EPS: Why Not?

March 23, 2011 - 11:26am ||| 7 Comments | Add new

by David Blatner

[Note from AM: Many months ago, during one of our InDesignSecrets.com videocasts, I kidded David (Blatner, my co-host) because he still had some graphics in EPS format on his computer. Someone recently wrote us asking why I was making fun of his EPS images, and David wrote a great explanation, which follows.]

The viewer wrote: “Sort of curious as to why Anne-Marie made the comment [in videocast 10] about David having an EPS file. What prompted the remark, “My goodness you have an EPS file on your hard drive!”. Am I missing something about using EPS files with InDesign?”

This has come up enough recently that I feel it necessary to set the record straight: There is nothing inherently wrong with or bad about EPS files. There’s nothing wrong or bad about using Letraset rubdown letters either, and I don’t regret having used them in the 20th century. But that doesn’t mean I want to use either very much today… except in certain very valid situations.

The EPS (encapsulated postscript) file format is a slightly-crusty-with-age holdover from an earlier, more hardscrabble time, when some solution was required to move graphic data from one program to another. The basic idea was, “hey, the stuff is going to end up being printed to PostScript anyway, so why not just envelope it a little file that can be moved from place to place.

But that was then and this is now. There are significanty better options.

When it comes to pixel data (raster images), there are a plethora of better options, including TIFF and PSD. Even Photoshop images with vector data (which is not saved in either of those formats) is best served (and saved) as a PDF. I have not knowingly saved an EPS out of Photoshop for years.

When it comes to vector graphics (such as those from Illustrator), it’s a less-clear landscape. I would use PDF in almost every case instead of EPS. But that comes with a handful of caveats, exceptions, and notes: 

  • If an infrequently-used graphic is already in the EPS file format, there’s typically little reason to change it into something else. (Thus, the Illustrator 88 graphics on my machine in EPS format.) However, if I had a graphic that I was going to use a lot, such as a corporate logo, then I would almost certainly convert it to a PDF.
  • If a graphic may be used in a lesser-robust application, such as QuarkXPress 4 and or anything else that feels like “1998”, it’s totally reasonable to rely on EPS.
  • There are a few graphics for which EPS is simply a better, more efficient file format. For example, the patterns and barcodes created by Teacup Software’s plug-ins are better created as EPS for technical reasons (including the fact the that file sizes are far, far smaller (and print faster) than they would be in another format, such as PDF). I know this because I coded many of those patterns myself. You can typically hand code PostScript more efficiently than a program can write it. For example, download this “Circle/Spiral” EPS file (file size = 1 K) and drag it into InDesign. The equivalent PDF file = 648 K.

That said, EPS has many limitations, including: A. they can be difficult to preview onscreen accurately (requires a software RIP); B. they cannot contain any transparency effects (all transparency must be flattened); C. they rely on a PostScript printing workflow (not always a given anymore); D. they’re typically difficult to change if editing needs to be performed; E. your podcast co-host laughs at you for having them on your hard drive.

Perhaps that’s more than you wanted to know, but I hope that helps explain Anne-Marie’s reaction, and my stubborness. Happy InDesigning!

Comments (Subscribe to Comments RSS)

1 March 23, 2011 - 3:52pm by Sterling Ledet (not verified):

I’d never be one to get in the way of David Blatner and his acknowledgement of stubbornness (jk), but another reason I frequently save EPS files is just meeting the expectations of the various dumpees in the industry (I can say that because even though I’m not a dumper, I used to be a dumpee).

Just because modern software can now do things better doesn’t mean that everyone out there knows about it, and lots of folks are still stuck using old equipment with old software.

For certain files that you use a lot, it’s really helpful to just have all the formats that anyone might want right there where you can deliver it. I like to keep my logos right there in PDF, AI, EPS and SVG.

Even in the crusty days, it’s not like EPS was the only format kept. Lots of folks out there still ask for EPS files. Sometimes when you want to place an order for some pens for your cool conference or something, it’s a lot easier to just give the specialty advertising folks the EPS file they asked for.

2 May 10, 2011 - 8:47am by kinneybob:

I have a co-worker who saves all photos as an .eps format, and want it to stop.

There are no clipping paths or imported vector images to account for, and it make the photo files larger than they need to be.

Can someone provide me with some guidelines as to why you would save a photo
as an eps?

All other files are saved using .tif, jpg or photoshop formats.

3 June 9, 2011 - 8:01am by Anne Marie:

Their is no reason to save photos as an eps file, other than superstition.

My brother once worked as an office admin in a place where the office manager insisted only she was capable of changing the toner in the laser writer. And to do that, she’d close the curtains and dim the lights, insisting the documentation said you weren’t supposed to expose the toner cartridges to light. He challenged her about it and she went off on him in front of everyone.

So he called me very upset, knowing I work with computers, and asked me for the same thing … is there ANY documentation around that shows that laser cartridges weren’t harmed by exposure to light? He needed something to show her.

But there was no such document that I could find. My brother eventually left that job. She’s still changing cartridges in the dark for all I know.

In your case you would need to have your co-worker’s boss insist she stop saving files as eps’s because it costs the company money (in your having to re-save them as .psd or .tiff files to use correctly).

4 June 23, 2011 - 9:10am by Bob Kinney (not verified):

Thank you. I agree, to get it to stop I do have to get a “buy-in” from my boss.
That is why I would like some information to debunk this myth.
Any suggestions?

5 February 8, 2012 - 1:21pm by David Cardillo (not verified):

the “because we’ve always done it this way” argument - otherwise known as the Appeal to History fallacy - is one of the hardest to get past in just about any situation. I’m having issues getting people to use digital _at_all_ when they’re so accustomed to paper.

I have a print vendor - I won’t name names, I’ll just say they’re a Really Rare Dinosaur - who’s digital file submission spec is at least a decade old. These instructions - the same as the ones for InDesign 2 (not CS2, _2_) and Quark 4, rewritten with CS4 screen shots - actually tell people to save out a flattened PostScript file from InDesign, then bring it into Distiller and convert it to a PDF.

When I pointed out that ID uses the same PDF engine - that .joboptions files opened in Distiller “magically” appear as export options in ID - and asked what about the PDF/X-1a or PDF/X-4 specification (the later of which Distiller can’t do) that was better output from Distiller than ID, their reply was, “we get fewer errors this way.”

“I always eat peas with honey.
I’ve done so all my life.
I admit it tastes kind of funny,
But it keeps them on my knife.”
- Ogden Nash

6 February 10, 2012 - 3:02pm by David Cardillo (not verified):

curiously, the same day I read and commented on this thread, someone in another forum expressed why they feel EPS files are superior.

The context was I had asked about the appearance of gray in the same file between Photoshop, InDesign and the resulting PDF. (The issue was the embedded profile — Dot Gain 20% — and the fact that PS was trying to “accurately” render the image. There’s actually a hoop you have to jump through to get Proof Colors to work in this case.)

He says:

“Save as EPS, import into ID, export as a CMYK PDF, go to output preview and deselect the separations and it should show the image and it’s values untouched.

“Personally I shy away from saving colour TIFF files as prone to colour-shift where I prefer to save as Photoshop EPS Binary files, although larger, are more colour stable and process faster at the RIP stage. Also makes optimising the PDF file far better too.

“I do use TIFF for greyscale and mono bitmap images as can be coloured up in ID.”

is there any truth to what he says?

(link to thread with question & answer: http://tinyurl.com/6nnjujk [Linked In])

7 March 23, 2013 - 6:23pm by sharpart (not verified):

The only reason I know of for saving Photoshop files as EPS is when printing duotones, tritones, and such. This doesn’t come up often, but when I have an art book with B&W images that the publisher needs as duotones, this is the only option. Otherwise, TIF is it.

As for vector graphics, if they’re simple, I love copying from Illustrator and pasting right into InDesign. That way, I can do final tweaking right in ID. Makes everything work faster and slicker — just so long as the graphic is relatively simple and doesn’t bloat the ID file.

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