Understanding Different Image Formats and Their Proper Use
An image is an image, right? Wrong. Your image can have more letters after its file name than someone who’s spent years in higher education. We may ignore file extensions like .Jpeg, .bmp and .gif because they seem meaningless, but they are in fact super important, different and incompatible. So if you’re thinking WTF when you hear the term .png, here’s a quick look at the five most popular image formats and when you should be using them.
Jpeg stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group and is the most frequently used file type. Jpegs are particularly suited to using online, where shots tend to be quite small. That’s because a Jpeg will discard a lot of data in favor of reducing the file size. While this has its benefits, it can mean that the image loses some of its original quality. That said, Jpegs offer a less grainy image quality than a Gif file, they are the most frequently used image-type and they are compatible with most operating systems. As they don’t support transparency, you should avoid using a Jpeg for a line drawing or a logo.
The most popular file choice for cartoons, logos and diagrams, the Gif is limited to an eight-but palette with just 256 colors. The letters stand for Graphics Interchange Format and despite their color limitations; Gifs are popular for online use. A Gif file will compress your image by reducing the number of colors and by merging multiple patterns into one. It’s best to use a Gif when you need a small image and you using a simple selection of shades.
Bmp is short for The Windows Bitmap and are the image files used with Microsoft Windows. Unlike a Jpeg or a Gif, Bmp files are uncompressed, meaning they offer rich color, high levels of detail and are compatible with all Windows operating systems. However, their size is also their downfall, and they can be slow to load online. Furthermore, as Bmps are made up of millions of pixels, if you enlarge an image you’re enlarging the pixel size. This can make your images appear fuzzy and lose quality. Because of these scaling issues, they aren’t a great choice for digital use.
Tiff files were created in 2009 and are popular with Apple users as well as the graphic design and photography community. This is because they’re super easy to scale and compress with very little loss of quality. On the down-side, they aren’t compatible with every operating system, but they work a treat with layout, publishing and photo manipulation software. For print graphics Tiffs are the best choice on account of their ability to read CMYK colors.
Png (Portable Network Graphics) files were specifically designed to be web-friendly and were intended to replace the Gif. Like Gifs they have a 256-strong color palette but they are much more adept at saving colors accurately. Pngs are not compatible with CMYK colors and should never be used on print collateral.
There isn’t a magic formula that works in all cases of image use. Each one has their own unique pros and cons, but with more practice and a touch of trial and error you’ll be able to find the right file extension for the job. Hope this makes things a little clearer, ATB!