What Is the Best Image Format for Printing?

In this practical guide, we've shared the best image format for printing, so you can produce images with gorgeous color and resolution. Below. we've also listed some of the most popular digital image formats, including their strengths and weaknesses.

What is the Best Image Format for Printing?

Before delving into specific file formats, we need to distinguish between raster and vector images. Designed with pixels, raster images are traditionally used for photos and detailed web graphics. They get more pixelated as you zoom in, but they're the only option for photos. Meanwhile, vector images are created with geometric shapes. They can be enlarged to virtually any size, without compromising on detail. Vectors are perfect for logos, animated characters, and text.

Technically, RAW images offer the best resolution for printing photos, but most printers don't accept the large and uncompressed file format. Instead, we recommend using TIFF/TIF. This raster format is popular in the photography and publishing world, because it doesn't compress the original RAW file. It's a lossless format. TIFF files are extremely large, but they produce the highest quality image for printing photos.

Meanwhile, the best image format for printing vectors is probably PDF. Most vectors start out as an EPS (Encapsulated PostScript) file, but they need to be converted to a raster format before printing. Once you've resized the vector in Illustrator, Photoshop, or another editing software, you can export the image as a PDF. This format is universally accepted in the printing world.

CMYK vs. RGB

When saving a raster image in your editing software, you have the option to choose CMYK or RGB as your color model. CMYK is a subtractive model that uses four ink colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) for printing. Meanwhile, RGB is an additive model that combines red, green, and blue to create other colors. As a general rule, CMYK is the gold standard for printing, while RGB is designed for digital media.  

Other Image Formats That Can Be Used for Printing

  • JPEG: Perhaps the most popular image format on the web, JPEG is a lossy (i.e. compressed) raster format used for photos and graphics. When exporting a JPEG with your image editing software, you can adjust the compression level to decrease the file size. With a low compression setting, JPEGs are excellent for print projects.
  • PSD: Short for "Photoshop Document", PSD is Photoshop's default file format. This is a great starting point for editing images before exporting them in a printable format. Most printers will not recognize PSD files, so you'll need to convert them to TIFF or JPEG beforehand.  
  • AI: This is Adobe Illustrator's default image format. Mostly designed for vector image editing, you can export an AI file in a variety of printable formats (ex. PDF, TIFF, JPEG).
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