with misused file types and improper file production, and this crash course will help you avoid expensive missteps along the way.

Understanding File Types Report Card
Understanding File Types Report Card
Understanding File Types Report Card


Encapsulated PostScript and Adobe Illustrator—two vector-based outputs that help your brand scale. (Pun and mnemonic device intended. You’re welcome.) From super small to billboard-sized, vector graphics can be enlarged without restriction or pixelation. Perfect for digital illustrations and logos (more on Circa’s logo file process here), these file types ensure crisp, polished images at any size for any purpose.

Fun Fact: Vector images are much faster and easier to edit, so designers will spend less time editing and repurposing artwork created in vector programs from the start.


Portable Network Graphics are digital-use files with lossless compression. This makes them ideal for high-contrast, high-detail graphics and photography because there’s no loss in quality when they’re saved. Most importantly, this file type supports transparency, so it’s perfect for layering on top of other graphics without an awkward white background getting in the way. They are not ideal for printing because they don’t save in CMYK color mode. (Curious about color modes? We cover that here.)


Joint Photographic Experts Group is also often shortened to JPG. Versatile and highly customizable, JPGs are a safe bet a lot of the time. Use them at full resolution for print, or compress them to balance weight, load time, and image quality on the web.

Pro Tip: JPEGs lose quality each time you resave them, so make sure you keep an alternate file type as your high res original (Like a TIFF), and save new versions from that instead.


Tagged Image File Formats are big source files often used by illustrators and photographers. They are ideal for high-quality printing and won’t degrade as they are saved over and over again (unlike a JPG).

Pro Tip: If you’re working with an outside design team, when they request high res original photos, send TIFFs. They’ll know you know your stuff. 


Photoshop Documents are working files within Adobe Photoshop. From photo editing to graphic design and even animation, Photoshop is a workhorse with creative capacity beyond what its name suggests. Notably, this file format uses layers so that text and imagery can be arranged and edited easily.

Fun Fact: Adobe is industry standard at this point, and it’s what we use at Circa. But, If you’re looking for budget-friendly alternatives, GIMP works in a pinch, and some of our team really like Affinity.


Portable Document Format files are universal file types (mostly for documents, but often for images and logos, too) that retain formatting, type settings and color fidelity across devices. For designers, that means digital documents will look sharp no matter how they’re opened, and for printers, it means type and colors will reproduce accurately.

Pro Tip: PDFs can be opened as layered working files in Adobe Illustrator, so pass them to your design crew as an alternative to .Ai files if you have them.

Download a printable checklist.

Save it. Print it. Keep it handy.

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