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Graphics File Formats

You will find a very wide variety of graphics formats in use. Each has a specific purpose and its own strengths and weaknesses. The Web has added complexity to file formats, with the need for small file sizes and the ability to include draw- and paint-style graphics and fancy formatting for fonts and graphic effects, including transparency and animation.

Graphics Types

Draw, Vector, or Object-Based Graphics
Scalable without loss of resolution. Mathematical descriptions of the shapes, points, lines, curves, fills, strokes, and other attributes. Can contain text. Can usually contain bitmaps also.
Paint, Raster, or Bitmapped Graphics
Fixed-resolution rendering of each dot in the image. Scaling can produce “jaggies” (obvious or uneven dots). Editing the image permanently modifies it. Photos and other scanned images are bitmapped. Some programs can trace a bitmapped image to produce a vector graphic, with varying degrees of success.

Below is a list of some popular programs to create graphics. There are many more available.

This section needs revision/updating.

  1. Drawing Programs
    1. Macromedia FreeHand (Win, Mac)
    2. Adobe Illustrator (Win, Mac)
    3. Corel Draw (Win, Mac)
    4. and many others
  2. Painting Programs
    1. Jasc Paint Shop Pro (Win, non-Mac)
    2. Adobe Photoshop (Win, Mac)
    3. and many others

Graphics Terms

alpha channel
An image channel that is used for special effects; usually for transparency or masking.
anti-alias
To reduce jaggedness or roughness in an image by smoothing (averaging) adjoining pixels. Generally used to smooth diagonal lines and curves, especially for text in an image.
aspect ratio
The ratio of the horizontal and vertical size of an image. If the aspect ratio of an image changes in one direction but not the other, the proportions of the image are no longer true to the original.
color channel
Any color image can be divided into channels, each of which has only percentages of one of the primary colors, such as red, green, or blue for RGB colors, or cyan, magenta, yellow, and black for four-color CMYK printing.
cropping
Cutting or masking the image to show only the desired portion, usually to fit a certain space or show off the most interesting areas.
downsample
To capture extra data and average it (or apply other statistical methods to it) to reduce error in the sampling process and maximize detail.
jaggies
A bitmapped (raster) image has only a limited number of points and so diagonal lines and curves often are noticeably dotted or jagged.
halftone
Separating a solid image, such as a photo, into a pattern of dots for printing, so that the ink does not run together. A halftone dot screen is placed over the original to produce a new, halftoned duplicate of the original.
interpolate
To create new data points by taking the average between two or more nearby points.
logo
A specific image, often including text, that identifies a company, group, or brand.
lossless
A form of compression that does not reduce or lose data (image) quality.
lossy
A form of compression that does reduce or lose some data (image) quality.
masking
Blocking out portions of an image to provide special color or transparency or animation effects for the unblocked parts of the image.
progressive rendering
Showing an image in stages, with a low quality image first, which is gradually filled in by a successively higher quality image.
scale
To reduce or enlarge, generally by averaging.
transparency
Providing an image with transparency so the background shows through. Transparency is unavailable in some formats; on/off in 1-bit (completely solid or transparent) in other formats; or using varying degrees of transparency from solid through translucent to totally transparent in still other formats.

Standard Graphics File Formats

Standard File Formats
Type Name Description
GIF Graphics Interchange File. Web Bitmap. Note: limited to 256 or fewer colors. Can set transparency on/off for one color.
JPG, JPEG Joint Photographic Experts Group. Photo/Bitmap. Web/Publish/Draw/Paint. A compressed, “lossy” format. If your software offers a choice of image quality, choose 100%. If your software offers a choice of progressive rendering, choose Yes. No transparency. Note: solid colors may appear blotchy on-screen.
PNG Portable Network Graphics. Web Vector/Bitmap format. Some Web/Publish/Draw. New “lossless” format, supported by Macromedia FreeHand 8, Microsoft Internet Explorer 4. May be supported by Netscape Navigator 4 or 5. Offers lossless compression, transparency, and progressive rendering.
TIF, TIFF Tagged Image File Format. Bitmap (Paint). Publish/Draw/Paint.
EPS Encapsulated PostScript (preferrably) with TIFF preview. Drawing (Vectors). Publish/Draw. EPS files can contain vector drawings as well as bitmaps. They can even contain editable text. EPS is used by professional publishing and drawing programs. Your local print shop, if they work from clients’ data disks, will prefer EPS or TIFF files.
SVG Scalable Vector Graphics. Proposed Web Vector format. When the SVG format becomes available, there will be the usual lag time before browsers and other application programs support it. The features will make it tremendously powerful and advantageous for everyone.

Color Usage

Spot vs. Process

Spot Color
A pre-mixed solid color. Spot color is used in jobs that use tints and shades of one or two colors, often including Black, or when there is small text in a specific color, or when a company needs its logo or corporate color scheme to be used exactly. Printing using one or two spot colors can save you money.
Process Color
A set of primary color inks, from which all other colors may be printed. Full-color photos require process color printing. One or two spot colors may sometimes be used together with process printing, for the special uses listed at spot color.

Knockout vs. Overprint

knockout
To cause the overlapping portion of one item to print, while the item below it is removed (knocked out).
overprint
To cause the overlapping portions of two or more items to print on top of each other. To print one ink on top of another, causing the bottom ink to shine through the top ink.

Generally, most drawing programs allow you separate control over properties of lines (strokes) and fills, and sometimes over individual colors or inks, including the knockout or overprint status of elements.

Color Models

CMYK
A process-color method for printing using a set of four primary color inks: cyan (blue), magenta (red/pink), yellow, and black, from which all other colors may be printed. Also called four-color or just process color printing.
RGB
A model for on-screen display using three primary colors of light: red, green, and blue, from which all other colors may be shown.
HLS or HSB
Hue, Lightness, and Saturation; Hue, Saturation, and Brightness.
Hexachrome
A process-color method for printing using a set of six primary color inks: orange, green, cyan (blue), magenta (red/pink), yellow, and black, from which all other colors may be printed. A new method developed by Pantone to increase the gamut (range) of printable colors.

About Scanning

A short list to get the best quality scans.

Color Depth

≥ 32 bit color
This can mean one of two things. At 32 bits, there is room for 24 bit color plus an 8 bit alpha channel reserved for transparency, masking, or special effects. Or, to downsample by capturing extra data and then average it in order to reduce error and maximize detail. Many scanners scan at 32 or more bits per color and then reduce to 24 bit color in order to ensure accurate color.
24 bit color (16.7 million colors)
True photo-quality color. Recommended for color scans.
16 bit color (65536 colors)
Near photo-quality color.
8 bit color (256 colors)
Clip art quality color.
8 bit grayscale (256 grays)
True black & white photo quality. Recommended for grayscale scans. At low resolution, can show higher detail than 1 bit scans, but may be problematic for conversion of text or line art.
1 bit monochrome (black or white only)
Recommended for line art (no grays) or black-and-white text scans.

Resolution (Horizontal and Vertical)

Note: In the table below, the halftone resolution is listed as half (1/2) of the scanning resolution. This is recommended.

Scanning
Resolution
Halftone
Resolution
Printing Medium
72 dpi or 96 dpi — lpi On-Screen: Web, Video, etc.; Halftone is irrelevant here;
130 to 170 dpi 65 to 85 lpi In-Print: Newsletters, newspapers, or coupons on absorbent, uncoated stock;
180 to 266 dpi 90 to 133 lpi In-Print: Business publications, newspaper coupons on coated stock;
266 to 300 dpi 133 to 150 lpi In-Print: medium to high quality on coated stocks;
Above 300 dpi Above 150 lpi In-Print: highest quality on coated stock and highly accurate presses;
At Resolution (dpi) Use Screen Ruling (lpi) To Print This Many Grays*
300 53 to 60 33 to 26
600 71 to 85 72 to 51
1200 or 1270 65 to 128 256 to 89
2400 or 2540 90 to 150 256

* This refers to how many levels or shades of a single ink, such as black, can be generated, not the total number of colors available. The maximum of 256 means 1/256 (less than 0.5%) change between each level. This results in the smoothest transition from one color of ink to another.