We routinely use various file
formats for saving, opening,
and printing files. But questions
persist in many minds about
whether the file formats they’ve
chosen are in fact appropriate for their print workflow. Are the specific options they selected when saving
their files the right ones? Are there other choices
that improve the quality of their artwork or output?
I might as well say this upfront: The main file
formats used for print work actually do not alter or
improve the image data and appearance in any way.
They merely control how the file is written to disk.
But how a file is written will affect how the file is
handled by the application that opens it. A key question:
Is the application merely to open the art and
print it, or will you be editing, cropping, scaling, and
manipulating the art as well?
Why different file formats?
Most file formats are made to handle a specific
kind of artwork, typically either vector or raster
art. Luckily, in the print world, recommended file
formats handle both kinds of artwork very well. So
how do you know which format to use, and when?
It gets a bit confusing when we realize that
mainstay applications such as Photoshop, Illustrator,
InDesign, and QuarkXPress can use raster as well as
vector art. So to exchange files between these applications,
you should use “standard” formats that can
contain any kind of artwork for saving and opening
across applications and platforms.
The main players in this category are the TIFF,
EPS, and PDF formats. Each uses the exact same
image data but writes the file with specific permissions
and limitations for editing and manipulating
the file content in applications.
When to use what format?
Although you might create and archive artwork
in its originating application in its “native” format
such as PSD, AI, etc., you might also want to save
a copy of the file to send to a client or offsite for
output. The Save As option in the File menu allows
you to save a copy of the file in one of the standard
formats. Save As also allows you to rename the file,
flatten layers, simplify artwork, reduce the file size,
and remove any extras such as annotations, paths,
etc. See Tip #1.
Learning standard formats
Each of the standard formats was designed to fulfill
a certain need and has unique advantages in certain
conditions and workflows.
TIFF (Tagged Image File Format)
TIFF is an industry standard designed for the handling
of raster or bitmapped images. It can save
black-and-white (1-bit), grayscale, index color (256
color), RGB, LAB, and CMYK images. It supports
8 bits/channel and 16 bits/channel files, and various
forms of compression. Saving in TIFF means that
you can save or embed an ICC color space profile in
the file, making it the format of choice in a colormanaged
workflow. In other words, just about any
application that can read bitmapped art will open
TIFF files. The attractive aspect of TIFF files is that
once placed in a program, you can edit, scale, and
manipulate all aspects of the artwork!
A CMYK TIFF file will often print faster than
another format because of the way the image data is
sent to the printer. TIFFs offer a variety of file compression
options, including the excellent “lossless”
(nondegrading to image quality) LZW compression.
Photoshop users can also compress files using lossless
ZIP compression, and for higher compression rates
and more compact file sizes they can choose “lossy”
(degrading to image quality) JPEG compression.
In Photoshop CS, the TIFF format will save
layers, adjustment layers, and spot colors, though
at present these files can be read by very few applications. If you encounter a problem opening a
Photoshop TIFF file in a layout program, you’ll
need to reopen the file in Photoshop. Choose Save
As from the File Menu, check Save: As a Copy, then
uncheck any checked boxes pertaining to Alpha
Channels, Layers, Annotations, and Spot Colors.
Choose TIFF and click Save.