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Graphic Design and Printing: What is a Native File?

Graphic Designer working with native artwork files

What is a Native File?

A Native File refers to the electronic file format in which a document or artwork layout was originally created. In other words, it is the file type that is specific to the software used to design and construct the graphics layout in a digital format.

For example, the vast majority of graphic designers use Adobe software to create artwork layouts. In this case, the native files could be .psd files from Adobe Photoshop, .ai files from Adobe Illustrator, or .indd files from Adobe InDesign.

A native file is the foundation of graphic design because it contains all the editable elements, layers, and settings that make up the design.

Is a PDF considered a Native file format?

When preparing to send artwork files to a commercial printer, native files are almost always exported to a Portable Document Format (commonly known as a PDF or .pdf) prior to being sent. Therefore, a PDF file is not a native file…but it is an accurate representation of the original native file.

Commercial printers overwhelming prefer to receive PDF files instead of native files. This is because the PDF format offers several advantages. One major advantage of PDF files is that they are universally compatible. The recipient of a PDF file can open it without needing to have the same software version or operating system as the sender of the file.

Another important benefit offered by a PDF is that it can condense the file size. Native files contain a lot of application-related data, so they can be quite large. The reduced file size of a PDF makes it easier to store and transport electronically.

Logo for Adobe Inc.
Adobe Inc. is the predominant software provider to the graphic design industry

I sent my printing company a PDF, so why are they now requesting the Native file too?

Occasionally a printer will ask for the native file after a PDF has already been sent. This usually occurs when there needs to be a crucial revision made to the file so it will print properly.

A PDF file allows many types of revisions but certain changes require access to the native file. For example, most artwork files are created from multiple layers of graphics. If the PDF was saved as a single layer (flattened) then the various layers can no longer be worked with individually. Therefore, the native file will be needed in order to make the necessary alterations.

Also, sometimes a printer would just rather make certain file changes themselves instead of walking a client through the steps, especially when faced with time constraints. By having the native file, the printer's graphics team has full access to all of the original design components and can make any adjustment that might be needed.

Is an image file like a .jpeg, .tif, or .eps considered to be a Native file format?

Image files such as .jpeg, .tif, or .eps are created from native files but are not a native format themselves. They are visual representations of a native file that was created using a design software application.

A cautionary word about Microsoft programs…

While we're on the subject of file formats used in graphic design, it is probably a good time to issue a warning about using Microsoft programs for design work. Files created with Microsoft programs such as Publisher, PowerPoint, Word, etc. are actually intended to be printed on a home or office desktop printer. They are not well-suited for creating files that will be output to a commercial printing press.

Based on prior negative experiences, many printing companies might even reject Microsoft native files outright. That said, some print shops will do their best to convert these files into something usable. However, this has the potential to involve some rework and additional costs.

So, if you're considering using a Microsoft program to lay out artwork that will be printed on a commercial printing press, our suggestion is that you rethink that idea. Your best bet would be to hire an experienced graphic designer who has the expertise and professional software needed to ensure your book, brochure, or other project will be print ready. You will not only get much better results, you will also avoid delays and aggravation.

Color Vision is always ready to help!

If you have any print-related questions or have an upcoming print project, get in touch with Color Vision Printing. Our professional and experienced staff is always ready to serve you. Plus, you'll be pleased with our affordable pricing on digital printing, offset printing, finishing, and binding.

We are always happy to discuss your projects, so give us a call at 800-543-6299. Or, submit a quote request by clicking here and we will email you a quote. We look forward to hearing from you!

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