Choosing the Right File Type for Your Needs

A handy guide to sorting through the alphabet soup of file types.

Wendy Ruyle 5.16.24


JPG, BMP, SVG, PNG, EPS, the list goes on (and on and on). What in the world do all these letters stand for? The answer is file types or file extensions. Those three little letters at the end of a file name.

There are a lot of them out there so here’s a handy-dandy guide to what some of them mean and when you might want to use them. This list is not exhaustive by any means. There are hundreds of others, but these are specific to files you might receive from a graphic designer and use regularly for your branding.

Raster or vector?

First off, we need an explanation of the difference between raster graphics (or pixel-based graphics) and vector graphics. Raster graphics are made up of tiny squares or pixels. The more pixels used to make up the image, the larger it is and the more storage space it takes up. Raster graphics are typically used for photographs. Enlarging a raster image can make it look blocky and pixelated.

Vector graphics are made up of paths with points, curves, and angles along each one. A path can be any shape you choose, straight or rounded. Vectors are often used for things like logos or pieces of type—anything with flat areas of color. Because vector-based images are not made up of pixels, they can be scaled to any size and not lose any image quality.

One size does not fit all

As mentioned, vector graphics are scalable, raster graphics are not. So how big should a raster graphic be? For commercial printing a raster graphic should be at least 300 pixels per inch (ppi) at actual size. For desktop printing or PowerPoint presentations they should be at least 150 ppi and for online use they should be 72 ppi.


Stands for: Bitmap Image
Uses: Word Documents, Online, Desktop Printing
BMP files typically have very low resolution. They can be useful if the image is only black and white, but in most instances, it isn’t the best file type to use.


Stands for: Encapsulated Post Script
Uses: Desktop Printing, Commercial Printing
EPS files can be either raster or vector images but vector images are almost always EPS files. A vector EPS is scalable to any size and can use RGB, CMYK, or spot color. (If you need help with sorting out the acronyms for colors, check out this post.) This type of file is most requested by commercial printers.


Stands for: Graphical Interchange Format
Uses: Online
GIFs are best used for small animations on the web that only use a limited number of colors. They reduce the colors in a raster graphic to 256 down from 16 million. This means a loss of quality in the image.


Stands for: Joint Photographic Experts Group
Uses: Word Documents, PowerPoint, Online, Desktop Printing
JPG is the standard file type for web graphics, particularly photographs. It uses millions of colors yet compresses files with minimal loss of detail. JPGs also work well in both Microsoft Word and PowerPoint programs. JPGs can be RGB or CMYK.


Stands for: Portable Network Graphic
Uses: Word Documents, PowerPoint, Online, Desktop Printing
PNG files are like JPGs because of the compression will little loss of detail. They are better than JPGs for use in PowerPoint because they allow for transparency. So, if you have a blue logo and want to put it on a yellow background you won’t end up with a white box around it.


Stands for: Scalable Vector Graphic
Uses: Word Documents, PowerPoint, Online, Desktop Printing
SVG is a format developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3). SVG images use XML-like text to describe how the image should appear instead of pixels like JPGs and PNGs. This means they are scalable without losing quality. A bonus is that search engines can read the text they contain which can help with search engine optimization.


Stands for: Tagged Image File
Uses: Desktop Printing, Commercial Printing
TIF files are raster graphics. They are very high quality but don’t have the compression that a JPG or PNG would. They are often used in commercial printing, particularly for photographs. They can be RGB or CMYK.

Have a file with an extension that is not covered here? Take a peek at for information on pretty much every extension you can imagine.

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