illustration for blog post about file formatting in graphic design

A Non-Designers Guide to Design Jargon: File Format & Elements

September 20, 2021


Whether you are a small business owner working with a design team, a content creator who enlists the help of a freelance graphic designer, or a lady with a side hustle creating your own visual content, it’s important to know and understand design basics and terminology so that you can more effectively communicate with the visual designers you collaborate with and better understand content surrounding the topic as you learn more about design.

Now, like with any profession, there are a lot of nitty gritty details and information surrounding graphic design, but what I’m focusing on here is the information that will best help you as a non-designer or DIY designer. In order to do this, I have broken down the information into different category based articles and focus on terms that I think will be more useful to you.

The third design jargon category I wanted to go over, and maybe the most important for any non-designer who works with creatives, is file format and elements. In this article I am going to cover the different kinds of files that designers work with and share, as well as some of the important things you’ll find in those files.

infographic illustration for blog post about file formatting in graphic design

1. EPS | Stands for “Encapsulated PostScript” and is a file that lets people share vector-based artwork so that it can be edited and resized later by someone else. This is great for sharing things like logos and other graphics illustrated and designed by a creative.

2. SVG | “Scalable Vector Graphics” which, like an EPS file, also stores vector-based graphics. This format is ideal if you have vector art (like logos, infographics, diagrams, etc.) that you want to use on a website or social media because it can be scaled without losing any detail. This kind of format doesn’t work for raster images like photographs though.

3. PDF | “Portable Document File”. This is a format you are probably familiar with and see most often because it is super versatile and accessible. These files are usually vector-based, but can also be raster based depending on how they’re saved, and can be used for both print and digital purposes.

4. JPEG | These are raster-based and are mainly used for things like photographs . This format allows you to greatly reduce the size of an image so that it is easier to share and send. These files are really useful for printing, but keep in mind, compressing the file too much will cause it to be pixelated.

5. PNG | “Portable Network graphics”. This is another raster-based file format that is best for web-based uses. What’s special about PNGs is that, unlike other formats, they allow you to use a transparent background behind your graphics.

6. TIFF | Or TIF stands for “Tagged Image File Format”. These are ideal for photographs and graphics that you want to print (printed photographs, magazines, advertising materials, etc.) because of their high quality. These are usually larger files than JPEGs and PNGs so, while they are great for printing, they may slow down your website or make your digital files really large.

7. RAW | These are images that come from digital cameras and scanners that are uncompressed, meaning they have the fullest amount of detail that the camera or scanner could capture. These files tend to be pretty large because they are not compressed like a JPEG, PNG, and TIFF file is.

8. GIF | “Graphics Interchange Format” allows you to save animated images by holding multiple images and displaying them in a sequence.

Designer Tip: File size matters and needs to match your intended use. If you use a large file on your website it will really slow down the page and may not load, while if you try to print a small and greatly compressed file it will come out pixilated and of poor quality.

9. PSD | This file format native to Adobe Photoshop.

10. AI | The file format native to Adobe Illustrator

11. INDD | The file format native to Adobe InDesign

Designer Tip: When it comes PSD, AI, and INDD files, they are really only useful to you if you have access to the Adobe program associated with them. That being said, they can be useful to have on hand to share with freelance designers or design teams that you work with because these will give them the greatest editing capabilities.

12. Crop Marks | Also called trim marks, are lines printed in the corners of a page/image/document that indicates where it needs to be cut.

13. Margin | A margin is like a safety zone. It’s a space between the content or artwork and where a page will be cut that prevents you from losing anything if a cut isn’t perfect.

14. Bleed | This is content that goes beyond the cut area so there are no slivers of space left by an imperfect cut. You need bleed if you have an image, photo, or background color that goes off a page.

15. White Space | The empty space that is around your content and in between design elements. It keeps a design from looking cluttered, cramped, and hard to read.

Designer Tip: It’s important to make sure you have enough white space so your content is easy to digest, but how much you include after that point can be considered a stylistic choice and can change the look and feel of your design. For example, by using more white space you can give your design a more sophisticated and modern look