File Types: What does .JPG, .GIF, Vector, and .PNG mean? | Los Angeles Graphic Designer

November 9, 2011

Whether you’re trying to learn graphic or web design or you’re a non-designer trying to do a DIY graphic project, you’ve probably encountered the many confusing file types graphics come in or need to be exported in. If you’ve ever found yourself scratching your head and saying “you need a J- WHAT?” then this is for you.

Here is a little list I put together of the most common files types and what they’re used for:

1) .JPG
If you’re dealing with photographs, this is the most common file type you’ve probably ever seen. It’s a file format that was created specifically for photographs. JPG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. It’s a method of compression that keeps as much information in the photo as it can (colors, digital info, etc.) while keeping the file size at a decent size for storage and email. It’s also the file type digital cameras capture photos in and store on the memory card.

* This is appropriate for both web and print and can be opened by anyone.



2) .GIF
This file type is specific for graphics and illustrations – basically things that are non-photographic. It’s a file type that is limited to a 256 color palette (which is why it can’t be used for photos) and can be used for animation effects on the web. Have you ever noticed those fun flashing words on websites and side bars? Those are all .GIFs!

*This is only appropriate for web display and can usually be opened by anyone.



3) .PNG
PNG stands for Portable Network Graphics and was created as a superior alternative to the GIF. Essentially, it’s a GIF on steroids.

The PNG file format supports truecolor (16 million colors) while the GIF supports only 256 colors. That means both photographs AND basic illustrations can be saved as PNG although you can’t make animations with it like you can a GIF.

Even though photos can technically be saved as PNG, you never want to do that because it will create such a massive file size that you won’t be able to email or upload a photo without delays and file issues. A lot of printers also require photos to be JPG instead of PNG due to file storage.

* This is appropriate for web illustrations (especially when a transparent background is needed) and for some print (although not common) and can be opened by anyone. 



4) Vector Files
This is not necessarily a file type but a graphic type. This will probably be the most confusing of the bunch.

A vector does not contain pixels and therefore can be used on large scale marketing materials such as logos, banners, window decals, clothing, product packaging, building graphics, and billboards – basically anything that is an illustration that needs to be re-sized in various ways without losing quality. So if you’re a business, you MUST have your logo in a vector format in order to use it for multiple things.

Having said that, Vector files can be exported into any type of file format for other uses. The NBC logo you see to the right is a PNG for the purposes of the internet but rest assured that NBC has a copy of the file in it’s original vector format for use on billboards, magazine ads, etc. 😉

The most common files types for a vector graphic are .EPS and .AI (created with Adobe Illustrator). Vectors can be exported into almost ANY file type but most printers request the native file of .EPS or .AI.

* This file type is appropriate for print. Most vector graphics can only be opened by anyone who owns the software it was created in such as print shops and other graphic designers.

5) .PDF
Many people are accustomed to PDFs being used for business documents, but it’s so much more! PDF stands for Portable Document Format. It can embed and encapsulate graphics, fonts, colors and other digital information required to view a file.

It is used most commonly for business documents and files for printers such as books, manuals, publication advertising, postcards, and marketing materials. It also commonly used to download multi-page documents off the web.

A PDF document can be created using a combination of GIFs, JPGs, PNGs and Vector files and all be saved as a PDF and sent to anyone to open. It has quickly become the standard for sending information from one person to another. Although you can’t display a PDF on a website as an image, anyone can download a PDF from a simple link from a website and view in their PDF viewer.

*This is appropriate for print and downloading from the web. It is not appropriate for web display. It can typically be opened by anyone with a PDF viewer which comes standard on most of today’s computers. It is the most requested file type by professional printers today.


For more information on design services, please go to my main website at I would love to hear from you!

Tasty Vino
Welcome to! I'm your hostess for all things wine and everything that pairs with it! Share your appetite with me here as I drink tons of wine, eat food, post photos and vacation around the world! Cheers!

You May Also Like


  • JeanDarcel
    December 19, 2012 9:17 pm

    Thanks for sharing your expertise. I enjoyed the listed explanations. It seems that PNG files also have a lot more clarity to them.

    • Genesis Moss
      December 23, 2012 11:28 am

      You’re very kind! Thank you!

  • Gilli M Bruce
    April 30, 2013 11:59 pm

    And I, in Australia, would like to add my appreciation of the information you’ve provided – so clear and comprehensive. A big help for an ignoramus like me. Cheers.

  • Candy Sims
    May 30, 2013 10:06 am

    I have a very big question, a sort of photography and design mystery, in fact that I am searching for clues in regards to. How can you take a raster image, like a jpeg, and turn it into a vector, like svg, and still have enough quality to see it?

  • Genesis Moss
    May 30, 2013 3:56 pm

    I occasionally use those services you can find online such as All you have to do is upload your raster graphic and it will re-create a vector version for you (because you can’t actually convert a raster to a vector, you can only re-create it). You can basically do the same thing yourself in Adobe Illustrator by taking your JPG and doing a “live trace” conversion. Illustrator will detect the edges and create a vector outline for you in B&W. Then if you immediately click “live paint” you can go through to each section and recreate the colors. Using the service is much faster though. LOL

    However, both of those solutions are only for graphics. You can’t do that with a photograph of a scene or person. Unfortunately it’s not possible to turn photos into vectors. = / If you recreate a photo as a vector in something like – I will look like a posterized or watercolor version. Photos always have to be high dpi (300 or more) in order to be able to enlarge them without compromising too much detail. Even better if it was a high megapixel camera.

    I hope that helped!

Leave a Reply