All About Print: Part 3 (File Formats).


Adobe’s Creative Cloud (CC) is a suite of creative applications that includes print design programs Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. CC is the industry standard design software and as such is accepted at all print suppliers. Programs such as Microsoft Word, Powerpoint and Publisher are not supported and should generally be avoided when creating graphics for print production.

Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are the three main programs used in the print design world, and they have a variety of file formats available to export out from their native file type. The native file type is what the ‘default’ file of the application is, or basically, what the application works with whilst creating and working on the file. This can be saved for future use, and can also be saved or exported as a different file format for publication or sharing. For Photoshop, the native file format is a PSD, for Illustrator it is an AI and for InDesign it is an INDD.


What Each Program Is Used For

These three programs have very different duties - Photoshop is used for image editing and compositing of ‘raster’ aka ‘bitmap’ images like photos, whereas Illustrator is used for, you guessed it, illustrations and ‘vector’ graphics like logos. InDesign is a page layout application, similar to Microsoft Word but a much more comprehensive, professional design based piece of software. InDesign brings together your files from Photoshop and Illustrator and allows you to lay them out on a page, and also allows you to style the text. For example, say you were designing a brochure for a winery. You would create the layout in InDesign, but you would open the pictures of the winery in Photoshop first to do things like colour correction, remove anything unnecessary etc. You would then ‘place’ the images into the layout in InDesign. The logo for the winery would be a vector file so it could be created in Illustrator and then placed into InDesign. You would complete the layout in InDesign and save a native file along with exporting a PDF for printing.

Appropriate Image Formats In Photoshop

In the past, you would use the native PSD (Photoshop Document) format for working on files inside of Photoshop. A copy of this working file would then be saved as a TIFF for placement into a page layout program like InDesign (back in the day there was other programs called PageMaker and QuarkXPress). Nowadays, a native PSD can be placed into InDesign with no problems. However, my personal workflow is keeping a layered, RGB Photoshop file as the native ‘working’ file, and then flattening this and converting to CMYK to save as a TIFF for use in InDesign. I don’t flatten the TIFF file if transparency is being used.


When saving a TIFF, you can choose whether to flatten the layers or leave them - on the Save dialog box there is a checkbox for ‘Layers’ that I generally leave off. Once you press Save, a secondary dialog box pops up with the TIFF options on what compression and byte order you’d like. Always choose None for Image Compression, otherwise your TIFF becomes a ‘lossy’ file and will degrade in quality with each save. Byte Order should be what format the file will be used in, but most programs open files from either format. Image Pyramid can be left unchecked as not many programs support this. Save Transparency can be checked when saving a transparent file. And finally, I usually select Discard Layers and Save a Copy so that I am getting a TIFF with only 1 layer and therefore its optimum file size.


If you’re saving the image for on-screen use and this particular file will not be printed, it is best to leave the image in RGB colour and save as a JPG. This is great for proofs of designs, and sharing/emailing photos quickly and easily. In Photoshop you simply choose File > Save for Web and you are presented with a dialog box where you can select your file type and compression options. Most of the time your file type will be JPG and you will need to work out the balance between file size and image quality, as obviously, the lower the file size, the less in quality the image will be. Sometimes, it is feasible to save a GIF, for simple graphics with low tonal ranges, like logos, that generally are ‘flat’ colour.

Appropriate Image Formats In Illustrator

Illustrator is a lot easier than Photoshop to manage files from. Basically, there are two types of files from Illustrator - the native AI format, and the EPS format, although the EPS format is quickly becoming redundant as Adobe CC becomes the norm across all creative industries.

It used to be that you would design your vector work in Illustrator and have your native AI file, and then save an EPS for exporting to supplier, for example, a sign writer, as in the past they would use Corel Draw. Now that more people are using CC, sending an AI is just as accepted.

PDFs can also be saved out of Illustrator and personally I find this works well for saving a logo, for instance, which isn’t going to be placed into a layout in InDesign (where it would be saved as a PDF).

Appropriate File Formats In Indesign

This is even more simple than Illustrator - in InDesign, you only have the INDD native file format. Once you want to get your document printed, whatever it may be, from a simple 1 page flyer, a 2 page/sided business card, or a 12 page booklet, you export the file out as a PDF, and that’s it! Inside of InDesign, by choosing File > Export you are given the option to create a PDF that is Interactive (for use on screen with buttons etc) or for Print (for print use). We usually leave the Print option as our default and only change to interactive if we are indeed, making an interactive PDF document that requires buttons and videos embedded in it for example. The rest of the time, we will use the Print PDF setting. Once you choose this and decide whereabouts the file is to be saved, press Save and you will be presented with a new dialog box for Exporting Adobe PDF. Here, we use only two of the presets: Smallest File Size (for proofing) and Press Quality (for printing). It is important to remember to check Use Document Bleed Settings under ‘Marks and Bleeds’ when creating a Press Quality file for printing - our tip would be to save yourself a preset with this checked!

We’ll cover files a bit more in the coming weeks when we discuss Image Resolution and raster versus vector images.