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Printing Printables: PDF vs. PNG vs. JPG Which is Best?

Whether you want to design your own junk journal pages or projects or simply want to ensure that the printables you buy print out as they should, you need to know a little about working with graphics. What are the different graphics file types, and does it matter (hint: it does!). Which type prints out best, and which is the easiest to modify?

You can buy kits and premade pages, but using individual graphics makes it easy to personalize your pages and get the exact results you want. It is also important to know what the different types of graphics files are best suited for.

I'm beginning to upload some individual graphics into the shop (expect some awesome freebies as well) and wanted to make sure you knew how to make the most of them for your projects.

These butterfly fairies are brand new -- and I'll walk you through choosing and using a graphics file like these in your work:

While I'm using my own graphics to illustrate this piece, these same filetypes are sold on Etsy, Creative Market, CreativeFabrica and more, so the info will help no matter where you get your graphics.

What Kind of Files are Used for Junk Journaling?

There are three main filetypes used in junk journaling kits and items. Not everyone uses all of them, or even uses them in the same way, but the details here will help you choose the right file for your purposes. The filetypes you'll encounter most often working with digital kits and graphics are PDF, PNG and JPEG (or JPG).

It can be tough to decide if you are not sure what the different graphics filetypes do best -- and most Etsy and other sites include graphics in one or more formats. Here's a bit about each type and the best way to use it.

PDFs for Junk Journaling

The most common and best file for printing is a PDF. If you buy printables, you'll instantly recognize this format. To open a PDF, you'll need the free Adobe Acrobat viewer (available in the iOS app store and Google Play). All of the kits in this shop are PDF, and a PDF is included with every graphics file as well. Here is screenshot of a typical PDF, I'll include a copy for you at the end that you can download:

PDFs are my preferred format for printables for several reasons:

  • They print at high resolution and as the designer intended

  • They are very easy to use -- just open and print the pages you want

  • They are more easier to protect and ensure copyright (important if you want to design or sell your creations).

Why Use PDFs for Printables?

If you've purchased a printable kit or set, and you're given options, the PDF is almost always going to give you the best printed results, without surprises or additional work needed. This is the format that will be easiest to use, in most cases you'll just open and go. A PDf is made of images and text, so it combines the best of both worlds.

Use a PDF when you want to print out something and have it look as it does on screen, or if you want to modify the size of an entire kit and keep the scale (you can change the size of all pages at once in the print preferences section).

PDFs have a few drawbacks -- they are very large files (a few of the kits on this site are over 200mb) -- and they don't always work well with mobile phones. PDFs work best on tablets and laptops. Their large size means they take up a lot of space, which may not be available on your phone. You also need the free Adobe Acrobat program to open them.

This stuffed pocket project is a typical PDF, it is designed to be click and go -- just click to open, then choose print and wait for the pages to come out of the printer. The most difficult part should be deciding which paper to use. Find this cute stuffed pocket here.

Note for designers:

PDFs are also not digital design friendly. If you want to make money with printables or sell your own designs eventually, then this is a good thing -- it will be more difficult to copy your designs. Because the design is flattened to the page, it may be more difficult to change or add to an existing element -- you're better off working with a different format if you want to modify a graphic.

JPG Files for Junk Journaling

JPEG files are the ones you are most familiar with, whether you realize it or not. They are the default filetype for photos. So if you have pictures in your iPad or phone, you have JPEGS. Sticking with the mushroom/fairy theme, here is a JPG I like, from unsplash. It is free to download and use, find it here: Photo by Florian van Duyn on Unsplash

If you simply want to to print out the photo or use it as is, just download the JPG in the size you want and carry on.

JPEGs are probably the filetype I use the least in design -- they are not as high resolution or detailed as PNGs (read more below on these) and they do not have transparent backgrounds, which makes them more difficult to work with in a design program.

JPEG files are most useful for:

  • Opening in a phone -- one that is not cooperating with a PDF file.

  • Printing one image in different sizes

  • Printing unaltered or minorly altered images (color changes, filters etc -- if you need to add or subtract items from the image, a JPEG is not as helpful as a PNG).

If you want one image from an entire set, then a JPG file is the easiest way to get it -- just click the filename you want and open it in any graphics program. You can also print, but need to be mindful of the size. it may not by what you expect.

PNG Files for Junk Journaling

PNG files are the ones I use the most -- because once I cut away any material I don't want, I can modify an image and place it anywhere. You can find a step by step walkthrough of taking the image from a vintage postcard and using it on a page here, if you're interested in design, it should be helpful.

Here is a screenshot from Procreate, showing a PNG file -- note everything is transparent except the girls and wings:

PNGs have a transparent background, so only the part of the image you want shows up -- everything else is clear. This is essential if you are trying to combine 2 images. (see the tutorial on doing this here).

Making your own Junk journal Graphics

If you have a scanned image, stick photo or other item and want to convert it into a usable graphic, ive share a look at the process here. This is an old (like 1800s old) catalog from the soap industry. The blog shows you how to go from old paper to new graphic, step by step. Just click the photo to go take a look. I use an iPad and procreate, but the steps work with any graphics program.

Why USE PNGs in your Junk Journal?

If you are not going to modify a file or image, you're better off printing a PDF, but if you want to make changes or want just one image, then a PNG offers better print quality and higher resolution than a JPEG image, in most cases. Choose PNG if:

  • You want a transparent background

  • You want to design pages to use or sell

  • You need a high resolution print of a single image or design

A quick example -- I've added a fairy image PNG to work with (find it here in the shop)

PDF vs. PNG vs. JPG

So what Graphics do you want? Here’s the fast and easy version;

PDF: fast, easy printing, high quality images

Use the PDF if you want to print a high quality page, cut the pieces out and get To work creating. All the kits in my shop are pdf even if the include another option. Thus is true for most designers that sell larger junk journal kits.

Kits like Cinderella arrive in ready to print, pdf form, so you can download, print and start crafting in minutes:

Avoid PDFs if you want to digitally edit before using, you’ll have to convert it first and it’s a headache. Some phones do not work well with PDFs, so if you download and print and it doesn’t look perfect on the first try, either use another device or another format.

***note for premium members, most of you know this, but you can always request a different format of our PDF files if you need it, just drop me a note and we’ll get you fixed up.

JPEG: Small file size, convenient, easy

These photo files are basically the image of a page, so you can print one from a set very easily. Use these when you want to resize a page or if you’re using a phone, they’re more mobile friendly.

This is my least favorite format but mainly because I use a lot of high resolution detailed images…these just print better as PDFs. But a jpeg is perfect if you want to print a single page or you’re concerned about storage space.

PNG: high quality, designer friendly

The biggest benefit of PNGs is for those who want to digitally alter a design before printing. Sing a png can retain a transparent background, it can be dropped into an existing image easily, without a messy background to clean up.

Use this version to add things before you print, to make stickers and fussy cuts and to add logos, monograms and watermarks.

How to tell what filetype you have

Before purchase, check the description, it will usually state what is included. Here’s how it looks on Etsy;

If you’ve already downloaded, just look at your file names, it will say .pdf, .png or .jpg.

Printing Printables With the Right Filetype

When you know what each file type does best, you can always get the right image for your needs. If you’re unsure, just ask.

What about other file types?

SVG? TIFf? I have another piece in the works on svgs and how to use them, I’ll link these together when it is complete. Until then, I hope this info is helpful, and happy crafting!

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Tora Geirs
Tora Geirs
Nov 27, 2021

Thank you for this, I used to make scrapbooking digitally and often made my own stuff, but its a long time ago and I really don't remember how I did all that :(


Thank you for sharing so much!Beautiful printables and wealth of knowledge!Much appreciated!

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