JPEG, PNG, or PDF? A Guide To Image File Formats And When They Should Be Used


Every graphic file you view on the internet is an image file. The majority of what you see printed on paper, plastic, or a t-shirt originated as an image file. These files are available in a number of formats, each of which is tailored to a certain purpose. When you use the correct type for the occasion, your design will be perfect looking and just as you wanted. A lousy print or a bad picture, a large download, or a missing image in an email might all be caused by inappropriate formatting.

As you probably guessed, we're focusing on image formats today, as well as which ones are better suited to produce visual content for print and the online. So, let's have a look at the fundamentals of each file format.

But first things first… 

Image file formats are usually split into two categories: 

  • Raster file formats, which include JPEG, GIF, PNG, TIFF, RAW, and PSD

  • Vector file formats, which include PDF, EPS, SVG, and AI


While we won’t be tacking each one of these formats here, it is worth knowing the difference between a raster and a vector image, so that you understand exactly which one fits a specific type of project. 

Raster pictures are made up of a grid of dots called pixels, each of which has a different color allocated to it. Raster images, unlike vector format, are resolution limited, – this means they only exist in one dimension. When you alter a raster picture, you stretch the pixels, which might cause the image to become “pixelated” or fuzzy. When you expand an image, your program effectively makes a guess about what image data is lacking based on the pixels around it. The majority of the time, the outcomes aren't ideal. Photographs, digital artwork, and online graphics are all examples of raster images. 

Vector pictures are digital artworks in which the computer calculates the points, lines, and curves. Vector pictures, unlike raster graphics, are resolution independent. When you compress or enlarge a vector image, the shapes become larger, but no information is lost. Logos, icons, and digital drawings are all examples of vector imagery.

Now let’s dive into the most important file formats you will find in your design journey. 


JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) is a raster format established by the Joint Photographic Experts Group – hence, the name. It is also sometimes shortened to JPG. 

This is one of the most used internet formats for photographs, email graphics, and huge web images such as banner advertisements. JPEG pictures feature a sliding compression scale that reduces file size significantly while increasing pixelation as the image is reduced.

When to use JPEG:

  • You're working with online pictures, artwork, or web images that have to be downloaded fast 

  • You wish to make prints.

  • You need to send a customer a fast preview picture.


When not to use JPEG:

  • You need an image with a transparent background

  • A layered, editable image is required.



Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) is a raster image format. GIF is a popular digital image format that is commonly used for animated graphics such as banner advertisements, email pictures, and social media memes. GIFs may be exported using a variety of highly configurable options that decrease the quantity of colors and picture information, resulting in smaller files and lower resolution.

When to use GIF:

  • You want to create animations to share online

  • You need transparent backgrounds for your images

  • You need to send a small file


When not to use GIF:

  • You need high-quality images

  • You need the image for printing

  • You need an editable image with layers 



PNG stands for Portable Network Graphics and is a raster format. Consider PNGs to be the GIF of the future. This type allows transparency in files, but it can also display greater color depths, resulting in millions of colors. PNGs are a web standard that is swiftly becoming one of the most popular image formats.

When to use PNG:

  • You need transparent images with high-quality

  • You are using a small color palette

  • You need a small-sized file with food quality


When not to use PNG:

  • When working with web artwork, as high details can make the file large

  • When you need to print something, as PNGs are optimized for screens



Portable Document Format (PDF) is an image format that allows documents and images to be shown accurately on any device, application, OS version, or web browser. PDF files have a sophisticated vector graphics foundation at their core, but they can also show raster graphics, form fields, and spreadsheets. 

Because it is a near-universal standard, printers frequently require PDF files before sending a final design into production. Both Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator can export directly to PDF, making it simple to get started and finish your design. What’s more, you can use online editors to alter and merge PDF files even if you don’t have Adobe applications installed. 

When to use PDF:

  • You want to send something to print

  • You want to display documents online and make sure anyone can see them


When not to use PDF:

  • You can use PDF files for basically anything



Adobe Illustrator has a proprietary vector picture format that is abbreviated as AI. The same Adobe PDF specifications are used to create this file format, as it belongs to Adobe as well. AI files, like PDF files, are generally vector-based, although they can also contain embedded or linked raster images. AI files may be saved as PDF, JPEG, PNG, GIF, TIFF, and PSD files, to be used wherever you may need them 

When to use AI:

  • You want to edit a vector design

  • You want to create logos, icons, or scalable images

  • You want to print one-page files

  • You need to use Adobe Illustrator’s typesetting


When not to use AI:

  • You need to collaborate with someone and edit images back and forth 

  • You need to send the file to someone that does not use Illustrator 

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