The Different Types of Digital Image File Formats

The Different Types of Digital Image File Formats

Because of the way the web evolves over the years it continues to create demand for new more efficient file formats. So today we are going to go over the current different industry standard image file formats. It’s important to understand why and when to use certain image formats.


(in order of media design relevance)

.png | .jpeg | .gif | .tif | .raw | .bmp


Portable Network Graphics

Color Space:
palettes of 24-bit RGB or 32-bit RGBA
full-color non-palette-based RGB/RGBA

It’s pretty easy to see why PNG files have become the most widely used image file on the internet. It was originally created in 1996 to be an improved replacement for the GIF file. By 2004 it was considered an industry standard by the ISO/IEC. PNG files are typically created by web/graphic designers to be used as imagery for websites. This file types quality, while keeping a small file size, makes for fast web page loading that is unbeatable by other image file formats.

PNG-8 Palette Variant

Limited Palette (8bit)


Full Color (24-bit)


  • Alpha Channel – supports transparency
  • Lossless Compression – does not lose image quality from compression
  • Efficient Compression – typically smallest file size for the quality


  • Professional File Format – may be unfamiliar to the average consumer


Joint Photographic Experts Group

Color Space:
Adobe RGB

This file format draws its name from the committee that developed it in 1992. Jpeg is the file format most people are familiar with because consumer grade applications usually default their compression to this format when saving a digital image. This file format’s type of image compression can be adjusted, so before the file is saved there is a predetermined tradeoff between file size and image quality. JPEG achieves about a 10:1 compression without a noticeable change in image quality. When saved at higher quality settings this file format is can have great image quality. Once the image file has been saved all image quality above the compression threshold is lost.

Full Compession

Full Compression

Medium Compression

Medium Compression

No compression

No Compression


  • Consumer File Format – compatible with all consumer applications
  • Adjustable Compression – correct image sizing can avoid image quality loss


  • No Alpha Channel – does not support transparency
  • Lossy Compression – higher compression equals increased image quality loss


Graphics Interchange Format

Color Space:
24-bit RBGA | Palette of 256 Colors

This file format is now somewhat dated but still has its uses. It was developed in 1987 and was preceded by the PNG file format when all the relevant patents had expired.  The one use that keeps this format relevant is the fact that it is the only image file you can animate.  Typically media designers create sequences of images (JPEG or PNG) and use a graphic productions computer program to combine them into a single animated GIF. When compressing this image file it will only contain 256 colors which will be selected from the image. Until a new file format emerges that supports image animation this file format will stay in use.

Dithered gif

Dithered Gif

animated gif

Animated Gif


  • Supports Animation – Only image file capable
  • Alpha Channel – Supports Transparency
  • Lossless Compression – size reduction does not degrade image quality


  • Limited Color Range – only 256 colors
  • Outdated – better options

Out-Dated File Formats


Tagged Image File Format

This file format was created for desktop publishing in 1986 and is still used by many scanning, faxing, and word processing applications. It was bought by Adobe Systems in 1994 and has several minor extensions published. When working in media design there typically won’t be any TIF files to run into because there are several better image file format options currently available to save as.




Camera Raw Image File

Mainly used by photographers, RAW files come from professional digital cameras. There advantage to not processing an image into a more recognizable file format on your camera. When processing an image in a graphic production program there will be more color space options to convert to than preset on a specific camera. Typically photographers edit their own RAW files as they are very large because they contain a lot of data.




Windows Bitmap

This file format was created by Windows to a long time ago to store images on their operating systems. These files aren’t compatible with other operating systems such as the MacOS. There’s no advantage to creating bitmap image files when there are more current options with more benefits.

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