Let’s go over the basics. Before we get to the three simple steps, let’s dig a little deeper into the differences between print and digital media.
Print medias are files such as business cards, books, magazines, or even company holiday cards. The color mode for print is CMYK, which stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key (Black). The reason for the CMYK color mode is because in early in the printing press days to achieve color, all of the ink (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) would have their own printing plates. The printer would first have to lay down one color and then would have to wait for it to dry to continue with all the other inks. That process is so effective that printers still use this theory today.
When dealing with digital, the media is a television set, a computer monitor, a mobile phone, or any other kind of light source. The color mode used for digital is RGB that stand for red, green, blue. RGB is also known as “additive colors” because the colors are being added together to achieve a broad range of colors or until the outcome is white.
Resolution for print files is measured in dpi, or dots per inch. Dpi is a measure of spatial printing or video dot density, in particular, the number of individual dots that can be placed in a line within the span of 1 inch (2.54 cm). The best resolution for print materials is 300 dpi. This will ensure that the image is clear and the color is vibrant. Conversely, for a digital image (an image that will be viewed on a screen), 72dpi is appropriate.
There are quite a few file types to choose from and that alone can be overwhelming. For print, you’d mostly want to use a PDF or an EPS vector. If you don’t have design software, a PDF can be opened in Adobe Acrobat. An EPS vector is a manipulate-able file that can be sized as needed without distorting the image. A program like Adobe Illustrator is needed to open it.
For digital files, a JPG or a PNG file would be appropriate. A PNG would be the best choice if you want the background behind the image to be transparent, as opposed to having a white background, for instance.
If you are feeling really fancy, you can create a GIF image, which creates short animated pictures. Think of them as digital flipbooks. They can easily be generated without a software program through websites like giphy.com.
Now that you understand the science, here is a cheat sheet for quick reference.
Color mode: CMYK
- PDF (Preferred for most files)
- EPS (Preferred for large signs and banners)
- JPG (Preferred for images)
- TIFF (Preferred for high-resolution images)
Color Mode: RGB
- GIF (For basic animated pictures.)
When working with a printer or a third party (for instance, if you are participating in a tradeshow), always ask them what file type they would prefer. However, if you are just beginning to play around with a design program, this cheat sheet should help you get started.