Use correct image formats for different marketing materials

written by Tim Berry of Palo Alto Software


If you’ve ever had anything professionally printed, you’ve probably been asked for an “EPS” copy of your logo. Ever wonder why you can’t just use a JPG, like the one on your website? What is the difference between EPS (Encapsulated PostScript), JPG or JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) and GIF (Graphics Interchange Format)?

In brief, EPS is the standard file format used for printing (e.g., business cards, brochures, signage, etc.), while JPG and GIF files are the most common file formats used on the Internet. An EPS file contains vector information, which means its resolution is not determined by pixels. As a result, an EPS logo image can be made as large or small as necessary without compromising print quality or losing design detail. There’s a good chance an EPS file will display poorly on your computer screen, but this does not mean it will print badly. Regardless of how it looks on your screen, it is the file you need in order to produce professional-grade printed materials. It is NOT recommended for use on your website.

A JPG is a compressed image file suitable for use on the Internet (e.g., your website). It contains raster information, which means that its resolution is determined by the size of its pixels. A JPG can display images consisting of millions of colors – over 16 million, actually. As a result of its powerful compression capabilities, JPGs are good for displaying photos and images with complex color schemes. You can place a JPG in a Microsoft® Word document and it may print to a laser-printer well; however, you should never use a JPG when professionally printing documents.

A GIF is another popular choice for the Internet. It is a bit-mapped graphics file format that supports a maximum of 256 colors, making it practical for almost all Internet graphics except photos. A GIF is the only option for animation online (unless you use Flash or other expensive vector-based animation formats). GIFs also support transparency, which means if you place a transparent GIF over something red, the background color of your GIF image will appear red. Both JPGs and GIFs are meant to be displayed on screen, but NEITHER is meant for professional printing. If you try to print using one, the image will most likely appear blurred or jagged (”bit-mapped”). Compared to EPS, GIFs are much smaller resolution files and cannot be enlarged without losing detail.

Should I use a JPG or a GIF? In general, GIF files are appropriate for logos, line drawings and icons on the Internet, or if you require an animated or transparent image. Choose a JPG for most Web-based photographs. It’s all about quality: as the number of colors in an Internet image approaches or surpasses 256 (a GIFs maximum), a JPG becomes the better choice. For images with a simple color scheme, GIFs provide a small file size without sacrificing image clarity.

What software programs open what file formats? To open and edit an EPS file, you will need a software program like Adobe® Illustrator®, Macromedia® Freehand®, or CorelDRAW®. Some applications, including Microsoft Word (”Insert Picture From File”) will display an EPS but not allow you to edit it. Microsoft Publisher (”Insert Picture From File”) supports the viewing of some types of EPS files, but not all. It’s better to edit from a high-resolution EPS file than from a JPG or GIF.

However, you can edit JPGs and GIFs using a program like Adobe PhotoShop®. Microsoft Word and Microsoft Publisher will allow you to see the JPG but not edit it. Obviously there are more file types than just EPS, JPGs and GIFs, but these three are among the most commonly used – and most commonly confused. A general understanding of their applications and differences can make a big difference in the quality of your promotional materials.

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Tim Berry

about the author

Tim Berry

Founder and President of Palo Alto Software and a renowned planning expert. He is listed in the index of "Fire in the Valley", by Swaine and Freiberger, the history of the personal computer industry. Tim contributes regularly to the bplans blog, the as well as his own blog, Planning, Startups, Stories. His full biography is available at Follow Tim onGoogle +


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