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The Simple Guide to File Types for Designers

One of the questions we get asked most often, even from designers who have been around for a while, is what software is needed to open specific files.

This article will teach you about the most common file types used by designers, and includes a quick reference guide to make your life easy.

Our bundles feature designs of all types from hundreds of different artists. After reading this, you'll know exactly what software is compatible with each collection.

Quick Reference Guide for Fast Learners

If you already have a basic grasp on how certain file types are used, or if you're just a fast learner, this infographic explains the main features of each file type used in design.

If you find this useful, please share it with others, or see the full article below for more detailed information.

1. PSD - Photoshop File

PSD is the native file format for Adobe Photoshop. It is the master design file, and can include layers, Smart Objects, layer styles, blending options, adjustment layers, and much more.

This file type is uncompressed, so can be opened and resaved multiple times without losing quality.

Photoshop typically handles raster graphics, but also includes basic vector editing capabilities as well. If a PSD file is set up specifically to use only vectors and Smart Objects, you can scale things up or down without any loss in quality, similar to a vector file.

2. AI - Illustrator File

This is the native file format for Adobe Illustrator. Although it can contain raster graphics, you'll typically find vectors inside that can be fully customized without any loss in quality. This is because the lines and shapes in a vector graphic are based on math, rather than pixels.

AI files can be imported into Photoshop, but with limited functionality. You'll be able to set their resolution during import, but once the file is open, you won't be able to make changes to the lines and curves.

If you only have Photoshop, you can still work with AI files, but with some limitations and a different workflow.

For example, you can import an AI file, then cut out the object you want to use with one of Photoshop's selection tools (Rectangular Marquee, Lasso, etc).

After that, convert it to a Smart Object so you can scale it down and back up to its original size over and over without losing quality.

You can then change the color and effects using Photoshop layer styles, adjustment layers, and more.

3. EPS - Universal Graphics File

EPS stands for Encapsulated PostScript, which is irrelevant from a practical standpoint, but now you know.

These files are typically used to hold vector graphics, just like an AI file, but can also include raster imagery as well.

You'll find this format is useful if you use non-Adobe vector software like CorelDRAW or Inkscape.

Like AI files, they can be imported into Photoshop with basic functionality.

EPS files are usually larger in size than a comparable AI, so use them only if you're working with someone who doesn't have Illustrator.

4. PNG - Raster Graphics File

This is an uncompressed raster format that fully supports transparency. That means you can save isolated objects that can be placed seamlessly onto any background.

Even better, nearly every piece of software supports PNG files, including Microsoft Word, and online design apps like Canva or PicMonkey.

5. JPG - Raster Graphics File

JPG files are used when you need to save hard drive space, but still preserve a relatively high quality image.

They are typically used for display on websites to save bandwidth, or to share things like textures that will be incorporated into a larger design.

Compression is applied every time you save a JPG, so do not open and save over the same JPG file over and over. Instead, open the JPG you plan to use, and save your working file in a non-destructive format like PSD.

6. OTF - OpenType Font File

OpenType fonts are one of the two main file formats for typefaces.

They support special features like automatic stylistic alternates, contextual alternates, ligatures, swashes, and more (as long as you have software that supports these features).

Photoshop and Illustrator have great OpenType support, but even software like Microsoft Word works, although non-design software is more cumbersome to use.

7. TTF - TrueType Font File

TrueType fonts are similar to OTF files, but do not contain any special OpenType features.

They are useful for programs that do not support the OTF format, like those used for vinyl cutting, or online design apps.

If your software doesn't specifically require TTF files, then OTF is what you should install.

8. ZIP - Compressed Archive

ZIP files are one of the most common file types in existence, even outside graphic design.

They can hold any and all other file types and folders inside. Plus, they compress the data to a smaller size, making it the perfect format for downloading design resources.

Both Windows and OSX have built in software that can extract the contents of ZIP files, but third party software with advanced features also exists for both operating systems.

What Software Do I Need to Open These Files?

I hope this overview taught you something new, and answered this common question.

Are there any other file types you want to learn more about? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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