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Don’t let file formats get the better of you

It’s hard to get excited about file formats, but knowing your GIFs from your JPEGs can save you a lot of time and frustration. Here’s a crash course in commonly used graphic file formats.

Bitmap / Raster Graphics

Bitmap graphics (also called raster graphics) are collections of pixels that fit together to make up an image. Most images you see on your computer screen, as well as pictures found on the Internet and photos you import from your digital camera are all raster graphics. The larger the image, the more disk space the image file will take up. Some examples of bitmap or raster graphic file formats include:

PNG – [Portable Network Graphics]

You should use PNG when you need smaller file sizes but can’t afford a loss in quality. PNG supports alpha transparency (soft edges) and was developed to be a Web graphics replacement for GIF. Note: if you want to retain full transparency, you will need to save your PNG file as PNG-24 and not PNG-8. 

Pros of PNG

  • PNG often creates smaller file sizes than GIF.
  • Supports transparency.

Cons of PNG

  • Not good for large images because they tend to generate a very large file.
  • Cannot be animated.

TIFF– [Tagged Image File Format]

  • The TIFF image format is easy to use with software that deals with page layout, publishing and photo manipulation.

Pros of PNG

  • Very flexible format, it supports several types of compression like JPEG, LZW, ZIP or even no compression at all.
  • High quality image format, all colour and data information are stored.
  • TIFF format can be saved with layers.

Cons of TIFF

  • Very large file size with long transfer time, huge disk space consumption, and slow loading time.

GIF – [Graphics Interchange Format]

GIF is a popular image format and can often be found on the Internet because the image size is relatively small compared to other image compression types.

Pros of GIF

  • Supports transparency.
  • Small animation effects.
  • Great for images with limited colours, or with flat regions of colour.

Cons of GIF

  • GIF is limited to the 8 bit palette with only 256 colours.

JPEG – [Joint Photographic Experts Group] 

JPEG is the most popular among the image formats used on the Internet. JPEG files are very ‘lossy’, meaning so much information is lost from the original image when you save it in JPEG file. This is because JPEG discards most of the information to keep the image file size small, which means some degree of quality is also lost.

Pros of JPEG

  • 24-bit colour, with up to 16 million colours.
  • Rich colours, great for photographs that need fine attention to colour.
  • Most used and most widely accepted image format.
  • Compatible in most OS (Mac, PC, Linux).

Cons of JPEG

  • Tends to discard a lot of data.
  • After compression, JPEG tends to create distortion.
  • Cannot be animated.
  • Does not support transparency

PDF – [Portable Document Format]

PDF is considered the standard file format for sharing and transferring documents. This file format is accepted all over the world.

Pros of PDF:

  • PDF files are usually compact and small.
  • You can create PDF files from any source document or application.
  • PDF file format prevents your document from being edited and modified by other users.

Cons of PDF:

  • The user must have Adobe Reader or another PDF specific plug-in or software installed on their system in order to view a PDF file.
  • A PDF is not an easily editable document format.

Vector Graphics

Unlike other formats, vector graphics are not made up of a grid of pixels. Instead, they are comprised of paths, which are defined by a start and end point, along with other points, curves, and angles along the way. A path can be a line, square, triangle, or a curvy shape. These paths can be used to create simple drawings or complex diagrams.

Some examples of popular vector graphic file formats include:

AI – [Adobe Illustrator]

Adobe Illustrator files are created in the Adobe Illustrator software, they are essentially the same as .eps files but are not as portable. Some programs that open .eps will not open .ai files

Pros of AI file: 

  • No loss of image quality.
  • Can be scaled to any size.

 Cons of AI file:

  • Not as portable as EPS.

EPS – [Encapsulated PostScript]

EPS is a file extension for a graphics file format, used in vector based images. An EPS file can contain text as well as graphics. Your logo will be

Pros of EPS file: 

  • EPS can contain clipping path, true font data, various kinds of metadata.
  • EPS files are widely accepted.


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