Difference between different photography file formats: JPG, TIFF, GIF, PSD and PNG

If you are in any way related to photography, you must be interested in knowing the difference between different photo formats. Well, a number of formats like JPG, TIFF, PNG, among others, are widely used in photography. These photography file formats have their own attributes, advantages and disadvantages. You should know the right format to be used in a particular place to enhance the visual impact of an image. Even when you retouch a photo, it is necessary to know the format in which you should save it. This is determined according to the purpose for which the image will be used. Before mastering the art of photography or photo editing, you should gain a comprehensive idea about different photo formats.

Digital photos file formats

File formats for digital photos

It is important to know the format that is ideal for photos of different genres, especially when it comes to the provision of photo post-production services. In the professional world of photo editing and photo retouching, formats like JPG, PNG, and TIFF are the most extensively used file formats. These are used for printing, photo retouching and other manipulations of digital photos.

Read on to know the differences among different formats used in photos.


JPG file format is one of the most popular formats when you consider image retouching. Whether you deal with headshot retouching or general image retouching, photos are saved in this particular format. A large number of websites also use JPG format in the images. Besides, photos captured in digital cameras are stored in this format. The key reason for the popularity of this format is that the size of files is not too large and they can be stored easily. It is also possible to make the date appear smaller so that the attention lies primarily on the image. Pages in websites load faster if the images are small in size. Heavy images make the website slow. Due to the small storage size of these images, these are widely used in websites. Evidently, JPG format is used when the minimum size of the image is required.

Another reason behind the extensive use of JPG image format is that it can be compressed without causing any loss to the image quality. This property is immensely helpful in many cases.  Generally, when images are minimized in size, they suffer from a qualitative loss. However, images in JPG format can be compressed as and when required. This will not deteriorate the quality of the image.

Most of the photo retouchers do not lower the size of these images beyond a certain point. You need not compress the images too much. A reasonable reduction in image size is the ideal strategy to maintain its quality. In case you are not interested in maintaining the highest quality in an image, JPG is the right format for you. However, you need to take a few precautions:

  • Choose the highest possible quality of image that is offered by the editing software. The image should be of maximum size when you edit it.
  • While photo retouching, save the edited image at the end. If you save the image before the entire editing is done, the quality of image will weaken.


TIFF is another widely used photo format and has the ability to retain its quality even when the file size is minimized. In fact, it caters to the requirements of various commercial segments. However, a major drawback of TIFF format is that it cannot be used on websites. It is for this reason websites have images in JPG format. Comparing the two, TIFF has a broader ground of utility. The only limitation of the format is its incompatibility with websites. The quality of the image remains intact when it is compressed. This format is extensively used in the fashion industry and portrait retouching. This format provides all the features required by a photographer.


GIF is one of the oldest photo formats. It was designed much before JPG and TIFF. This format came into inception at a time when 8-bit videos became popular and served the video purposes much effectively. GIF was unique in a number of ways. However, this format has its own limitations too. It is not suitable for printing which is the main drawback.  The number of colours that can be used in GIF format is limited to 256. Although all variants of colours cannot be incorporated in this photo format, it is sufficient for a graphic purpose. It is for this limitation that photo editors avoid using indexed colours to enhance images in GIF format; also for photo color correction services this format suits the least. Unlike other formats, modern GIF files offer more transparency and animation. Today, this format is widely used in web graphics, where people do not look out for the variety of colours. GIF is also known for its pure colour shades and smaller sizes of files.


This file format has been the latest inclusion in the list. It has most of the attributes of TIFF and is a very useful format. A key advantage of PNG over TIFF is that it can be used in websites and most web developers are really comfortable using it. The purpose of designing this format was to bypass the inconveniences owing to loss of quality of other photo formats. GIF format is likely to be replaced by PNG. Both these formats are supported by browsers, but PNG provides more benefits than GIF. As the format has been designed lately, it is powered with the latest features. PNG files occupy lesser space when images are converted from other formats. However, a disadvantage of PNG files is that websites are slow in reading images in this format. This is the reason why it is not as popular as JPG and TIFF. However, it is widely being used by contemporary photographers. The format does not lose its quality during photo retouching and hence ideal for photo manipulation.


This is a layered image file format, which is the default format when using Adobe Photoshop to save images.  Photoshop Document, abbreviated as PSD supports multiple layers of image and numerous imaging options. This is very helpful in case, the editor has to resume the work for a later time and also if one wants to make changes in a particular layer without disturbing other layers.

It saves an image all inclusive of its clipping paths, shapes, layer masks, adjustment layers, styles and even blending modes and helps to preserve its transparency.

Also, know the reason why most of the photo retouching agency provides final output in PSD format.

But they are only read or opened with Photoshop or other Adobe products and selected graphics applications and also the image cannot be displayed on the web, if saved in this file format.

As there are many layers, the PSDs will be of larger sizes and hence requires a high storage space provision while dealing with huge volume of PSD files.Also for these images to get printed,they need to be saved in an appropriate file format after all the editing and manipulations.

This is but, the highest quality image format for Photoshop edited images, which is commonly created and shared among graphics professionals.

The problem with most of the amateurs is that they start editing without knowing the features of each of these formats. Even if they study a few formats and go through various photo editing tips for them online, the knowledge remains insufficient to support them in their career. However, professional photographers and image retouching experts determine the formats to be used after assessing their needs.

This article merely compares the different image file formats- PSD, TIFF, JPEG, PNG and GIF on basis of their practical implications. There is no single format that can claim to be the best file format. The place where the photo or graphical elements are used determines which one needs to be chosen from among the others.