File types for design explained

Planning to design for printing on fabric using digital technology? Here’s everything you need to know

The first thing you need to know before you print your design on fabric is how to save your files once you have created the design. 

What is a design file and why are these graphic file formats so important?

Editable file types are often a key part of your design process. They give your computer information about what they are and which format you have created them in. Graphic file types also inform you of which software you need to use to view and edit the graphics file. 

File types for design explained

Now, the graphics file format and sizes can also affect the quality of your design content. Some files are better for text, and some are better for an images, a logo or a photo. We have compiled information on different graphics formats of files you may use when you create your design project. Take a look…

Graphic file types

When you save your design, the format you use to create your design image will dictate the file type. 

  • JPEG: This is a most common image format. The image is a compressed raster (pixel-based) format used for photos and graphics. The compression levels are adjustable. JPEGs are perfect for all types of print projects. These raster images are ideal for editing and printing graphics, artwork and photos.
  • PNG file format: This is short for "Portable Network Graphics". One of the main reasons a designer may use a PNG image is that PNG images support transparency. This allows the designer to have a clear and transparent background on their graphics. This is rather than having a coloured background that can be tricky to remove.

We call the file compression of a PNG image ‘lossless’, which means there is no loss in the quality of the PNG image. These graphic image file formats are ideal to use on the web, but are not ideal for print. 

Information on other File Types

When we embark on designing for printing on fabric these are the image formats we usually discuss. This is by no means an exhaustive image format list, but it's a great place to start getting familiar with information about the different types of image files and to find out when to use them. 

  • AI - If you use Adobe Illustrator, AI (which translates to Adobe Illustrator) will be your default image format. Adobe Illustrator works well with vector graphics editing. AI files can be exported in another format such as PDF for printing and reviewing the image and TIFF or JPEG for web use and extra image editing.
  • PSD file format - If Adobe Photoshop is your software of choice, PSD (Photoshop document) will be your default image file format. Printers will usually not recognise graphics saved in this image format. You will need to export your image files into TIFF or JPEG before you print.
  • EPS – This image stands for "Encapsulated PostScript" which is a vector-based image file that is used to create high resolution graphics for print use. It is a universal file type which is a great advantage and can be used in different software, unlike other files. These image files are not ideal for photographs or artwork.
  • TIFF- A large raster image file. These image files produce a high-quality image for printing. All the original data is always maintained no matter how many times you copy or compress these quality graphics files.

The main difference between TIFF and PSD image files is the size limits. Tiffs can handle over 2GB. TIFFs are extremely high quality raster images that we usually use to print high-quality photos. You should avoid these quality raster image files if you're creating files for the web because of their huge size. We create both of these image files in Photoshop.

Which Graphic Image File Format should You Choose?

We’ve given you the list of the most frequently used graphics files used by fabric designers. There are plenty more, which designers create in Photoshop and other formats. We divide these files into 2 separate groups of files. 

The most important thing to remember is that, when a designer creates a pattern, they save the graphic in a particular format that is an image file. Each image file format has a specific use – and using the right file format for your print project will help in making sure your designs or graphics print clearly and with vivid colours. 

Certainly, the type of fabric you choose to print on will decide the end result of the print job. But knowing upfront about your file format will make all the difference to your final product.

A designer uses graphic image files in 2 distinct file formats, the raster format and the vector graphics file format. We have mentioned these graphics file formats already, but let’s explain them in detail so you will be more familiar with them.

Raster File Formats

These image raster images are: JPEG, GIF, PNG, TIFF, RAW and PSD.

We make Raster image files in Photoshop. We create each image file from a set grid made of dots that we call pixels. Each pixel is a different colour. When you create these image files in Photoshop, they exist at one particular size. If you want to edit raster images to make the raster files larger, you will have to stretch the raster format’s pixels. And this is where the term ‘pixelated’ comes from – when making the raster image too big, it becomes pixelated, and isn’t clear. It’s best to rather leave the raster image at its original size, rather than try to enlarge it.

Raster files are usually the format we use to save photographs, graphics, digital designs (like patterns to print on fabric or a logo) and some web graphics and designs for social media and emails using Photoshop. We use Adobe Photoshop to create, design and edit these high quality raster images. We also use Adobe Photoshop to add specific effects to these raster images like texture and shadow or to edit the original images.

Printing Raster Files

We’ve discussed the colour models RGB and CMYK in depth in our blog on Colour Theory (read it here). These are the 2 models we use in colour printing. For CMYK we use 4 colour inks (cyan, magenta, yellow and black), while for RGB we only use the primary colours red, green and blue – these RGB shades reflect the exact colours we see on the screen; this is why we often use this format for creative web design for marketing and advertising purposes. On the other hand, CMYK can create a whole kaleidoscope of gorgeous quality colours for your images or high resolution logo. We can mix both colour models together to create numerous other colours.

The Vector Image File Format

These files are: PDF, EPS, SVG and AI

Vector images describe digital artwork that we have created on computer – almost like a vast mathematics equation that transforms various shapes into art. Vector images depend solely on resolution. This means that if you increase or reduce the size of a vector image, it won’t lose its clarity or detail. We use the vector format a lot for format setting, or creating and editing a logo and digital illustrations in Adobe Illustrator (AI files), but not in Photoshop.

Important Factors when Creating Files

  • File Resolution

For printing, you require a file of a reasonable quality, with a minimum file resolution of 150dpi (50 dots per inch or DPI). 

  • File Size

This determines the size of the final print on the product. 

If you have more questions about graphics, designs, patterns or images, you can always get in touch with our designer team who will be more than happy to help.

Once you have chosen the fabric you are going to print your pattern or images on, it’s a good idea to find out about how to print on fabric, which will explain maake’s printing processes.

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Using the Colour Atlas

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How to Pick the Right Fabric for Your Project?