Creative Basics: Understanding Image Formats & Color Formats.

Creative Basics:
Know the difference between Vector files and Raster files.
Know the difference between process color and spot color.
It makes all the difference.


Graphic File Types: Vector & Raster.

Raster files. (Common: .JPG, .TIF, BMP, GIF, PNG, etc. full list HERE.)

Pixels compose the image.  Depending on the original size of the image in the file, resizing an image will cause the pixels to resize, resulting in a loss of fidelity.  It is important to note that when discussing a high-res photo, while it may be high res at 6″, resizing the image to a 30″ wide display banner may not have the desired results.

Photos are raster files.

Vector files. (Common: .EPS, .AI, and .SVG.full list HERE.)

Paths compose the image.  Photos files are not vector files.  Vector files are composed in illustration software like Adobe Illustrator.  Common uses: illustrations, logos, scalable graphics.  So if you need your logo for a business card or a 10′ display – crisp, high res, no loss of fidelity.


Color: RGB, CMYK, Pantone, Hex
(We’re going to “way” oversimplify this)

Example: Screens use RGB.  Printed brochures use CMYK*.

Process colors

RGB is Red, Green, Blue and the combos, create the color.  Highest value is 255.  RGB: 0.0.0 is white, RGB: 255.255.255 is “Black”.  The Minnesota Vikings purple is RGB: 79.38.131 for example.

A DSLR camera uses RGB to ‘capture’ colors.

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. The number represents % of each of the four colors.  The highest value for either C,M,Y or K would be 100.  CMYK: is white.  CMYK: would be a highly saturated black.  (Overkill for black but discussing black is beyond discussion here.)  The Minnesota Vikings purple is CMYK: (Note the heavy C (Cyan) and M (Magenta) values) for example, the gold is CMYK (Note the heavy Y (Yellow) value.)  Source: Team Color Codes.

Hex (Hexidecimal) Color is a derivative representation of the RGB with variations for use in website design.

Spot Colors.

Spot colors are standardized colors that have zero variance for printing purposes to ensure consistent, universal output.  They are applied to a surface as 1 color in a single run. The Pantone Matching System (PMS) is an example of this, but there are others such as, but not limited to, Toyo (Japan), RAL (Europe) and ANPA (Newspaper standard in US).

The Vikings purple is PMS 268 C.  The C stands for “coated” as opposed to flat color.

* Some printing methods do use RGB for output.
For example, dye-sub process used often in fabric and sublimation print methods.


Thank you Neglia Design for the use of this terrific Image.
We encourage readers to visit Neglia’s website for their excellent article on color,
“What’s the difference between PMS, CMYK, RGB and HEX?”


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.