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Guide to Common File Format Types

Different types of media rely on various file formats to encode information in an effective and easily transferable way. This guide will help you to understand some characteristics of files, as well as introducing you to some of the most common file formats for saving your creative projects

How to Guide


File compression is a method of reducing file size so that less disk storage space is used. Compression is useful when you need to send large files from one location to another or when you are trying to save information on a storage device as efficiently as possible.

One of the biggest issues to consider when compressing files is whether your chosen file format is lossy or non-lossy. Compressing lossy files results in a loss of quality in your media files, especially in cases where the initial file had many small details.

Lossy vs. Lossless

A lossy file format is one that will lose some data when compressed. Lossy files can be greatly reduced in size, which makes them easy to send and store. However, when the image is uncompressed again, the quality will be slightly lower than that of the original file.

A lossless file format is one that will not lose data when compressed. Compressing lossless files will not cause them to decrease in size to same degree as lossy files, so they will take up more disk storage space.

With file compression, there is always a trade-off between file size and file quality. Consider the type of media you will be using to display this file, how much storage space you have and how detailed your file needs to be. For example, a tiny image on a website will require much less image resolution to look good than a panoramic view you are using as desktop background.

Common File Formats

These are some common file format types you are likely to encounter. A reliable way to identify a file format is by its file extension, the short abbreviation on the end of a file name (i.e. *.doc or *.pdf)

Document Files

DOC (.doc/.docx) – Basic Microsoft Word document

PDF (.pdf) – Adobe Portable Document format, designed to present documents consistently across many different platforms. Makes for stable formatting and printing

ODT (.odt) – Basic Open Document format created with Open Office

Image Files

JPEG (.jpg) – Joint Photographic Experts Group file, frequently used by digital cameras, features lossy compression unless you save as JPEG 2000, which a newer, lossless version of the format.

PNG (.png) – Raster graphics file format with lossless data compression, especially useful for web design because it can be faded to a transparent background.

BMP (.bmp) – A bitmap image that stores colour for files without compression. This means crisp quality but large image sizes. It is most often used for images intended for print.

SVG (.svg) – Scalable Vector Graphic format is used for vector-based graphics. It is very compact and scalable, working best for simple line-based print or web graphics.

TIFF (.tiff, .tif) – Tagged Image File format is most often used in printing and publishing.

PSD (.psd) – Adobe Photoshop Document is for ongoing photo editing projects in the software.

AII (.aii) – Adobe Illustrator project file is for ongoing illustration projects in the software.

Video Files

AVI (.avi) – Audio Video Interleaved file is a multimedia container format used for Windows-based software.

MPEG (.mpeg, .mpg) - Moving Pictures Experts Group file is typically the most high-quality option and features lossy compression. It has many evolving variations from MPEG-1 to MPEG-21 with different features.

QUICKTIME (.mov) –Video and animation file for QuickTime software on Mac-based software.

GIF (.gif) – Graphic Interchange Format file is a lossless format that supports both static and animated images. It is frequently used for short online animations used on social media and in texts (reaction GIFs).

PPJ (.ppj) – Adobe Premiere video editing file for ongoing video projects in the software.

Audio Files

MP3 (.mp3) – This is a lossy audio format that is good for streaming and online sharing.

WAV (.wav) – Microsoft Waveform Audio File is a lossless format, typically used for raw, uncompressed audio on Windows systems. Files in this format are large and used mostly for archival purposes.

WMA (.wma) – Window Media Audio format is an audio codec created by Microsoft. It has lossy (Windows Media Audio Pro) and lossless variations (Windows Media Audio Lossless).

AU (.au) – Audacity project file for ongoing audio projects being edited in the software.

Web Documents

HTML (.html, .htm) – Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML) file is used to set up website content.

CSS (.css) – Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) file is used to set up website look and layout elements.

DWT (.dwt) – Adobe Dreamweaver Template file is a template file used in Adobe Dreamweaver.

3-D Object Files

STL (.stl) – Stereolithography file is used with the CAD software created by 3D Systems for 3D images.

OBJ (.obj) – Object file format is a standard 3D image format usable by many types of CAD programs.

G-Code (.hvs or .hfb) – This is a file encoded in the language used to communicate a 3-D design to a Cubicon 3-D printer for manufacture. It means your design file has been converted using the Cubicon software and is ready for printing.