Image Formats: Get the 411

JPEG, PNG, GIF, TIFF, BMP…Alphabet soup? Nope. Image formats. If that looks like Greek to you, then you’ve come to the right place. We’ve got the 411 on image formats: what they are, their unique attributes and when to use which ones.

And why would you need to know any of that? Because all image formats are not created equal, so if you want to make the most of your printed and electronic communications you’d be smart to know which images work best for which applications. Ready to get started? Check out our quick guide to image formats and their most appropriate uses.


JPEGs (or JPGs) are the files typically used for digital photos and the most popular choice for web graphics. JPEGs are perfect for the web because their tight compression options make them great for uploading online and they are compatible across most platforms. They are terrific for black and white images, images with complex colors and anytime you need smaller file sizes. Be careful though, JPEGs use what the pros call “lossy” compression, meaning they lose image quality as the file size decreases. This makes them less-suited to logos and line art.


PNG files are great for web graphics too. In fact, they were created for web applications to replace the GIF (see below). They support “lossless” compression, which means they don’t lose image quality as the file size decreases. The trade-off is that the files themselves are much larger than JPEGs. Best uses for PNGs on the web include logos, text images, transparent images and complex real-life images if file size is not a key consideration.


GIFs support fewer colors than JPEGs so their file size is even smaller and they support lossless compression like PNG files. Although they work for web graphics, their image quality is not exceptional. The GIF’s true calling, however, is animation. That’s when they really shine. GIF animation works by using a series of GIF frames to create a moving image. They’re a great attention-grabber for your email marketing or website! Other good uses for GIFs include simple images or illustrations, small icons and borders.


TIFF (or TIF) files are the go-to format for images that will be printed. Professional designers, photographers and publishers simply wouldn’t use anything else due to the TIFF’s phenomenal color attributes and ability to retain image quality regardless of file size. The ever-flexible TIFF is easy to manipulate with most photo editing software programs, but its larger file size makes it better for printing than for uploading online. TIFFs are also good for scanned images, layered images and very high quality digital photographs or graphics.


BMP (or bitmap) files are sometimes known as paint images. They are large and can’t be compressed for easy transport, but they do have rich color and good image quality. BMP files are widely supported and excellent for grayscale images. They also work for layered images, especially with transparency. With no real advantages over the other image formats, BMPs are used less often.

Now that wasn’t too bad, was it? Well, there’s a lot more to it than that, and if you’re not a professional graphic artist it can get a bit complicated. Why not let your local Curtis 1000 expert “uncomplicate” your creative design needs? Call us at 877.287.8715 or fill out the “How Can We Help You” form on our website today!