Why you should keep a store of original artwork

If you ever want a good laugh, but at the risk of some embarrassment, go and spend some time on Clients From Hell, a website where designers and other creative people send in often hilarious stories about clients who don’t quite get it. “Please change the letters in your email to blue, so I can click the link”, that sort of thing. One of the more serious misconceptions which often leads to mix-ups concerns the quality of image files provided to designers, so I thought I’d do a little guide. Not for you, dear reader, obviously, but in case you have a colleague who might appreciate it.

Whether the designers or printers you’re dealing with are working on printed material or online content, they need the best original artwork you have. For logos and illustrations, this will be “EPS” format. The original EPS file produced by the logo designer or illustrator will be infinitely scalable without any loss of resolution. You should ensure you have a master file in this format available for your company logo.

For photos, designers and printers work best with the original image, however large the file may be. The reason for this is that once an image has been resized or resaved, if it’s in a “lossy” format like JPEG (and it usually is), there’s no way to restore the quality. Don’t crop, resize or resave images for designers unless you know exactly what you’re doing.

Web designers won’t be using anything like the high resolution images needed for print, but they still need the original files. They know how to repurpose the images for the web better than you (or indeed me).

For logos, if you don’t have the EPS file, you might get away with a GIF or PNG format original, as long as it’s large. If you open a GIF or PNG file in an image editor and it comfortably fits on your PC screen at actual size, then it might be of use to a web designer, but it probably won’t be of any use to a print designer.

Your worst scenario is only having a logo in JPEG format. This is because JPEG files don’t support transparency, so if you see the logo on a white background, that’s what it is. Ask a designer to drop the logo over a photo, and they’ll either have to run it in a white box, or try to cut it out, which isn’t pretty. The JPEG format doesn’t support flat blocks of colour well either, so if you only have a logo in JPEG format, try your hardest to go back to the source. I can guarantee that whoever produced the logo originally won’t have given it to you as a 50kB JPEG file.

The problem with file formats such as JPEG, GIF and PNG is that they can lose resolution and colour fidelity every time they’re re-saved, and you don’t know their history. I’ve seen JPEG photos which are a seemingly “print-quality” 5Mb in size, but which look awful. The probability is that some well-meaning but misguided individual once had a much smaller file but “blew it up” at some stage. However, you just don’t know, and that’s the danger.

All of these formats are fine in their place (usually JPEG or PNG for photos, GIF or PNG for logos), but they should only be saved into that format and the final size required, once, at the point of need, directly from the original. If you ever find yourself sending a designer a JPEG logo, or a photo which has clearly been resized since the original, then you’re asking the designer to work with one hand tied behind their back. If they can recover the situation, you should be grateful for their talent.

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