GIFs, JPEGs, Pngs and CMYK…what’s it all about?

Every big design concept needs to be well executed to work. That means turning inspirational ideas into marketing communications that look great and speak volumes to your target audience. Whether it’s a website, brochure or eNewsletter, design ideas rely on the right image file formats. So it’s really helpful to know the basics. Find out about the pros and cons of file formats here. And we’ve a word or two about being colourful – online and in print.

First… image files

Image formats have different terms, such as GIF, JPEG, EPS and PNG. But what’s the difference? Which one is the best to provide? Here’s a guide to take you through the minefield of imagery.

  • GIF – good for websites, drawings, text and animation
  • JPEG – needed for photographs and high quality detailed images
  • PNG – useful for compressing files and when you need a transparent background
  • EPS – the format for artwork that your printers will need for brochures and adverts

A GIF is…
A GIF pronounced with either a soft or hard ‘G,’ stands for Graphics Interchange Format, and was established by CompuServe in 1987. As GIFs do not lose as much quality as JPEGs when compressed, they are popular on websites for logos and graphics with areas of block colour as the picture quality will be sharp. GIFs can be used for animation so are useful on websites if you have any moving banners or graphics. As a GIF is limited to 256 colours, it is not typically used in digital photography. This is where a JPEG comes in.

JPEGs are…
The name ‘JPEG’ pronounced ‘jay-peg’ stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group – the name of the committee that created it. A JPEG file is best for photographs which will vary in tone and colour. As a JPEG can show 16 million colours, it is the most common file format of a digital camera. For use on a website, JPEGs are very popular especially where the bandwidth is important, as it can reduce files sizes to about 5% of their original size. JPEGs are not recommended for line drawings or images which include text. In this case you would want to supply your marketing agency with a GIF file.

A PNG is short for Portable Network Graphics, and pronounced ‘ping’. Its main feature is that it can save graphic images by reducing the file size without affecting image quality. It was originally created to replace the GIF format which had patenting issues, but both are still widely used on websites. A PNG has two advantages over the GIF. It has greater compression ability and areas of the graphic can be transparent, which can be needed for graphics on the web. Because of the transparency feature, it is useful to have a logo on a PowerPoint presentation as a PNG file. Then you will not see a white outlined background to the image as it will blend into the background of the slide.

EPS for artwork
EPS files are used for printing on brochures, flyers etc, rather than on websites. An EPS stands for Encapsulated PostScript, and is a file format used to transfer graphic images. EPS files can contain combinations of text, graphics and images, and is one of the most versatile file formats that are available. It’s mainly used to save a design created in a drawing program such as Adobe Illustrator. An EPS is the file that you would send to printing company as they are the high resolution artwork files, and can’t be altered, so printing errors are less likely.

An EPS file can also contain a vector representation of the image. Vector graphics are not made up of pixels like a JPEG file. They are comprised of paths, which are defined by a start and end point, along with curves and angles along the way. As the paths can be scaled up or down, depending on what the design will be use for, the same quality in the image will be seen whether it is on a business card or on a poster.

Half-way there

Be it a GIF or JPEG, PNG or EPS, you can see that each file format has its pros and cons. And if you’re ever unsure, just ask a good marketing agency.

Moving on to colours
Just as images can be produced in different formats, so too can colours. When your marketing agency designs your artwork, software programs will give them the choice to work in either RGB or CMYK mode. RGB mode is mainly used on websites. CMYK mode is the correct colour format for full colour printing. But why is there a difference between the files?

  • RGB – good for websites and PowerPoint presentations
  • CMYK – used for printed marketing communications

RGB – the primary colours
RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue, the primary colours of light. Scanners and digital cameras create images using combinations of the three RGB colours. When a scanned image or photo taken with a digital camera is saved, it will usually be in RGB format. RGB mode is used for displaying images in electronics, such as televisions and computers, and especially used on websites and in digital photography. RGB files can’t be used for printing on professional print presses, due to their structure.

CMYK – using pigments
Professional printers produce your print items using a different set of colours to RGB. This is known as CMYK printing and uses the component colours of pigment rather than light. CMYK is short for Cyan (blue), Magenta (red), Yellow (Y) and Black (K). The inks used in this process are translucent so can be overprinted and combined in a variety of different ways to produce a wide range of colours and a higher quality print that RGB.

In summary

Don’t worry about file formats for images and colours. That’s what a good marketing agency is for. But just to keep us agency folk on our toes, you can impress with your knowledge that you’d use GIFs for web work, JPEGs for images with millions of colours, PNGs for images with transparent backgrounds and EPS files when it comes to print. And you’ll know that while websites can look great based in RGB primary colours your literature needs the depth of colour that comes from layers of CMYK inks. So when your marketing agency asks you where your design will be seen, you’ll know you’ll get the right file format for the job. For further help, get in touch with Marketing Zone.