The Different Image File Formats & When To Use Them

July 18, 2023

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Do you know every different image file format like JPG, PNG, and GIF and what they are used for? Unless you are a die-hard graphic designer or photographer, chances are you never really had to think about it! Whether you are using a raster or vector image, this article will explain all of the differences and help you better understand what format you will need for your next project.

Vector Images

Vector image file types do not utilize pixels. Instead, vector graphics store the images as a collection of shapes. The best thing about them is that they can be any size that you need – whether it’s teeny tiny or super big without losing quality! Another perk with vectors is that as long as you have your original vector file format file you can always go in and make edits without losing any quality whatsoever when you save out. Icons and text as we know them today wouldn’t exist without vectors.

Vector graphics are crucial when it comes to branding within a company or business. Vector graphics are ideal for websites, applications, and UI design. Crafters often use vectors such as SVG files to use in their cutting machine to create vinyl decals, t-shirt design, and other cut outs. Here are the most popular vector file formats:

SVG – Scalable Vector Graphics – .svg .svgz and sometimes shows up as .xml

Scalable Vector Graphics or SVG files are exactly what the file name sounds like. They are vector files that are scalable to any size. They maintain their resolution no matter what size you make them. SVG files are ideal for charts, illustrations, and website design such as for buttons or logos. Many crafting artists use this format as they are perfect for cutting machines and plotters. For example, the Cricut Explore cutting machine can cut out several different mediums which can be used to create numerous products by utilizing SVG formats.

EPS – Encapsulated PostScript – .eps .epsf .epsi

Encapsulated PostScript or EPS files are starting to become a thing of the past. Some software and modern printers still use this file format. Because EPS has been around a while, many different software applications can easily read it, making it quite versatile when sending documents to other teams. However, they are larger in file size compared to SVG format.

PDF – Portable Document Format – .pdf

Portable Document Format or PDF is an excellent file format when it comes to the readability of other computers and software. PDF format is considered universal. Anyone that you send this file format to can view it (with Acrobat Reader which is available for free) and are also able to make changes in any vector software.

AI – Adobe Illustrator – .ai

Adobe Illustrator documents or AI files are ideal when creating designs or logos from start to finish as long as you have Adobe Illustrator. Designers around the world prefer to work in this format. One huge perk of working in this file format and in Adobe Illustrator software is that you can easily save to any other vector file format. You can also easily save out to a raster image if need be!

DXF – Drawing eXchange Format – .dxf

Drawing eXchange Format or DXF files were developed by Autodesk. DXF Files are definitely becoming obsolete as many programs can’t read them. Still, they are used for 2D and 3D modeling. Unless you are working with AutoCAD or modeling you will most likely not need this file format. Some cutting software limit you to DXF vector format unless you upgrade.

If you’re interested in finding out more information about vector image file types and vector programs check out this list of the best vector software.

Raster Images

Raster image file formats store images as pixels on a grid. If you are purchasing a stock image online there is a good chance it will be a raster image. Raster images make up the majority of images you would think about. For instance, if your family is having a photoshoot – the photographer will be sending you raster images.

If you are looking at a real estate flyer the photos of the homes and rooms will be in a raster image file format. Basically, anything that would be a picture of real life would be utilizing a raster format. Artists can also paint in software by using pixels to create art. They would then save it out to create an image using a raster format such as JPG, PNG, or GIF. Here are the most popular raster formats:

JPG – Joint Photographic Experts Group- .jpg .jpeg .jpe .jif .jfif .jfi

Joint Photographic Experts Group or JPG or JPEG are by far the most common image type. They are the most universal image file format in the realm of graphics. One drawback to JPG files is that they are lossy and lose quality because they are compressed to make a smaller file. They are an excellent choice for printing when top quality is not a requirement.

Most stock images offer JPG format because it offers high quality images without sacrificing website speed. JPG formats do not have the capability to save out with transparency. It’s no secret that high quality images are crucial when it comes to marketing success.

PNG – Portable Network Graphics – .png

Portable Network Graphics or PNG images are a fantastic option when using rasterized images. They are able to handle 16 million colors. The great thing about PNG files is that they are lossless meaning they do not lose quality with compression. They are more ideal than JPG images on the web, but file size should be considered. Another great feature about this file format is that it is able to be saved with transparency.

GIF – Graphics Interchange Format – .gif

Graphics Interchange Format or GIF images used to be all the rage. They are limited to 256 colors which is a huge drawback. They allow for transparency as well as animation. They load quickly as they are usually low resolution. You may be familiar with them if you have seen an animated meme. They may be most ideal for small graphics such as website buttons or e-mail signatures depending on color and size requirements.

BMP – BitMaP – .bmp .dib

Bitmap formats or BMP files are very high quality and make them ideal for saving archival work. They are not necessary for most people as the lack of compression makes for massive file sizes.

TIFF – Tagged Image File – .tiff .tif

Tagged Image File or TIFF files are perfect to use in lieu of Bitmap format. They use lossless compression which is perfect for high quality content. However, they should not be considered when using on the web as they are still much larger in file size than other options. There are options to compress TIFF files when needed. TIFF files are most ideal for professional publications and high-quality prints.

There are a lot of other image file formats. But all of these vector and raster file formats would be considered the most popular and utilized today. Choosing which image file type to use really depends on how you are going to use them. If you are working with vector image file types and want to make sure someone else can open and manipulate it, save them as a PDF. If you are uploading your website logo, make sure it’s an SVG format.

If you want to use photos on your website but don’t want to sacrifice space and speed, compress some of your images to JPG format. If you want a higher-quality option or need transparency on your website then use PNG. If you want to print your work professionally go with a TIFF format. Obviously, there will always be exceptions and sometimes only alternative options are available to us. Hopefully this will help you decide the best option for your project, as well as a good backup option if need be.

About the author

Savana Price is a graphic designer and entrepreneur in the greater NYC area. She specializes in website, UI, and vector design. Her business caters to crafters where hundreds of SVG designs are available to use for apparel, vinyl decals, gifts, and so much more. Her work has been featured in Bezier Volume 1.

Savana Price

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