Our Art Director Gabriela recently created a cheat sheet of the file types most commonly used by graphic designers for the ThinkResults team. We thought you might find it useful as well!
Graphic designers typically work with three main programs which are all part of Adobe Creative Suite (CS): Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign. We’ve outlined these three programs below along with their basic uses and restrictions.
Abobe Illustrator – AI:
The files generated are vector art. This means that all objects can be manipulated, recolored, resized, etc. without losing any quality. Designers work with lines and shapes and often in layers. Logos and icons are typically created in Illustrator, both for digital and print use. AI files are often the preferred file type for printers and can only be opened using Adobe Illustrator.
Photoshop – PSD
Photoshop is a photo manipulation program that contains photos and graphics. It is also possible to do artwork in the program, but without the control offered by Illustrator. It is not possible to select an object to get the outline for that object, it is much more work and many times the results are not as clean.
When working with the program you are actually working with “bits” and the image is a “bitmap” which means that it cannot be enlarged without losing quality. PSD files can only be opened with Photoshop and often include layers. Once a Photoshop image has been flattened through conversion to a .jpg, .gif or .tiff file it is possible to convert it back to a .psd file, but it will be flattened to a single layer and will not be editable, which is why it is always a good idea to keep an updated layered .psd file when working in Photoshop. Web site main images are typically created in Photoshop.
InDesign – INDD
This is a layout program for multi-page documents. InDesign uses vector images that can be resized for type, boxes, etc. In regular layout graphic designers often import elements from Illustrator and Photoshop into the pages. The program is most often used for reports, books, magazines, flyers, etc. INDD files can also be opened using Abobe InCopy which allows you to do text editing, or Adobe Illustrator which will allow you to deconstruct a page into separate vector elements. However, neither of these choices gives you the full layout capabilities.
A source file is any file in the original format where the art or document was created. Source files are editable within the limitations of the program that created them.
All three applications above export files as .pdf, .eps, .jpg and .png formats. .pdfs and .eps are editable formats as long as the files were created in Illustrator and opened in Illustrator. The other formats can be manipulated in Photoshop but are not fully editable.