Image File Types: Everything You Need To Know

By NE Docs | August 5, 2014

Image File Types Everything You Need To Know

In the world of document imaging, it is not uncommon to hear terms like GIF, JPG, TIFF, and PNG. These are image file formats, and represent just a few of the available file types currently in use today. If your organization is discussing document scanning services, it can quickly become confusing with such a large diversity of file options to choose from – all of which can potentially impact the quality and functionality of your image files.

In order to help you navigate the multitude of image formats that crowd the web – we have compiled everything you need to know about image file types.

Image file formats are a standardized system of organizing and storing digital files that can be rasterized (converted to pixels) for display on a computer screen or printing purposes.

These file types, among countless others, are used to encode image files – but why are there so many?

One of the major reasons for multiple file types is the need for compression. Image files tend to be rather large; the more space your data requires, the more your computer becomes “bogged down”. Compression allows for image files to decrease in size, improving our ability to transfer and store files more effectively. Additionally, when it comes to image files, different file types will vary in the colors they contain. File types can be designed to exploit the color content of an image, manipulating those with fewer colors to help reduce size.

Types of File Compression

When it comes to file compression, there are two terms you need to know – lossy & lossless.

Lossy: A type of compression algorithm that allows for image degradation in order to decrease size.

Lossless: A type of image compression algorithm that does not discard any data. Lossless compression will attempt to create the most efficient image possible without sacrificing accuracy and quality.

File Types

TIFF Image File TypeTIFF: The TIFF or TIF file format is the most widely used standard for photograph files in the printing industry, and are often times generated by scanning software when producing electronic documents. TIFF formats can be lossy or lossless, and normally save 8 or 16-bits per color for 24 and 48-bit totals respectively. The image quality of a TIFF file is exceptional – but this quality often comes with a larger file size.

JPG filtypeJPG: JPG or JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) are file formats optimized for photos. While JPG files utilize a lossy compression, it can still produce phenomenal compression ratios while maintaining a quality image. When done lightly, compression of a JPG will not be noticeable to the human eye. Unfortunately, JPEG’s are subject to generational degradation as it is repeatedly edited and saved.

PNG image File TypePNG: PNG (Portable Networks Graphics) is a file format created as an open-source alternative to the GIF. PNG is a lossless format, and utilizes patterns in its compression. Because this compression is reversible, the image file can be recovered as it was originally stored. PNG is especially suited for online viewing.


GIF File typeGIF:  GIF, or Graphics Interchange Format, can be either lossy or lossless, as they are limited to 256 colors for compression. For images with only a few colors, GIF formats are able to compress and save lossless image files. However, should an image have more than 256 colors, GIF will use several algorithms to find the best set of 256 colors to represent the image. GIFs are best used for storing small graphics with limited colors.

cr2-1859RAW: RAW is a raw image format with lossless compression much smaller than a TIFF file. However, there are several different RAW formats all dependent on the software/hardware used to capture your images. In order to develop or decode a RAW format, you may be required to use the manufacturer’s software with which the image was created.


BMP FileBMP: BMP or Windows Bitmap is unique to graphics within Microsoft operating systems.  These files are uncompressed, lossless, and often extremely large. There is very little reason to consider this option when creating image files.

If you are currently looking to turn your physical documents into image files, or would like to learn more about document conversion, contact us today!


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