Digital File Formats And Their Applications

JPEG, TIFF, PNG, SVG File Formats And When To Use Them

Vincent Tabora
Jul 6, 2020 · 5 min read

There are different types of file formats used in digital imaging. They have a specific purpose that has evolved over time. Those who work with raster images (e.g. photographers) use various formats depending on the type of work they need to get done. Each file format will have their advantages, but overall they are used for a specific type of output that is needed. JPEG, TIFF, PNG and SVG have become standard file formats used everyday from websites to desktop publishing.

JPEG

This is probably the most common file format that beginners and professionals use. It is the default setting on many DSLR and digital cameras. JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) is a lossy compression format used in digital photography. This is a common format that is prevalent on the web. It allows images on web pages to load faster because it is a compressed graphics file which trades off quality for ease and speed. Compression reduces the size of the file (measured in bytes), thus allowing images to load much faster. The quality also suffers, but to most average users the quality is not noticeable at all unless it is viewed in its full resolution or size (measured in pixels).

For sharing images like cat photos, JPEG is a widely supported format which web browsers and applications on all devices (e.g. laptops, tablets, smartphones) can view.

JPEG is ideal for low resolution and medium quality images used mainly on websites, social media and photo sharing. Most digital cameras, including smartphones, save images as JPEG. JPEG uses a file extension of .JPG or .JPEG. Another great advantage of JPEG is it is supported by all browsers and image editing software. You can open JPEG files straight from your browser whether it is Chrome or Safari.

TIFF

Sometimes the quality and resolution is very important, especially in commercial work. A non-compressed lossless file format is required. This is the format used by professionals in the publishing, graphics and printing industry. Since TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) is not compressed, it preserves more quality at the highest resolution, but require more disk space for storage. Since they are huge, sending them over slow Internet connections would not be a good idea unless they can be zipped or sent as a compressed file.

For print work TIFF is highly recommended.

TIFF has a .TIF extension that can be opened in professional image editing software like Adobe Creative Cloud. They are no longer supported on many websites, which prefer JPEG files due to their faster loading time. Some web browsers have also dropped support for the TIFF format, but if you can still open it the file will take much longer to download or load in the browser due to their size. They are high resolution files with sizes of 1 GB (maximum of 4 GB) not unheard of. Since they preserve the most quality, they are best used for printing to paper and even billboard signs.

PNG

The PNG (Portable Network Graphics) format comes close to TIFF in quality and is ideal for complex images. The extension of PNG files is .PNG. Like JPEG, it can support 16 Million colors (16,777,216 or 24-bit color). Unlike JPEG, TIFF uses a lossless compression algorithm in order to preserve as much quality in the image. The more detail you require in graphics, the better PNG is for the task.

For transparent backgrounds, graphics artists can work best with PNG.

Of all the raster formats, PNG provides the best support for transparency, a feature that favors graphic designers. A transparent background allows designers to embed graphics into other images rather easily without requiring more complicated steps in post editing. PNG is ideal for static images, logos, prints and other images with transparent background.

SVG

SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) is a relatively newer file format having been introduced in 2001. It has the file extension .SVG. It is a better option for many graphics artist and designers because it is used with animations and responsive web content. It is like PNG in terms of compression and preserving the highest quality available. The images remain sharp and crisp regardless of resolution or size. SVG files load much faster as well which is what makes it scalable. SVG uses non-pixel algorithms which make use of mathematical shapes and curves similar to vector graphics format. SVG is also optimized for web developers using CSS and the format is supported by the most web browsers.

For web designers, SVG format is ideal and helps with SEO.

For web design, SVG has become a preferred format. This is because it helps with SEO (Search Engine Optimization) by allowing spiders to crawl and index the images in SVG format. This is possible because SVG uses text as a separate layer in the image which is exposed for search engines to index. An SVG format is XML-based which differ from other pixel-based raster formats. This allows designers to define elements of an image in a text editor without having to render it in a graphics editing application. In fact, SVG files can be edited using text/graphics editors like Adobe Illustrator or programmed in code using special applications.

Synopsis

The following will sound about right when looking at the benefits of each file format:

  • Use JPEG for general image sharing since it is supported by most applications.
  • When printing or publishing commercial or professional work, use TIFF.
  • For designs that require the use of photos that require transparency, PNG is recommended.
  • For web designers and graphics artists who work with responsive websites, SVG is the preferred format.

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