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When buying or selling digital products, you may have heard about ‘source files’. But what is a source file exactly? More importantly, what does a source file do, and should it be supplied to the customer?
In this article, you’ll learn about the different types of source files and their uses and which ones need to be supplied to customers with the digital products that are designed for them.
A simple definition of a source file is that it is the original data that was used to create a document or program. It contains this original or essential data in its “raw” and most basic form.
This gives the customer access to the data in an editable or scalable form so that they can use it in any way they please.
You would need a source file to be able to edit a template or graphic product. This data can then be continuously edited in preparation for publishing or other processing.
When you receive a pre-formatted file type, you will not be able to alter anything in that file.
On the other hand, a source file is the “master” version of the file, which contains the program instructions for editing or making changes to the file.
When a digital product is created for you, the designer may allow you access to a high-quality source file that you can edit.
There are different types of source files, and each can have its own file format.
Here are some of the most common types of source files:
So, what is the difference between a source file and a vector file? What do these words mean, and are they two different things?
The term “source file” is not as mysterious as it sounds. A simple definition of a source file is the source of the original data used to create a digital product.
The data used by the designer for any digital project can be traced back to a source file. But there are several different types of source files, used for text, images, etc.
A designer who creates images such as branding and logos for clients will be very familiar with this term. But for those freelancers who are new to the industry, and clients wanting a better understanding of what this is, here is a quick explanation.
A vector file is an image source file that you can edit. Therefore, a vector file is not something different from a source file. It is a type of source file.
A lot of the confusion that arises around source files is due to not understanding the difference between source code and source files.
So let’s look at what these terms mean, and how they relate to each other.
Source code is the term used to describe code written using human-readable programming language, usually in plain text.
Computer programmers write in source code to prescribe the actions they want to be performed by a computer. When the source code is translated into a binary code, it can then be executed by any computer.
Most of the time, application software includes only these executable files in binary code. But when the readable source code is included, it allows users, programmers, or system administrators to modify the program.
Source files are pieces of source code that get stored in the computer system, usually in the form of a text file.
These text files contain program instructions written in a computer programming language. Examples of this language are Java, Python, and C language. For example, Java PSD is designed to be used for reading and writing Adobe Photoshop PSD files.
This file gets compiled to run in a specific computer program that allows for the editing of the file.
There are many services on Legiit that provide source files along with the digital product you order.
For example, if you order a new logo design for your business, you’ll likely receive the final image as a JPEG or PNG file.
The source file that comes with it would likely be an Ai or SVG file. This source file allows you to further edit and customize their logo.
When a designer creates a brand logo for a business, they must supply the client with two types of files for that logo design. These are the vector and raster source files.
The former is the image source file that the client can edit. The latter is the image file that a client will upload to a website or social media app.
Source files are often vector-based.
The graphic designer will have created the brand logo in the vector file.
You can further customize the image of the brand logo in the vector file by editing the color, size, etc.
This is what a printer will work with to create business cards, promotional flyers, or other marketing material with your logo on it.
Vector files allow the client to reproduce the design. They also enable them to re-size the design without sacrificing the quality.
A raster file is also known as a bitmap image file. This features a dot matrix data structure.
Raster graphics are stored in image files that are viewable on a computer display. They represent 2-dimensional images with rectangular matrixes or grids of square pixels.
The printing and pre-press industries refer to raster graphics as contones. The raster file contains the image the client will upload for publishing on their website or social media platforms.
Graphics are the visual art representations of drawings or lettering. The best-known software used by a graphic designer to create these graphics is Adobe Illustrator, Indesign, and Adobe's Photoshop.
The main source files to supply with graphics are the PSD and Ai files.
A PSD (Photoshop data file) is the image file created by Adobe Photoshop. This format saves design files in Photoshop.
An Ai (Adobe Illustrator file) is another source file the client may need so that they have the raw data for their graphics and can make any changes to the design if they ever want to.
If these files are in different file formats, it makes them difficult to edit. In the case of a digital product that you don’t need to edit or make any changes to, this is not an issue.
But, if you want to be able to edit the graphics you purchase, the file formats need to be compatible.
Having the source file means you can edit these images and designs where necessary and then print or use scalable versions of them.
In the world of graphic design, infographics are visual representations of information, usually expressed as text and images represented in diagrams or charts.
When ordering infographics that contain statistics or other information that may change over time, having the source files is incredibly useful.
It means you can edit the text and other elements on the infographic as time goes on and stats change.
When it comes to a business card template, you may need to make amendments to it at some stage (eg. if your contact details change).
So, you’ll want to get the PSD source files and AI vector source files used to create the template.
The PSD (such as Adobe Photoshop) and AI (such as illustrator) allow you to edit the elements on the business card template. For example, you could alter the color and text, insert your logo, change any details, etc.
Social media templates are another product category where PSD files need to be supplied.
This is essential for the client to be able to edit the pages of their social media platforms and reuse the templates to create different content.
Source codes, source files, text files, and vectors. All of this technical jargon about files and formats can sometimes be confusing. But now you should have a better understanding of what a source file is and why you may want them included in your digital services.
Having the source files for digital projects allows you to make changes to the text, images, colors, and more should you ever want to.