Image formats demystified

With so many file formats available, it’s not always easy to figure out where to start, but certain file types give you far more flexibility with particular aspects of your design than others, so it’s good to give this some thought.

Things to consider when choosing a file format

Every file format that’s out there has its pros and cons. There may not be a one-size-fits-all approach to choosing a file format, but there’s a format for everything. If you’ve got a file you’re looking to export or print, and you’re wondering which file format to go for, it’s good to consider the following things:

Size—Do you have a lot of room to store your file? Will it need to fit in an email as an attachment? Performance—Will the file be stored online? A large file with a lot of data could slow a website down. Scalability—Will the file be edited or resized upon export? Does it need to be versatile? Certain file types lose a significant amount of detail upon being resized or scaled.

With these things in mind, let’s look at some of the more common file formats.

PNG

PNG (Portable Network Graphics) is a lossless file format, meaning the quality of data and fine detail stored within files of this type will be retained each time it is opened and saved.

PNG files provide an almost perfect representation of what’s on a screen, making it a good choice for screenshots and web graphics. It is a great choice if you’re working with a detailed, high contrast image containing text or line art, such as a logo, as it will not produce visual artifacts.

Another advantage of this versatile format is its ability to retain transparent areas of your graphic, in contrast to the JPG format which will render transparent areas as a solid white colour.

PNG images retain transparent areas.

One of the main drawbacks of PNG is its larger file size when compared to JPG, which can achieve similar results at a smaller size.

This file type is also not ideal for professional-quality printing as it does not support non-RGB colour spaces. In addition to this, PNG does not natively support EXIF data.

JPG

JPG (or Joint Photographic Experts Group—the team that developed the file format—for short) is a good choice for high-resolution web graphics with a smooth variation in colours, such as portraits and photographs of nature.

As JPG files can be saved at a smaller file size while still retaining a similar level of quality to a PNG or BMP file, this format is perfect for standard online graphics.

A unique advantage of JPG is that it allows you to manually adjust the degree of compression of each image, allowing you to balance the image quality up against the file size.

JPG images allow you to manually adjust the level of compression.

JPG is a lossy file type, losing unnecessary colour data as the image is compressed. Each time a JPG is edited and saved, more quality will be lost as a result.

Images with sharp lines and edges should also ideally be saved in a different format due to the noticeable visual artifacts produced between contrasting colours and objects when saving to JPG.

In addition to this, JPG files also do not support

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