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Image quality and performance

Do you know your JPEG from PSD and GIF from XD? 

Whether you’re sending marketing materials to the printers, creating an email signature, or uploading images to your blog, saving your images in the right file format is crucial!

Before saving your image, you have the opportunity to choose the file format you wish to save it in. The most suitable file format depends on the type of image you’re saving and how you intend to use it.

Choosing the right file format will enhance the quality and efficiency of your digital content – if you choose wrong, you may experience reduced image quality and excruciatingly slow load times, which can negatively impact the end user’s experience.

In this article, we’ll run through the different image file formats available and the pros, cons, and uses of each. We’ll also explain why selecting the right image file type is so important and provide valuable tips to help you do so.

Why does image file type matter?

Each image file format has unique attributes and capabilities and is intended to be used differently. Selecting the right file format is important, as it can affect the image quality and how quickly it loads if used online.

Each file format offers different levels of quality, performance, and scalability. When you choose the wrong file format for your intended purpose, the results can be less than optimal. Leading to poor image quality, large file sizes, slow load times, and potentially, a poor user experience.

Businesses use images in branding, marketing, and advertising materials to inform, persuade, and connect with their audience. Imagery also plays a significant role in shaping user experience online. If images are intended to convey important information, poor-quality images may dilute the message. Or, even worse, blurry, distorted, or low-quality images may reflect poorly on your business, potentially harming your professional image and credibility.

On the other hand, when you make informed decisions about which file formats you save your images in, you can strike a balance between high-quality visuals and fast-loading files. This will ultimately enhance your images’ visual appeal, improve the speed of your website, and create a smoother, more efficient user experience.

So, choosing the right image file formats may matter more than you realise!

sign at a crossroads against a sunset backgroundWhat are the different image file types?

So, now that we know why image file formats are so important, let’s learn more about the different types. This section will list the most common image file formats, their pros, cons, and intended uses, equipping you with the insights you need to make an informed choice the next time you hit that ‘save as’ button.

Raster graphics

Raster graphics use pixel values within a grid framework to depict an image. They’re suited to complex images like photos but come with a caveat – they cannot be scaled up without losing quality. The majority of images found online are raster graphics.

Raster files can either be lossy or lossless. Lossy files have been compressed to smaller file sizes, potentially compromising image resolution in the process, but enhancing download speeds online. On the other hand, lossless image files retain all data from the original file, so there is no decrease in resolution.

Examples of raster graphic image file formats include:

JPEG/JPG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)

JPEG is the standard image file format for digital cameras and the most popular choice for loss compression of still images.

Best for: Photography and situations requiring small file sizes. 

Pros: High-quality images, small and fast-loading file sizes, universal browser compatibility.

Cons: Images can lose sharpness, transparent backgrounds not supported.

PNG (Portable Network Graphics)

This file format offers lossless compression and is often used for website graphics and images where transparency is required. It supports a greater range of colours than GIF.

Best for: Website graphics like icons, logos, and illustrations.

Pros: High-quality graphics, supports transparent backgrounds, universal browser compatibility.

Cons: Not recommended for printing or photographs, file sizes can be large.

GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) 

As one of the original two graphics formats supported by HTML, GIF is unique because it is the only animated image file format compatible with all major web browsers.

Best for: Animated graphics.

Pros: Supports animations, can be highly compressed, universal browser compatibility.

Cons: Not recommended for photographs, limited colours.

TIFF (Tagged Image File Format)

Originally created for storing scanned photos, TIFF can be used for any image type but is particularly useful for producing large, high-quality files.

Best for: High-quality photographs and scanned images.

Pros: High-quality images, predominantly lossless compression.

Cons: Large file sizes, limited browser compatibility.

WebP (Web Picture Format)

WebP is a modern image file format developed by Google in 2010 to provide better lossy and lossless compression of web images. According to Google, WebP files are 26% smaller than PNG files.

Best for: Web images.

Pros: Better web compression than PNG and JPEG, can be used for both lossy and lossless compression, supports transparency.

Cons: Not yet compatible with Internet Explorer, not compatible with all CMS platforms.

BMP (Bitmap File)

BMP is an outdated image file format generally avoided in modern web content as it offers little or no image compression, so file sizes are much larger than PNG and JPEG.

Best for: Mostly outdated, better options are available.

Pros: Compatible with all major browsers, high-quality images.

Cons: Large file sizes with minimal quality improvement, unsuitable for the web.

HEIF (High-Efficiency Image File)

This new image file format was developed to compete with the JPEG format. It uses lossy image compression to reduce image file size and is almost twice as efficient as JPEG. 

Best for: Smartphone image storage.

Pros: Excellent image quality to file size ratio.

Cons: Not compatible with major browsers.

Webpage displayed on a laptop screenRaw image file types

Raw image files usually come directly from a digital camera. They are lossless and uncompressed, meaning they are usually huge files. Photographers usually edit and compress them before converting them to a different format.

Best for: Saving photos in the highest quality possible before editing.

Pros: Extremely high quality, more variability in shades.

Cons: Not suitable for use on the web due to their large sizes.

Vector graphics

Vector graphics use mathematical formulas, points, lines, and polygons rather than pixels to represent images, making them infinitely scalable without losing image quality. They are ideal for logos, icons, and other simple graphics but unsuitable for photographs.

Examples of vector graphic image file formats include:

SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics)

SVG image files are ideal for 2D graphics and illustrations that need to be scaled to different sizes without losing quality.

Best for: Web design elements like logos, icons, and diagrams.

Pros: Compact file sizes, lossless scaling of basic shapes, universal browser compatibility, and support for transparent backgrounds.

Cons: Not suited for complex images, not supported by every CMS platform.

EPS (Encapsulated Postscript)

The EPS image file format is the preferred format for professional printing. Graphic designers and illustrators often use the EPS file format when working with software like Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw.

Best for: Saving and storing detailed graphics for high-quality, professional printing.

Pros: Lossless scaling, high-quality images, printer-friendly.

Cons: Not suitable for web images, not compatible with major browsers.

PDF (Portable Document Format)

PDF is a highly versatile file format that can display many different content types, including documents, reports, spreadsheets, and graphics across various devices, applications, operating systems, and browsers. It is a popular file format often used by professional printing companies.

Best for: Interactive web-based reports and storing images meant for printing.

Pros: Suitable for text documents and images, supports interactive elements like hyperlinks, lossless scalability, compatible with all major browsers.

Cons: Cannot be inserted within web content (they load as separate files), potentially challenging to edit, may not be mobile-responsive.

Native image file formats

Native file formats are software-specific and may not be easily opened or viewed in other applications. When images are saved in their native file format, they can be edited within the originating application. Typically, native file formats are only used within their respective application and, upon completion, are converted into a more universal file format.

Examples of native image file formats include:

PSD (Photoshop Document)

If you’ve ever used Photoshop before, you should recognise the PSD format, as this is the image file format used by the software to save works-in-progress. PSD files can contain elements like payers, image adjustments, and vector layers, making them fully editable and offering great flexibility and control.

PSB (Photoshop Big Document)

PSB files are very similar to PSD files. They are also created in Adobe Photoshop but are used to save images of significantly larger dimensions. PSD files can support images no larger than 300,000 x 300,000 pixels; images larger than this must be saved as a PSB file.

XCF (eXperimental Computing Facility)

GIMP is an open-source raster graphics editor, often used as a free alternative to Photoshop. XCF files are the GIMP equivalent of PSD files.

AI (Adobe Illustrator)

AI files are Adobe Illustrator’s equivalent to the PSD file. Adobe created this image file format to save incomplete Adobe Illustrator files in an editable state. However, unlike PSD files, AI files are vector files that can be scaled up or down without compromising image quality. 

INDD (Adobe InDesign Document)

Adobe InDesign is a software often used by graphic designers to create books, magazines, brochures, flyers, and more. INDD files are created within Adobe InDesign to save incomplete Adobe InDesign projects.

printed InDesign document bookletXD (Adobe XD)

Adobe XD is a user interface and user experience prototyping tool. The design mock-ups created using the Adobe XD software are saved as XD files.

How to choose the right image file type for your project

When selecting the right file type for your project, you should aim to strike a careful balance between aesthetics and functionality.

Essentially, you want a visually appealing image while maintaining fast loading speeds.

Generally, JPEG works well for photos, whereas PNG and SVG formats best suit simpler graphics like logos and icons. When saving an animation, GIF should be your go-to format. If you’re creating an image to be professionally printed, PDF works well for standard-sized documents, whereas very large or detailed images and documents may be of higher quality when saved as an EPS file.

Whilst these are the standard formats for different project types, you should always consider the specific demands of your project. Is your priority flawless image quality or lightning-fast page load times? Where will the images be used – are they intended for the web or printing? By keeping these questions in mind, you can make informed decisions about the best image file format to use, ensuring that your images look great and perform optimally.

Choose Create8 for graphic design services

Need some help creating high-quality, impactful imagery for your brand?

At Create8, we have a team of experienced graphic designers who create visual content that looks the part and functions flawlessly. From choosing the right colour palette to saving the image file in the right format, our graphic designers can help you to create imagery that will elevate your brand to new heights. Contact us today to discuss your graphic design requirements in more detail.