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Table of contents
In the following article, we will introduce you to ten image formats that are particularly common in raster graphics (also called pixel graphics). For better classification: The counterpart to raster graphics is vector graphics. Vector-based formats such as AI (Adobe Illustrator) or SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) are often used for logos and illustrations, while raster graphics are used for photos and detailed images. Of course, this is not just about the technical facts. We also show you for which purposes the respective formats are particularly suitable and for which they are not.
named after the Joint Photographic Experts Group
JPEG, the format with the highest penetration rate, is at the top of our list. The most important feature of the JPEG format is its compression capability. JPEG saves storage space by intelligently combining lossless and lossy compression. There is a high degree of individual leeway in the weighting of quality and storage size here. This makes the format particularly flexible to use: from storing high-resolution photos in the best quality to highly compressed images for sharing on the web, all purposes are covered.
The color depth of JPEG corresponds with 24-bit (approx. 16.78 million colors) to the common standard. JPEG is also equipped for professional color management by supporting common color profiles. JPEG is therefore very well suited for storing images that are rich in detail and color. On the other hand, the JPEG format is unsuitable for low-detail graphics with a low color gamut. The PNG and WebP formats are particularly suitable for this purpose. In addition, it should be mentioned that JPEG supports the Exif, IPTC and XMP metadata standards, thus enabling seamless documentation. You can find many more details about the JPEG format in this blog post.
* .jpeg is the unabridged file extension. Since older Windows versions provided only three characters for the extension, it is often shortened to .jpg until today.
The TIF format is used when no information can be missing. The raw data formats (RAW formats) of the most important camera manufacturers are all lossless convertible to TIFF. Therefore, the TIF format is very popular among professional photographers, also because it supports a color depth of 48 bits (Deep Color), which corresponds to about 281 trillion different colors.
The TIF format only allows algorithms that compress losslessly. Thus, in the vast majority of applications**, saving in TIF format produces a significantly larger file than saving the same data in JPEG format. Of course, TIFF files become especially large when working with 48-bit color depth. In that case, high-resolution medium format scans can easily become half a gigabyte in size. As with JPEG, TIFF supports common color profiles and metadata formats.
In summary, the TIF format is ideal for those who do not want to compromise and who are willing to consume significantly more storage space to obtain any information. In practice, these are usually photography enthusiasts or institutes that need to document images for scientific, medical or criminological purposes. For the average home user, however, the TIF format has no relevance.
* See note above. / ** Exceptions are graphics with low color depth (below 8-bit).
The PNG format is the most widely used lossless graphics format for raster graphics on the Internet and due to this high degree of distribution, it is rightly ranked third on this list.
The possibility of lossless compression PNG has in common with TIFF, but PNG uses compression algorithms that are somewhat more efficient in the result. So PNG files are a bit below lossless encoded TIFF files in terms of storage space requirements.
For low-detail graphics, the PNG format is perfect, also because color depths below 8-bit are supported. So in such cases there is an advantage over JPEG (at least 8-bit grayscale). Another plus point PNG collects is its support for transparency. This makes the format especially interesting for saving cropped graphics or logos (TIFF can do this, too, by the way).
Photos, on the other hand, should not be saved in PNG format. On the one hand, the file size would be unnecessarily high, on the other hand, the possibilities to add metadata to the photo are limited, because there is no full support of the Exif or IPTC standards. If you do have photos in PNG format, you can read here how to easily convert PNG files to JPEG format.
In summary: PNG is the standard format for logos and graphics on the web – still, it must be said, because with WebP there is a competitor format that could replace the classic web formats (PNG, JPEG, GIF). More below.
The GIF format was already developed at the end of the 80s, was considered extinct in the meantime, but experienced a comeback from 2010. In its original version, GIF supports only 256 colors (8-bit) and single-color transparency. Although later versions also allow higher color depths via technical tricks, we are not interested in that here.
The format is popular and widespread mainly because it provides for the storage of many individual images in a file, thus enabling animations (keyword animated GIFs). In addition, the combination of low color depth and lossless compression ensures small file sizes. Because of these specifications, GIF has become the standard format for moving image memes. GIFs are so popular that the term is often used as a synonym for short animations, regardless of whether the format was actually used.
WebP is an open source file format for use on the Internet. Google developed it as a replacement for the JPEG, PNG and GIF web formats. Everything that the mentioned formats can do, WebP can do just as well or better. In terms of compression, WebP can convince with files that are smaller for the same quality or of higher quality for the same size than those of the classic formats. WebP supports both lossy and lossless compression modes.
Animations, as known from GIFs, can also be displayed by WebP. WebP also offers transparency and color management via ICC color profiles. The Exif and XMP metadata standards are fully supported, only the outdated IPTC data format has to be dispensed with. But this is not a problem, because all IPTC fields can also be mapped via XMP.
In summary, WebP is the future web format for raster graphics. The degree of dissemination is still rather low, but this is changing from year to year. So prepare yourself mentally for the omnipresence of Weppy.
not to be confused with BPM ;)
Bitmap is another English term, along with pixmap, for what we call pixel graphics or raster graphics. So basically we’ve been talking about bitmaps all along. Files with the extension .bmp are Windows bitmaps. The BMP format is as old as Windows itself (1990). You know it mainly from Microsoft Paint. BMP files are saved uncompressed. As a result, the files become very large and are not well suited for Internet applications. Accordingly, this was not followed by a triumphal procession on the web. Today, the format is only popular among paint nostalgics and otherwise hardly in use.
HEIF is a container format that will be familiar to anyone who owns an iPhone, iPad or Mac. As of iOS 11 or macOS High Sierra, HEIF is the default format for storing photos on these devices. The file extension is usually not .heif, but .heic, which means that HEVC was used as the codec. HEIF and HEVC were developed by the MPEG (Moving Picture Experts Group), an expert group known from the MPEG video formats.
The compression algorithms used in HEVC are more effective in the result than those of JPEG. HEIC files therefore require less storage space with the same or better quality. Meanwhile, Windows 10 also supports the playback of the format. If the penetration rate increases, JPEG will have another serious competitor besides WebP. If you would like to know even more precisely what is hidden behind the many abbreviations: We have written an entire article on the subject of HEIF / HEIC.
Everyone involved in professional photo editing knows Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop is THE program when it comes to enhancing, manipulating, or collaging digital photos – and PSD is Photoshop’s proprietary format. All image and editing data (background, paths, layers, texts) are stored lossless in one file in the PSD format. The files can therefore become very large. PSD is of course not a final format, but an editing format. Nevertheless, PSD files can also be displayed with other programs, e.g. IrfanView, ACDSee or GIMP.
XCF is the native file format of the free image editor GIMP, which is a slim and free alternative to Photoshop. Just like PSD, the format stores all image and editing data losslessly in one file. XCF files can therefore also become very large. The format can be displayed with other programs such as IrfanView or Paint.NET, but often only if appropriate plugins have been installed.
The DNG format is an open raw (RAW) format developed by Adobe to create a standard in this field. Raw data is unprocessed data written to the storage medium of a digital camera. Almost all camera manufacturers have their own, i.e. proprietary format for this. Although the DNG format is now supported by many cameras, it has not replaced the proprietary raw data formats. The claim to establish DNG as an industry-wide standard could therefore not be fulfilled. Nevertheless, the format is well suited for exchanging raw data, since it is naturally supported by Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom as well as RAW converter tools such as Capture One or dcraw, and the common metadata formats can also be embedded.
When managing a larger media pool, a wide variety of image formats usually arise. We often hear questions in this context that involve the conversion of file formats.
(e.g. “how can I convert an image to PDF?” or “how can I convert a PNG to JPG?“, etc.)
Since Windows on-board tools like Paint and Photos (or Preview on macOS) can only open and convert standard formats, you should think about using professional image management software.
When purchasing such software, make sure that all image formats listed here are supported and that conversion to any of them is possible.
If you simply want to try out the possibilities of a digital asset management system, you can start a free 14-day trial for teamnext | Media Hub here. In addition, you can of course book an appointment for an online product demo with one of our experts at any time. Simply use our contact form for this purpose.