What Are the Best File Formats for Printing?

It can be difficult to decide the best file format for printing. The answer isn’t that simple - the file type you use depends on your print project and the results you’re after. You might ask yourself something like 'Should I save it as a PDF?’ amongst a whole host of other questions.

the right file format for printing

Read on for a breakdown on file formats to decide what’s best for your needs.

First, Let's Talk About Raster And Vector Images

This all depends on what you’re looking for. But first, let’s explore a few key ideas.

Before deciding on the best specific file format for your printing needs, we need to go through the differences between vector and raster images. This will help you in the long run to preparing print-ready media.

Raster vs vector Images

Raster and vector are two ways an image can be constructed digitally. Raster images are more commonly used and are made up of pixels. We traditionally use pixel images when we take photos or create web graphics. 

One downside to pixels is, of course, pixelation. As you zoom into an image, it blurs. So if you want to create large format printed media such as a billboard, a raster image can make your final product blurry.

When printing raster images, RAW file formats usually offer the best resolution. Unfortunately, there are a lot of printers out there that don’t accept such a large and uncompressed file. 

Alternatively, some printers use TIFF/TIF, a file format popular in the photography and publishing industries. These files are huge but produce a high-quality image for subsequent printing.

Vector images, on the other hand, are created using geometric shapes. This means that you can enlarge them to pretty much any size, without losing any sharpness, clarity or detail. 

When printing vector images, the best file format to use is PDF. It’s a universally accepted file format and can retain the detail of complex vector images. A vector will start out as an Encapsulated PostScript (EPS) file, which is then resized in editing software such as Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop and then exported as a PDF.


What File Formats Can You Use?

TIFF/TIF and PDF aren’t the only file formats you can use. When considering which one will be best, it all depends on what you want to achieve in your final printed product. Here are some more file formats to choose from:

  • JPEG - This is probably the most common image format. It’s a compressed raster (pixel-based) format used for photos and graphics. The compression levels are easily adjustable. A low compression setting can make JPEGs perfect for all types of print projects, such as brochures, magazines, packaging and posters.
  • AI - If you use Adobe Illustrator, AI will be your default image format. It works really well with vector image editing and can be exported in several other formats such as PDF, TIFF/TIF or JPEG.
  • PSD - If Photoshop is your software of choice, PSD will be your default file format. The only drawback is that printers will usually not recognise this format, so you’ll need to export your files into TIFF/TIF or JPEG before printing.

Printing with a CMYK Colour Model 

When you’re saving a raster image in your editing software, you’ll need to choose a colour model. There are two basic colour models, additive and subtractive. When printing, make sure you choose a CMYK colour model. Here’s the lowdown.

The most common additive model is RGB. This model uses light to create colour and is used when creating digital media. It combines red, green and blue to create other colours (hence the name). RGB is known as an additive colour model because when all three colours of light are shown in the same intensity simultaneously, they produce white. Inversely, if the lights are out, it produces black.

The model you must use for printing is CMYK. CMYK is a subtractive colour model which adds pigment in the form of ink or dye to subtract white from an image. It uses four ink colours - cyan, magenta, yellow and black. This is the model printers use in their process and produces the best colour clarity.


Prepare Your Artwork for Printing With Insights From Experts 

With deadlines looming and the clock ticking before you launch your online campaign, we could understand if making sure your file is a PDF is the least of your worries. 

Here at B&B Press, we’re always trying to make it easier for our customers. That’s why we’ve created a brilliant print guide to advise and inspire you through each stage of creating your print. 

For more tips on preparing artwork for print, you can contact an expert printing professional like B&B Press or download our ‘Guide to Creating Brilliant Print’ below.

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