Why Not EPS?

Let’s start by correcting some common misunderstandings

EPS is a legacy graphics file format that has been around the industry since 1997 and, surprisingly, it is still in widespread use today, although it hasn’t seen an update in this century.

EPS means “Encapsulated PostScript,” a file format that permits a visual representation of PostScript code. An EPS file contains a description of an object or layout using the PostScript page description language, for the purpose of being included in other pages. That sounds impressive, but what does it mean for your everyday workflow? Is EPS still a viable graphics file format?

Let’s start by correcting some common misunderstandings about EPS. First, EPS does not mean vector. An EPS file may contain fonts, vector or bitmap data. In addition, there is no way to tell what the content of an EPS file is without opening it in an application such as SAi’s Flexi or Adobe Illustrator (AI). Also, you can’t convert a file to vector by saving it as an EPS.

In the ’80s and ’90s, the EPS graphics file format was used to send vector data to print, or to place vector objects into such layout applications as QuarkXPress. Out of this legacy workflow grew the belief that EPS equals vector. Con-fusing the matter are stock agencies, including iStockphoto by Getty Images, selling vector illustrations in the EPS file format. Today InDesign, Illustrator and Flexi all have direct support for native .ai and .pdf vector files. Furthermore Flexi offers direct support for .cdr, .plt and .dwg files.

Current Adobe and Flexi software retain support for EPS (they probably will for the foreseeable future) because of the numerous legacy EPS files still around today.

Modern applications allow you to save an EPS file, as well. The question is, should you?

Illustrator allows you to save an EPS file in the current version of Illustrator CC by following the steps File Save As>Format:Illustrator EPS>Version:Illustrator CC EPS.

What does this mean? Illustrator is updated every few months – EPS hasn’t been updated since the late ’90s.

Illustrator saves the EPS by embedding a complete AI file into the EPS, effectively doubling its size. When you reopen the EPS file in Illustrator, the software opens the AI part, so it appears unchanged. When you open or place the EPS in another application, you’ll only see the EPS part. Many of the latest Illustrator effects are not supported by EPS, including transparency and ICC profiles. An Illustrator EPS file sent to print or another software application will likely cause unexpected and unwanted results.

EPS files usually contain a low-resolution preview image that is used to visualize the content of the file. When you place an EPS into another application, you see the preview image, not the actual content. This explains why placed EPS files look pixilated.

If an EPS file is sent to a printer that doesn’t support PostScript, the preview image is what actually gets printed.

The only benefit of EPS today is that it should be usable by any vector graphic application or piece of equipment, no matter how old. If you need to output a newly created graphic on a legacy piece of equipment, EPS is your solution. Just make sure to keep the graphic simple. EPS requires non-color managed, opaque graphical data. I also recommend keeping a native version of the file in case further edits are needed.

Don’t try to reopen and resave EPS files with modern software. Information will likely get lost or corrupted along the way.

For all modern output options, PDF has superseded EPS. PDF is also a possible option when you need to exchange files between applications like CorelDRAW and Illustrator. When placing graphics into other applications, save them in their native file format.

Don’t worry about needing to convert your large library of legacy EPS graphics. Even though EPS has mostly been replaced by the younger and hipper PDF, it is still a workable file format, supported by all of the modern graphics applications.

So what do you do when someone requests an EPS from you? My clients ask me for EPS files frequently, because they are passing on information provided to them by someone else. There is no point in explaining to them why not to request EPS. Instead, I give them what they want. If you have a direct relationship with the person requesting an EPS file, ask them why. Find out what the intended use is for, and suggest a PDF file instead if what they really need is a vector.

In summary, if you’re originating a file, stick with PDF; if a client requests EPS formatting, educate them; if you receive an EPS file, relax – it’s still workable in all graphic applications. A final caveat is don’t try to reopen and resave EPS files with modern software, as noted above; information will likely get lost or corrupted in the process.