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 — your file type depends on your print project and the results you’re after. You might ask yourself, ‘Should I save it as a PDF?’ among other questions.

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

First, Let's Talk About Raster And Vector Images

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

Raster vs vector Images

Raster and vector are two ways of constructing an image digitally. Raster images are more commonly used and are made up of pixels. We traditionally use pixel images when taking photos or creating web graphics. 

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

When printing raster images, RAW file formats usually offer the best resolution. Unfortunately, there are many 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 you can enlarge them to any size without losing sharpness, clarity or detail. 

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


What File Formats Can You Use?

TIFF/TIF and PDF aren’t the only file formats you can use. Considering which is best depends on what you want to achieve in your final printed product. Here are more file formats to choose from:

  • JPEG - This is 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 well with vector image editing and can be exported in formats like PDF, TIFF/TIF or JPEG.
  • PSD - If Photoshop is your software of choice, PSD will be your default file format. The only drawback is printers will usually not recognise this format, so you must export your files into TIFF/TIF or JPEG before printing.

Printing with a CMYK Colour Model 

When 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 select a CMYK colour model.

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 light colours are simultaneously shown at the same intensity, they produce white. Inversely, if the lights are out, it produces black.

The model to use for printing is CMYK. CMYK is a subtractive colour model that adds pigment in ink or dye to subtract white from an image. It uses four ink colours — cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Printers use this in their process and produce the best colour clarity.


Untitled design (1)

A Note on Sustainability

Choosing the best file format for printing is one of many considerations when planning your projects. It’s also important to consider the sustainability of your print campaign and opt for an eco-friendly solution.

When it comes to marketing through print, it's a smart move for sustainability. The paper industry takes care by planting more trees than they harvest, adding around 1.9 billion trees to the planet every year.

Picking sustainable printing options can really make a difference for the Earth. It's not just about using recycled paper – there are other ways to be eco-friendly in your print campaigns while still getting top-quality results.

Marketing manager's sustainability guide

Prepare Your Artwork for Printing With Insights From Experts 

To determine the best file format for printing, you should initially assess the needs of your project and then decide which format would be most suited to those needs. 

You may use PDF for larger printing jobs, whereas JPEG may be sufficient for smaller jobs. Knowing about the best file formats for printing can achieve the best results for your campaign.

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

Here at B&B Press, we always try 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 developing your print. 

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

New Call-to-action

Explore the
Best of Green
Printing Tips

You’re probably well aware of the growing importance and demand of eco-friendly products.

Modern technology has made these kinds of items increasingly cheaper to produce and more visually appealing. They’re a great way of lowering your business’ environmental impact - but how exactly do you produce the best kind of print using these methods?

Our checklist will give you the best advice for creating an impactful sustainable print solution.