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Helpful hint in figuring out what a file is


Have ever ever received a file and not been able to figure out what application it was created in? No icon, no extension- just a file name like “flyer”.

The easiest way to determine what the type of file is is open it in a text editor! This doesn’t work so well with really large files, but just about anything can be opened in Note Pad (PC) or Text Edit (MAC). Usually the information you are looking for is right there on first two lines. It can sometimes be hard to decipher what the head means though. Below is a list of some file headers for the most common file types in graphic design.

  • %!PS-Adobe-3.1 EPSF-3.0 – First line in an EPS file. EPS and Postscript are pretty easy to understand; most of the creator information is on the first few lines of the file. Be wary, it might not say EPSF! There are several types of EPS files, EPSF just happens to be the most common.
  • %PDF-1.3 – This is usually the first line in a PDF file. The number will change depending on the PDF version#. These can be tricky though because Illustrator use a similar file header.
  • %PDF-1.4 – This can start an Illustrator file as well. The best way to tell them apart is to scan down a few line. If after the %PDF line, there are some line starting “Metadata”, or “Cropbox”, and then about 10 lines down you see the EPS file header, it’s an Illustrator file. Illy files are an amalgamation of PDF, PostScript and proprietary formatting these days.
  • MMXPR3 – This is the file header for a QuarkXpress document. I have been told that the number at the end of this string indicates the version of Quark that generated the file, but I can’t vouch for the accuracy of that statement.

That’s it for the file headers I know how to recognize right off the bat, but I have one more tip to share…

Image Files- Photoshop writes quite of bit of metadata into file headers these days, so more than likely, if you have an image file, the first few lines will have the information you need. You might see a line that looks like {tiff:BitsPerSample}- that means it’s a tiff file. Long lines of ASCII gibberish can indicate and image as well.

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