What File Format Should You Use?

Ever wondered what’s the best file format to use when saving an image? The answer will be different depending on what your image is used for. Before we explain some common file types, here are some general file types and terms:

  • If the images are for the web, you’ll typically want to use JPEG, PNG, or GIF.
  • TIFF files create high-quality images that can be used for print.
  • If you want to keep an editable version, use your software’s native format — .psd for Photoshop, .ai for Illustrator, etc. It’s helpful to have this to send to your designer or printer.

COMPRESSION: Lossless compression does not lose visual information. The quality of the image will remain the same no matter how many times the file is decompressed and recompressed. 

Lossy compression loses visual information. The quality is reduced every time a file is decompressed and recompressed. The advantage of lossy compression techniques is that files can be made much smaller, which his helpful for sending files via email or posting them online.

File Types

JPEG — .jpg

JPEG may be the most commonly used and widely accepted image format, and it’s considered the standard for posting images online. It uses a lossy compression technique, resulting in small file sizes and fast load times. These files offer a good middle ground between quality and size.

GIF — .gif

GIF is another popular format used on the web. It uses lossless compression, and creates relatively small file sizes. However, it uses the 8-bit palette with only 256 colors (making JPEG the more popular choice). Unlike JPEGs, GIFs can use animation effects and support transparency.

PNG — .png

PNG was designed specifically for the web, and was intended as a replacement for the GIF. It uses a lossless compression technique, and saves color more efficiently than GIFs. While PNGs create larger file sizes than JPEGs, they support transparent (unlike GIFs). Because it uses RGB color rather than CMYK, it’s not the best choice for print.

TIFF — .tif

TIFF is a popular file type used in photo and page layout softwares (such as Photoshop, InDesign, and Quark). It creates very large file sizes and contains a lot of image data, with flexible color support for grayscale, CMYK, and RGB. It can be either lossless or lossy compression.


PDF is a universal file format developed by Adobe that can be opened by anyone with the free Adobe Reader software. PDFs can be saved as editable files, and they preserve all the fonts, layout, and both vector (lossless) and bitmap (lossy) graphics. They’re great for both digital and print. While the images aren’t embedded directly on websites, they can be offered as downloadable files.

Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator files – .PSD, .AI

A PSD is the native file format of Adobe Photoshop, and an AI file is the native format of Adobe Illustrator. They’re what you’ll use any time you’re working on an ongoing project in either program, and you should use these formats if you want to keep editable file versions. They use lossless compression.