Images bring life to any marketing campaign, so it's essential to have a good grasp of the most popular digital image formats to know how best to explore them for various effects.
Each digital file format is designed for specific purposes and less optimal for certain purposes that others are ideal for. Using the wrong image format at the right place can cause myriads of problems both on the admin end and the user end, from poor web display to slow loading speeds and broken image attachments in messages.
The quickest ways to learn how to choose image formats properly is to gain a good grasp of the key differences between the two main categories of digital image files, raster and vector files.
Raster File Formats
These are images formed by a grid of coloured dots called pixels. They're resolution-dependent, implying that once created, they remain locked in their original dimensions. When expanded, each individual grid is simply stretched in equal proportion to the others, with their colour concentrations thinning out and image ultimately becoming blurrier. At a certain limit, the colour dots can become overdrawn, your image-processing software might not be able to read the contents and might try sussing them out with guesswork, leading to an even messier image.
Raster images are generally ideal for photographs, and some digital graphics such as banners and email graphics due to their legacy support of these formats in various web browsers and email clients. The most commonly used types of raster files include JPEG\JPG, PNG, GIF, TIFF and BMP.
Vector File Formats
On the other hand, vector images are based on calculable points, lines, and curves that a computing device can easily replicate. Each equation can be ascribed various attributes such as thickness, colour, angling, etc. When you enlarge or reduce the size of a vector image, your computer simply renders the original equation of the points, lines, and curves on a larger scale, retaining every bit of detail on the new scale. In other words, vector files are resolution-independent.
The most commonly used vector files are SVG, PDF, AI, and ESP. These files are mostly used by professional graphic designers to create logos, illustrations, and a host of other types of graphics where scalability is important.
How to Determine Which Type of Image Format to Use
Using the wrong image format in the right place might dent your brand image, depending on the severity of the issues it creates on the user end. For instance, some raster file formats are generally not recommended for logos because your logo could turn up blurry and amateurish if the receiving device has a larger screen resolution.
When scalability, quality, and colour are crucial to the effects of an image, you should generally opt for a vector file like SVG rather than raster files. Also, vector files allow for image layering, which gives you greater image-editing abilities.
Here's a general rule of the more common image format types and their use…
JPG, JPEG – These are typically used for digital photos. As this file format contains lossy compression, this format isn't ideal for digital graphics like logos as it can degrade the quality making the image not as sharp the higher the compression level.
PNG - This format is widely used for digital art like logos as it contains lossless compression, meaning the image itself doesn't degrade from compression. A feature of this format compared to other raster formats is it allows for transparency.
GIF - If you're in to your 1990's animations, then this is the animated image file for you that contains lossless compression, but there's a lot to dislike about this one as it has a limited colour palette, and did you know that you're supposed to pronounce it as a 'jif'...
SVG - This vector format is very common for digital art like logos due to it's relatively small size and flexibility, for instance, you can modify a SVG format in a simple notepad application on your computer. Yes notepad, because it's a vector, the image is made up of various coordinates.
WEBP - This may be a file format that you haven't heard of before, but is becoming more commonplace online to replace other raster images like JPEG\JPG, PNG and GIF. This format is developed by Google which contains both lossless and lossy compression.
Importantly for any digital art including logos that you've created or had created, you will want to keep the vector format files (i.e. SVG, ESP, AI) as it will allow for easier editing of the artwork in the future, plus you can easily save a copy of the resulting image in a raster format like PNG.
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