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Image Format describes how data related to the image will be stored. Data can be stored in compressed, uncompressed, or vector format. Have you ever wondered when you should use a JPG instead of a PNG? Or maybe you’re just trying to figure out which program opens an INDD.
Each type of image has different advantages and disadvantages. Image types such as TIFF are good for printing while JPG or PNG is best for the web.
In this article, we’ll cover all the most important types of images and their file extensions and when you should use them so that you can use appropriate formats for a particular application, and also the difference between a raster image and a vector image.
Before moving on to the different types of images and their uses, let’s first understand certain common terms associated with images.
Difference Between a Raster Image and a Vector Image
Raster Image Files
Raster images are constructed by a series of pixels, or individual blocks, to form an image. JPEG, GIF, and PNG are all raster image extensions. Every photo you find online or in print is a raster image. Pixels have a defined proportion based on their resolution (high or low), and when the pixels are stretched to fill space they were not originally intended to fit, they become distorted, resulting in blurry or unclear images.
In order to retain pixel quality, you cannot resize raster images without compromising their resolution. As a result, it is important to remember to save raster files at the exact dimensions needed for the application.
Vector Image Files
Vector images are far more flexible. They are constructed using proportional formulas rather than pixels. EPS, AI, and PDF are perfect for creating graphics that require frequent resizing. Your logo and brand graphics should have been created as a vector, and you should always have a master file on hand. The real beauty of vectors lies in their ability to be sized as small as a postage stamp, or large enough to fit on a billboard!
High Resolution vs. Low Resolution
Have you heard your designer talk about DPI or PPI? DPI stands for “dots per inch” and PPI translates to “pixels per inch.” These units of measure are essential for determining if the density of pixels in an image is appropriate for the application you are using.
The biggest thing to note when determining what DPI or PPI you require is if you are using an image for print or web. Websites display images at 72dpi, which is low resolution; however, images at this resolution look really crisp on the web. This is not the case for print. Best practices for printing an image will require it to be no less than 300 dpi.
Different Types Of Images
Following are the most commonly used types of images and their uses:
1. JPEG – Joint Photographic Experts Group
JPEGs might be the most common file type you run across on the web, and more than likely the kind of image that is in your company’s MS Word version of its letterhead. JPEGs are known for their “lossy” compression, meaning that the quality of the image decreases as the file size decreases.
You can use JPEGs for projects on the web, in Microsoft Office documents, or for projects that require printing at a high resolution. Paying attention to the resolution and file size with JPEGs is essential in order to produce a nice-looking project.
JPG vs. JPEG
There is no difference between the .jpg and .jpeg filename extensions. Regardless of how you name your file, it is still in the same format and will behave the same way. The only reason that the two extensions exist for the same format is that .jpeg was shortened to .jpg to accommodate the three-character limit in early versions of Windows. While there is no such requirement today, .jpg remains the standard and default on many image software programs.
Pros and Cons of JPEG Files
JPEG file format is exceptional at detailing complex graphics at a low size. There are specific benefits and drawbacks of this file type. Let’s look at the pros and cons of JPEG files.
- High-Resolution Images: High definition is one of the notable advantages of JPEG images. The file format supports 24-bit colors with up to 16 million colors. Even after applying high-level editing in professional tools, the resolution of digital images remains top-notch.
- Smaller in Size: Compare JPEG file format with BMP, PNG, or RAW files and you’ll spot the difference in size. JPEG has the advantage of compressing a digital image at a smaller file size. With a relatively similar quality and resolution, the JPEG file size is smaller than the rest of the file formats.
- Custom Compression: If you’ve ever tried uploading photographs and signatures for official applications, you probably know this advantage of using JPEG files. You can adjust the degree of compression of a JPEG image according to the required size.
- Compatibility is one of the key advantages of JPEG Images: Needless to say, JPEG is a universally accepted file format that you can edit or use on your smartphone, computer, camera, or even editing software.
- Easy to access, deliver, and transfer: The small size of JPEG images allows you to communicate through infographics pretty easily. You can share the JPEG images on cloud storage, attach them to email, and even put them on your Facebook or Twitter page instantly.
- Compression degrades the image quality: The JPEG standard erases some color data to make the output smaller in size whenever you compress the file to a certain limit. The biggest disadvantage of reducing the size is you have to settle for poor-quality pictures that can’t be undone once saved.
- Processing control: Photographers can relate to this problem as while shooting on JPEG; you may limit the color variations and your camera’s processor. On the contrary, there is no such limitation when you shoot the image in RAW format.
- Resaving is one of the common disadvantages of JPEG files: Even if you merely edit a JPEG file, its quality deteriorates every time you do it. Try opening an image in Microsoft picture manager or paint, and you’ll notice the distorted pixels in the JPEG image.
- Inflexible Application: JPEG file format is generally ideal for digital images such as portraits and nature photographs. However, if the images comprise text or sharp lines and edges, it may not be an adequate standard.
- No support for Layered Images: Unfortunately, JPEG images do not support layered images. That’s why most graphic designers avoid this standard. You might need to work extra on layered images in order to adjust and edit graphic images, which is not possible with JPEG Images.
2. PNG – Portable Network Graphics
PNGs are amazing for interactive documents such as web pages but are not suitable for print. While PNGs are “lossless,” meaning you can edit them and not lose quality, they are still low resolution.
The reason PNGs are used in most web projects is that you can save your image with more colors on a transparent background. This makes for a much sharper, web-quality image.
Pros and Cons of JPEG Files
- Minimum compression loss. The image quality is not changed by any compression ratio
- The format is suitable for the storage of intermediate versions of the image. When you re-save the image, quality is not lost
- PNG supports a large number of colors. PNG-8 (256 colors) and PNG-24 (about 16.7 million. Colors)
- It supports multi-level transparency. The image has 256 levels of opacity from fully opaque to fully transparent
- It’s possible to work with layers
- The ability to add to the file meta-data
- Small size file
- Doesn’t support animation
- Ill-suited for working with full-color images
- Can not store multiple images in one file
3. GIF – Graphics Interchange Format
GIFs are most common in their animated form, which is all the rage on Tumblr pages and in banner ads. It seems like every day we see pop culture GIF references from Giphy in the comments of social media posts. In their more basic form, GIFs are formed from up to 256 colors in the RGB colorspace. Due to the limited number of colors, the file size is drastically reduced.
This is a common file type for web projects where an image needs to load very quickly, as opposed to one that needs to retain a higher level of quality.
Pros and Cons of GIF
The following are the pros and cons of GIFs.
- Small File Size: One of the main advantages of using animated gifs is the size which can be relatively smaller compared with other file formats. Moreover, this can be advantageous when loading images online as they can load quicker without losing their quality.
- Professional-Looking Images: Aside from the small file sizes when using animated gifs, these types can also support transparent backgrounds. This will likewise help in providing a more professional look to a particular website having animation over a varied background.
- Convey Messages Better: Another pro for animated gifs is that they can show any thought in a much better way than it would normally do. It can show movements and emotions that a regular image can’t possibly do. More so, this can be perfect when making tutorial animations that can enhance the experience. Take note that younger audiences can easily be amused with animations, so it can really make them want to pay attention to details.
- Limited Color Pattern: The fact that it only uses a color palette of 256 colors, the animated images created can sometimes look poorer in comparison to other image files. For some instances, images can look slightly pixelated or images that can look blocky.
- Editing Is Not Possible: Another con when it comes to using animated gifs is that it can’t be edited once the animation has already been coded into the actual gif file. So you need to make sure that you have the final image set before getting it in action right away. If you fail to do so, you may have to do the same thing again from the very beginning just to make a minor adjustment to an existing gif file.
- Internet Connection Matters: Despite the fact that gif files are small in size and should run smoothly once the sequence of still images has been finally coded, some of these animated images can be dependent on Internet speed. So when the connection lags a bit, the images will not load right away and will end up displaying a less desirable version of that file.
4. TIFF – Tagged Image File
A TIFF is a large raster file that doesn’t lose quality. This file type is known for using “lossless compression,” meaning the original image data is maintained regardless of how often you might copy, re-save, or compress the original file.
Despite TIFF images’ ability to recover their quality after manipulation, you should avoid using this file type on the web. Since it can take forever to load, it’ll severely impact website performance. TIFF files are also commonly used when saving photographs for print.
Pros and Cons of TIFFs
- Flexible and Adaptable: One of the advantages of this file format is that it can handle images and data within a single file, including header tags such as size, definition, image-data arrangement, and applied image compression, thus making it flexible and adaptable. For example, a single TIFF file can contain both JPEG and PackBits compressed images. What makes the format more flexible and adaptable is that it can be rendered in any class, including grayscale, color palette, or RGB full color. Hence, including being a container for different image file formats, it is a single format usable across multiple computer platforms.
- Lossless Format: It can also store image data in a lossless format. Unlike the more common and standard JPEG standard, which is a lossy format, another advantage of TIFF is that it is useful for archiving images for further editing, transferring, and saving without losing image quality. The BMP file format, which is a lossless format, is less flexible when compared to TIFF.
- Large File Size: When compared to the PNG and JPEG standards, a principal disadvantage of TIFF is that it has a relatively large file size. Take note that this format is generally uncompressed. A single file can typically take up at least 100 megabytes of storage space. Having a large image file size means that using the format would consume storage space quickly or it may be too large to be uploaded as an email attachment. When used as an online image for websites or web-based applications, it can take a long time to open or download, while also consuming more broadband data.
- Stores Multiple Files: Remember that the format can store multiple files in a single file. A single TIFF file can be a container for different image files. This is useful for the storage and transmission of text data or documents. However, unlike the PDF format, it cannot directly store the textual contents of documents, thereby making it unsuitable for archiving searchable texts.
WebP is a modern image format that provides superior lossless and lossy compression for images on the web. Using WebP, webmasters and web developers can create smaller, richer images that make the web faster.
WebP lossless images are 26% smaller in size compared to PNGs. WebP lossy images are 25-34% smaller than comparable JPEG images at an equivalent SSIM quality index.
Lossless WebP supports transparency (also known as alpha channel) at a cost of just 22% additional bytes. For cases when lossy RGB compression is acceptable, lossy WebP also supports transparency, typically providing 3× smaller file sizes compared to PNG.
Pros and Cons of WebP
The following are the pros and cons of WebP files.
- Smaller file size
- Improved Compression Algorithm
- Smoother Colour Gradations
- Alpha Channel Mask
- Weak Browser Support
- Artifacting Has Plastic Appearance
- Poor Exporting Interface
6. BMP – Bit Map Image File
The next in the list of types of images are BMP files. Files have extensions .BMP represents Bitmap Image files that are used to store bitmap digital images. These images are independent of the graphics adapter and are also called device-independent bitmap (DIB) file format. This independence serves the purpose of opening the file on multiple platforms such as Microsoft Windows and Mac. The BMP file format can store data as two-dimensional digital images in both monochromes as well as color formats with various colour depths.
Device Independent Bitmaps act as an aid to exchanging bitmaps between devices and applications. Due to the continuous evolution of this file format, the information contained in the headers can be different from the version of Bitmap. A single bitmap file consists of fixed as well as variable-size structures in a specific sequence.
The BMP file format is capable of storing two-dimensional digital images both monochrome and color, in various color depths, and optionally with data compression, alpha channels, and color profiles. The Windows Metafile (WMF) specification covers the BMP file format.
Pros and Cons of BMP files
The following are the pros and cons of BMP files.
- The BMP file format supports various color depths, alpha channels, color profiles, and optional data compression, thus making it relatively versatile.
- An array of software or applications support this format ranging from standard image viewers and web browsers to editing software such as Adobe Photoshop.
- The files can be uncompressed or compressed with lossless compression. Hence, when compared to the JPEG standard, the BMP can be edited, manipulated, and moved without losing image quality.
- An uncompressed BMP file is considerably simple to read. No other compressed image file formats are compressed and difficult to decompress.
- Furthermore, the format can be used for storing crisp and high-quality images because it can store color data for each pixel in the image without any compression.
- It is also important to note that the JPEG and GIF formats are also bitmaps, but they use image compression algorithms to decrease their file size.
- Although uncompressed BMP image files retain their image quality, their large file sizes make them unsuitable for use on the web or for storing in limited spaces. An alternative is the PNG format, which is also a lossless format, that has a significantly smaller file size.
- Everything that can be done with BMP can also be done with TIFF. The TIFF is more flexible and has advantages over other formats such as JPEG standard and PNG format.
- The format is also not suitable for prepress production because it is limited to RGB. Note that prepress requirements should be based on CMYK.
- There are alternatives to BMP file format that have advantages depending on their use. JPG is suitable for web and file storage, while PNG is ideal for image editing, storage, and web. TIFF provides better flexibility.
7. HEIF – High-Efficiency Image Format
The next in the list of types of images is an HEIF file. An HEIF file is a lossy compressed format. It may contain still images, image collections, image bursts, and image sequences. HEIF files also store metadata that describes each image.
It is based on High-Efficiency Video Compression (HEVC), which is also known as H.265. The format was developed by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) and became popular in 2017 when Apple announced that they were replacing JPEG files with HEIF files in iOS 11. Compared to JPEG images, HEIF images require considerably less storage space without sacrificing image quality. If an iPhone user shares an image with a non-iPhone user or to a social site, the HEIF image is converted to a JPEG image.
Pros and Cons of HEIFs
The following are the pros and cons of HEIF files.
- You can capture an image twice the quality of JPG or PNG and use up the same amount of storage space.
- This format can contain an image sequence in addition to a regular image file. This means that you can store multiple images in one file format, and as such, you can capture live photos and burst images. For example, this is why you’re able to see a moving image if you enable a live photo on the iPhone.
- It can also store image derivations, meaning that all the different editing steps can be saved in an image file, so you can modify or undo it later. And in the end, HEIC is compatible with a 16-bit color scheme, compared to the 8-bit colors of JPG.
- Currently, the most obvious downside of the HEIC format is its lack of compatibility with various systems and devices. However, the trend is changing and we should expect a much wider presence of the format in the future.
- Google Chrome doesn’t support this format, and neither do most popular web apps and social platforms. For example, regardless of your device and default image format, if you upload a HEIC image to Instagram or Facebook, it will automatically convert to JPG. This means that you will lose out on image quality during uploading.
8. SVG – Scalar Vector Graphics
An SVG file is a file that uses XML-based text format for describing the appearance of an image. The word Scalable refers to the fact that the SVG can be scaled to different sizes without losing any quality. A text-based description of such files makes them independent of resolution. It is one of the most used formats for building a website and printing graphics in order to achieve scalability. The format can only be used for two-dimensional graphics though. SVG files can be viewed/opened in almost all modern browsers including Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari.
The SVG Document Object Model (DOM) lays the foundations for all the specifications and interfaces that correspond to the particular sections of the specifications. SVG viewers must implement the SVG DOM interfaces as defined throughout the W3C specifications. Its DOM exposes several interfaces for different data types and elements.
SVG has some predefined shape elements that can be used by developers such as Rectangle, Circle, Ellipse, Line, Polyline, Polygon, Path.
Pros and Cons of SVG files
The following are the pros and cons of SVG files.
- Small size. SVG image elements take up much less space than their twins created in raster format;
- Flexibility. With CSS, you can quickly change the graphics settings on the site, such as the background color or the position of the logo on the page. To do this, you can edit the file in any text editor;
- Scalability without changing the image quality. It is widely used for devices with screens Retina and those close to them;
- It’s possible to view the contents of the SVG file in any browser (IE, Chrome, Opera, Firefox, Safari, etc.).
- The file size is growing very fast if the object consists of a large number of small elements;
- It’s impossible to read a part of the graphic object, only the entire object and it slows you down.
9. EPS – Encapsulated PostScript
The next in the list of types of images are EPS files. EPS is a file in vector format that has been designed to produce high-resolution graphics for print. Almost any kind of design software can create an EPS.
The EPS extension is more of a universal file type (much like the PDF) that can be used to open vector-based artwork in any design editor, not just the more common Adobe products. This safeguards file transfers to designers that are not yet utilizing Adobe products but may be using Corel Draw or Quark.
Pros and Cons of EPS Files
The following are the pros and cons of EPS files.
- An EPS is a vector-based image file. Vector images are mathematical in their construction, guided by specific data for each photo. Each EPS graphic is built using precise coordinates to define the parameters of the picture. This makes EPS a perfect candidate to use for brand images, logos, and print advertisements. The strongest case for EPS comes from digital to print projects that require a massive size change. For example, a client sends a small EPS image to an advertising company and asks for it to be printed onto a massive sign.
- EPS is a strong choice for companies due to its customizable nature. Most companies build their web pages using images purchased from the internet, usually stock photos. However, they usually don’t want to use the photo as-is so they need to make some changes. This is why they need EPS because they can fit the image into their website and have it conform to the ideals of their brand.
The main drawback of EPS is that it needs to have adobe to produce an image, without it the image quality will turn out to be bad.
10. PDF – Portable Document File
PDFs were invented by Adobe with the goal of capturing and reviewing rich information from any application, on any computer, with anyone, anywhere. I’d say they’ve been pretty successful so far.
If a designer saves your vector logo in PDF format, you can view it without any design editing software (as long as you have downloaded the free Acrobat Reader software), and they have the ability to use this file to make further manipulations. This is by far the best universal tool for sharing graphics.
Pros and Cons of PDFs
- Graphic Integrity: A PDF displays the exact same content and layout no matter which operating system, device, or software application it is viewed on.
- Multi-Dimensional: The PDF format allows you to integrate various types of content – text, images, vector graphics, videos, animations, audio files, 3D models, interactive fields, hyperlinks, and buttons. All of these elements can be combined within the same PDF file and organized as a report, a presentation, or a portfolio.
- Convenient: PDFs are easy to create, read and use by everyone.
- Secure: Offers options to set up different levels of access to protect the content and the whole document, such as watermarks, passwords, or digital signatures.
- Compact: Although PDFs can theoretically contain unlimited amounts of information, they can be compressed into a file size that is easy to exchange while retaining full control over the level of image quality.
- The PDF was developed as an exchange format for documents. The original goal was to preserve and protect the content and layout of a document – no matter what platform or computer program it is viewed on. This is why PDFs are hard to edit and sometimes even extracting information from them is a challenge.
- Not all PDFs are alike when it comes to working with them. Different types of PDFs require different ways of working with them, for example when searching or extracting information.
11. PSD – Photoshop Document
The next in the list of types of images is a PSD file. PSDs are files that are created and saved in Adobe Photoshop, the most popular graphics editing software ever. This type of file contains “layers” that make modifying the image much easier to handle. This is also the program that generates the raster file types mentioned above.
The largest disadvantage to PSDs is that Photoshop works with raster images as opposed to vector images.
Pros and Cons of PSD Files
The following are the pros and cons of PSD files.
- PSDs can retain up to 30,000 pixels in both height and width, meaning they store a large amount of color and image quality information for their size.
- They’re one of the few image files that are editable across multiple layers, meaning several images can be overlaid and manipulated individually.
- PSDs are easy to import into other Adobe products, like Illustrator or Premiere Pro.
- As the native file format of Photoshop, you’ll typically only use PSDs if you’re an Adobe Creative Cloud subscriber.
- Depending on how you use them, PSDs can get large — up to two gigabytes — which might make them a challenge to store, send, or transport.
- PSDs aren’t natively supported by operating systems like Windows and macOS without the use of Creative Cloud software.
12. AI – Adobe Illustrator Document
The last in the list of types of images is AI. AI is, by far, the image format most preferred by designers and the most reliable type of file format for using images in all types of projects from web to print, etc.
Adobe Illustrator is the industry standard for creating artwork from scratch and therefore more than likely the program in which your logo was originally rendered. Illustrator produces vector artwork, the easiest type of file to manipulate. It can also create all of the aforementioned file types. Pretty cool stuff! It is by far the best tool in any designer’s arsenal.
Pros and Cons of AI Files
The following are the pros and cons of AI files.
- Helpful user interface
- Allows in-panel editing
- Completely scalable
- Manageable sizes of files
- Supports almost all computer systems
- Steep learning curve
- Patience is required as it takes plenty of time to work on
- Costly from a business perspective
- A lot of space required
- Limited support for raster graphics
JPEG: This is an ideal image format for colorful photographs.
PNG: This is an ideal image format to preserve fine detail, transparency with the highest resolution graphics, and screenshots with fewer colors.
GIF: This is an ideal image format for animated graphics.
SVG: This is an ideal image format for high-quality images and can be scaled to any size.
WebP: WebP image format is a newer exciting alternative for JPEG and PNG, supporting lossless and lossy compression.
HEIF: HEIF image format is an alternative to JPEG with fast encoding and decoding.
How many types of image formats are there?
The 5 Types of Digital Image Files: TIFF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, and Raw Image Files, and When to Use Each One. There are 5 main formats in which to store images.
Are JPG and JPEG the same image formats?
Yes, JPG and JPEG are the same image file formats. The only reason that the two extensions exist for the same format is that .jpeg was shortened to .jpg to accommodate the three-character limit in early versions of Windows. While there is no such requirement today, .jpg remains the standard and default on many image software programs.
As you have seen, there are many image options to consider. However, it’s clear that there isn’t any perfect image format yet, and you need to choose a type based on your requirements, considering the benefits and browser support.