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5 Common File Types in Photography and When You Should Use Each One

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You’ve spent the last few hours working on the perfect photo shoot and everything went better than you could have possibly imagined. After importing the RAW files to your PC and making a few edits in Photoshop, it is time to save your masterpiece. But, what file type do you select? With over twenty different file types to choose from, we are here to break down some of the most popular and tell you a bit about their strengths and weaknesses.

jpeg

The well-known JPEG format is the standard for compatibility. No matter how you wish to share your photographs, whether on a social network or to a print shop, the JPEG is likely to be supported. JPEG is great for sharing photos because you know there won’t be any trouble reading the format.

There are downsides to saving as a JPEG, though. For starters, the file format doesn’t support transparency within images. Debatable compression quality also means you may not get the desired standards you are seeking when you hit the save button. Some users suggest that saving a JPEG with maximum quality will produce acceptable results, but others have yet to be convinced.

Best For: Sharing Images online with friends or family.

photoshop

The Photoshop format, also referred to by its ‘PSD’ file extension, is the default format for saving your work. It provides compatibility across a number of Adobe products including Illustrator, InDesign Premiere, and After Effects. It is one of the only formats that can save a file with all Photoshop features accounted for, such as layers and applied effects.

Despite being an excellent way to preserve every adjustment you have made in Photoshop, the PSD file is not generally accepted when sharing images since your client must be in the Adobe ecosystem in order to open it. PSD is useful for saving your work so you can easily return to the file to resume work. In most cases, PSD should be confined to your workspace.

Best For: Saving files on your workspace so you can return and edit later.

png

The PNG format is a lossless file type, which means it can preserve your images without any loss in image quality. The format itself was based on the GIF file type, but allows for higher bit rate pictures and can preserve background transparency while minimizing jagged edges. PNG is an excellent format for displaying images on the web that require transparent elements.

Downsides to the PNG format typically include a large file size; this means that while PNG is excellent for the web, it should be used sparingly and only when needed for transparency purposes. Overusing PNG images on a web server could result in a slower experience for end users and increased bandwidth costs for the site owner.

Best For: Preserving transparency for images on the web.

tiff

The Tagged-Image File Format (TIFF) is an extremely flexible format that is one of the best for saving your prized images on your Mac or PC. TIFF is compatible with almost all image-editing and graphics applications currently available. In addition, TIFF supports a large number of color standards including CMYK, RGB, Lab, Indexed Color, and Grayscale Images.

Similar to PNG, TIFF is also able to preserve transparency with the bonus of including alpha channels, which dictate the specific degree of transparence. TIFF files can also save Photoshop layers so they can be edited or rearranged at a later time. If you are saving an HDR image with immense dynamic range, TIFF can save images at a rate of up to 32-bits-per-channel.

TIFF files can pack a lot of information, but can also become quite large due to this fact. In addition, while TIFF is compatible with various image-editing programs, not every social networking site or device will be able to properly display the files. TIFF is best reserved for archiving images on your PC to preserve quality or for high-quality printing.

Best For: Archival purposes and retaining maximum quality.

gif

The Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) has been included on this list simply so that we can tell you to avoid it. GIF images are extremely compressed files specifically designed to increase transfer speed over the internet. PNG was developed as an alternative to the GIF while maintaining quality far beyond what the GIF is capable of storing.

The only time a GIF image should generally be used is for low-quality web graphics that feature animation. GIF feature a limited color range and are not suited for reproducing high-quality images in today’s world. An animated GIF of a silly cat, however, is acceptable.

Best For: Low-resolution animated images for the web.

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