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Chapter 4. Files and Formats > Why All These Formats?

Why All These Formats?

File formats are different forms and methods in which files can be written, saved, or exported to disk. Just as VHS and 8mm are different videotape formats, TIFF and PCX (for example) are different image formats. By supporting a wider variety of formats, Illustrator can accept graphics from all kinds of Macintosh and Windows applications.

The following sections describe most of the formats that Illustrator 10 supports. I'll tell you how each format works and what good it is, and I'll offer additional instructions as needed.

Native Illustrator

The native Illustrator format—the one Illustrator likes best—is a type of PostScript file. If you know how to program in PostScript, you can even open the file (as a text file) in a word processor and edit it line by line. There are nine variations on the basic Illustrator format, each corresponding to a different version of the software.

Illustrator 10 can open Illustrator files from all past versions. But, of course, the older the versions get, the less exciting stuff they did. Following is a quick list of what's not supported as you traverse back through the versions—sort of like an archaeological snapshot of the evolution of the program's features. This list is not an exhaustive description of what each one will support.

  • Illustrator 10.0: This format saves every little thing you can do in Illustrator 10.

  • Illustrator 9.0: This format does not support symbols and instances, variables, and other information related to data-driven graphics and SVG interactivity.

  • Illustrator 8.0: This format does not support appearances, transparency, live object effects, and live raster effects.

  • Illustrator 7.0: This format does not support the extended blend capabilities, gradient meshes, and specialized brushstrokes.

  • Illustrator 6.0: This format does not support grids, the expanded template capabilities, and some file formats.

  • Illustrator 5.0/5.5: The Illustrator 5 format does not support imported image files or thumbnail previews.

  • Illustrator 4.0 (for Windows): This Windows-only version of the Illustrator format is almost identical to the Illustrator 3 format. (Illustrator 4 also supported grids and TIFF templates—neither of which was possible on the Mac side until Illustrator 7—but this hardly matters, in terms of format.)

  • Illustrator 3.0/3.2: This format doesn't support gradients, layers, large artboard sizes, tabs, and columns or rows. It converts gradient fills to blends and combines all objects onto a single layer. Objects in the pasteboard may be lost.

  • Illustrator 88: This format does not support compound paths, area and path text, text blocks with more than 256 characters, custom guides, and charts. All paths remain intact, but they may not serve their original function. Text blocks are divided into pieces; area and path text may be broken up into individual letters.

  • Illustrator 1.0/1.1: This format supports only paths and small text blocks. What it doesn't support could fill a book (such as this book): tile patterns, masks, placed EPS images, and colors (that's right, colors).

    Although Illustrator 10.0 can open both 88 and 1.0/1.1 files, it cannot save back to those formats. If there is some obscure reason you need files in those formats, use Macromedia FreeHand, which does support saving files in those formats.

Formats for Printing and Mobility: Adobe PDF and EPS

Illustrator might like the native Illustrator format best, but, of course, there are a lot of other “hosts” out there waiting to receive and use your artwork. In this section we'll look at the two most popular formats for getting your files seen and understood by the most universal audience possible. An EPS file is a top choice for placing into layout programs for high-end output. A PDF file is an excellent choice to be printed on its own, retaining the look and colors of your original no matter where it goes, but its utility goes way further than that, extending into the prepress and online realms as well.

Portable Document Format (PDF)

PDF files are becoming increasingly commonplace because you can view and print them from any machine that has the Adobe Acrobat Reader software, which is a free download from Adobe. You can trade PDF files with other Mac and Windows users, regardless of which program you used to create the original file or which fonts you used to format the text. PDF ensures that fonts, colors, and other elements look the same on any computer. Illustrator also allows you to edit text and graphic objects within the Acrobat document itself.

Further, PDF is becoming a strong player in prepress, or maybe I should say pre-prepress: It gives you the convenience of making it very easy to package files for remote printing. I'll cover PDF and its relation to prepress in detail in Chapter 24.

PDF has also become a popular choice for Help files and for Web documents that need

PDF has also become a popular choice for Help files and for Web documents that need to appear identically (and readily accessible) on all machines. PDF files on the Web can now also be indexed by search engines such as Yahoo.

Encapsulated PostScript (EPS)

The EPS format combines a pure PostScript description of an illustration with a preview so you can see what the image looks like on screen. Years ago EPS files were the only way to get Illustrator artwork into page-layout programs, and it still remains the best format for doing so. You can also store images in the EPS format. Although it's not the most efficient format for images in terms of file size, EPS images print faster and with less chance of problems, which is why the format is a favorite of high-end service bureaus.

Web Image Formats: GIF, JPEG, and PNG

1Don't worry, I wouldn't forget to cover Web formats, without which, of course, no self-respecting twenty-first-century program would be able to hold up its head. While they all share the description of “popular, Web-friendly, raster format with some form of compression,” each of the following has its own strengths and is best suited for a particular type of graphic.

Some of these formats may be available as a direct export option, but they are all available in the Save for Web dialog box, where you've got a lot more control over them anyway (as explained in Chapter 21).

Graphics Interchange Format (GIF89a)

Originally designed for transferring compressed graphics with a modem, GIF is the most extensively used graphics format on the Web. It supports up to 256 colors and LZW compression, as does TIFF (mentioned later). Although you can use the Export command to create GIF images (provided you actually take the time to install the plug-in, which has become optional), you'll get more bang for your buck by using the Save For Web command.


Named after the folks who designed it—the Joint Photographic Experts Group—JPEG is the other widely used Web graphics format and is best used for compressing photographs and other continuous-tone images, in which the distinction between immediately neighboring pixels is slight. Any image that includes gradual color transitions qualifies for JPEG compression. JPEG is not well suited to screen shots, line drawings, and other high-contrast images. Like GIF images, you have much more control using the Save For Web command to create JPEG files.

Portable Network Graphics (PNG)

Designed to outperform and eventually replace GIF, PNG compression doesn't sacrifice quality and supports both 24-bit and 48-bit images. Thus, PNG files are larger than GIF, JPEG, or TIFF files (unless you are exporting a grayscale image), and are generally best suited for smaller images. Once again, although you can use the Export command to create PNG files, you have more control using the Save For Web dialog box. Although older browsers don't support PNG, the latest versions do.

Web Vector Formats: Shockwave Flash and SVG

With the Web formats already mentioned you have to worry, one way or another, about size and pixelation and loss, which is an inelegant way of leading up to saying, I am so happy that vector formats are finally gaining ground in the online scene. The small size and eminent scalability and fidelity of these formats will appeal both to your artistic side and your Webmaster side.

Shockwave Flash (SWF)

Shockwave Flash files can be both very intricate and very compact, and are creating a buzz in the Web graphics world. SWF animations are commonly called Flash files, but Flash (FLA) files are actually the native file format created by Macromedia Flash.

Time was, it was hard to get anyone from Adobe to even use the term SWF—Macromedia's proprietary format for Web animations. Now there are two Adobe products—Illustrator and LiveMotion—that create SWF animations.

I think it's a good business decision to conclude that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. See Chapter 22 for more detailed information about SWF.

Although Illustrator can create SWF animations, it doesn't let you create the buttons, actions, or scenes, nor add sounds that many finished SWF animations have. For that you'll need to use either Macromedia Flash or Adobe LiveMotion.

Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) and Scalable Vector Graphics Compressed (SVGZ)

Welcome to the world of the future. SVG is a vector file format, designed for Web graphics creation, that can be coded directly into XML documents. SVG files offer many benefits over other formats: They are smaller than GIF or JPEG files, can be scaled up or down, can be made part of searches, and can handle animation. So why aren't there loads of SVG files posted on the Web? Because as of the publication of this book, most people don't have the browsers necessary to view SVG files, and I'm not sure when support for SVG will be incorporated into the main browsers. Meanwhile, Adobe's SVG plug-in is already available, so it's not too soon to play around with this format.

By the way, SVGZ is nothing more than the compressed version of SVG; but you can't edit SVGZ files using a text editor as you can with regular SVG files. See Chapter 22 for more on SVG.

TIFF and the Rest

Illustrator recognizes a dizzying number of graphics formats. Granted, some of these are starting to fade away, but there are probably a few Amiga users out there (and you know who you are) who will be happy to know that they're still supported, somehow, somewhere.

The remainder of this section describes formats you'll find in the Files of type (Show on the Mac) menu in the Open dialog box. If they've already been covered above, I won't repeat them. And since TIFF is by far the most common, I'll start with that, and then resort to alphabetical order so as not to play favorites. Many of these formats are found in both the Open and Export dialog boxes.

Tag Image File Format (TIFF)

Developed by Aldus (which is now part of Adobe) to standardize electronic images so you could easily import them into PageMaker, TIFF is one of the most widely supported formats across both the Macintosh and Windows platforms. Unlike PICT (discussed shortly), it can't handle object-oriented artwork, but it is otherwise unrestricted, supporting 16 million colors and virtually infinite resolutions.

Photoshop lets you apply LZW compression to a TIFF image, which substitutes frequently used strings of code with shorter equivalents. This makes the files smaller on disk without altering so much as a single pixel. Imaging professionals call this kind of compression lossless, because it preserves the integrity of each and every scanned color. Illustrator likewise supports LZW compression. It also opens both the Mac and Windows varieties of TIFF, so you never have to worry that your Photoshop images won't be compatible with Illustrator.

Amiga Interchange File Format (IFF)

The Amiga was an experiment in desktop computers pioneered by Commodore in the 1980s. Illustrator lets you open and save IFF files. IFF is the Amiga's all-around graphic format, serving much the same function as PICT on the Mac.

AutoCAD Drawing (DWG) and AutoCAD Interchange (DXF)

AutoCAD is a program used by engineers and architects. DWG is the standard file format created by AutoCAD. DXF is the tagged data format of those files.

BMP (Bitmap)

BMP is the native format for the cheesy little Paint utility that ships with Windows. Like PCX, BMP supports 16 million colors and high resolutions. If there is any way that you can avoid working with BMP files, do so. However, if you get a BMP image, rest assured that you can place it into your illustration.

Computer Graphics Metafile (CGM)

CGM is a vector-based file format that is used by a wide variety of programs. Think of CGM as the common language among different vector programs.

CorelDraw 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 (CDR)

Although it can't export in the CorelDraw format, Illustrator does let you open files created in CorelDraw versions 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. Of course, not all effects and attributes will translate correctly when opened in Illustrator.

FilmStrip (FLM)

FilmStrip is the format used by Adobe Premiere and Adobe Photoshop. FilmStrip organizes frames into a long vertical strip. A gray bar separates each frame. Although Photoshop is a far more useful program for editing FilmStrip files, you can open and add to these files in Illustrator.

FreeHand 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 (FH4, FH5, FH6, FH7, FH8, FH9)

Why would Adobe let you open FreeHand files in Illustrator? After all, isn't Macromedia FreeHand Illustrator's number one competitor? Well, yes, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to translate FreeHand files into your own Illustrator artwork. Of course, don't expect all the FreeHand attributes to make it across the border. But it does help greatly when you're working desperately Sunday night and need to add the client's FreeHand logo into your Illustrator page.

Kodak Photo CD

Photo CD is the affordable photographic scanning technology that leaves some flatbed scanners in the dust. You can take a roll of undeveloped film, color negatives, or slides in to your local Photo CD dealer and have the photos scanned onto a CD-ROM at 2,048 by 3,072 pixels for about $2 per photo. Each CD holds 100 images, allowing you to acquire a library of images without taking up a lot of room in your home or office. Better yet, Photo CDs are designed to resist the ravages of time and last well into the twenty-second century (longer than any of the people using them now).

Metafiles (WMF, EMF)

Metafiles are actually the broad description of any files that contain commands that are used to draw graphics. Strictly speaking, Illustrator files are a type of metafile. WMF stands for Windows Metafile, the 16-bit files used by the Windows operating system to display pictures. EMF stands for Enhanced Metafile, a more advanced form of the Windows metafile, which contains 32-bit information.

PC Paintbrush (PCX)

PCX is the extension that PC Paintbrush assigns to images saved in its native file format. PCX used to be a very popular image file format, largely because PC Paintbrush has been around for so long. PCX images can include up to 16 million colors.

Photoshop 6 (PSD)

Illustrator can open and place images stored in Photoshop's native format. This means you do not have to save a copy of a Photoshop file as a TIFF or EPS to add it to Illustrator documents. Even better, you can open Photoshop files and any Photoshop layers can be converted into distinct images in Illustrator—complete with transparency and with masks applied.


The PICT (Macintosh Picture) format is a graphics exchange format Apple designed more than ten years ago and has updated irregularly over time. You can save both object-oriented illustrations and photographic images in the PICT format, but the format isn't ideally suited to either. Frankly, TIFF is better for images, and EPS is better for illustrations. But that doesn't mean PICT doesn't have its uses; it's perfectly good for slide output and screen presentations.

Pixar (PXR)

When it wasn't busy creating award-winning blockbusters such as Toy Story original and sequel, A Bug's Life, and Monsters Inc., Pixar created a few 3D graphics applications for the Mac, including MacRenderMan, ShowPlace, and Typestry. The company works its own 3D magic using mondo-expensive Pixar workstations. Illustrator can open a still image created on a Pixar machine.


TrueVision's Targa and NuVista video boards let you overlay computer graphics and animation onto live video. The effect is called chroma keying because typically a key color is set aside to let the live video show through. TrueVision designed the Targa format to support 32-bit images that include so-called alpha channels capable of displaying the live video. Illustrator doesn't know a video from a rodeo, but it can place a still Targa image.

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