They may look the same on your computer or phone screen, but there’s more than one way to save a digital image. JPEG, PNG, HEIC… You might see these when you take a closer look at your files. But what do they all mean?
With so many ways to save images, it can be confusing.
There are actually more than a dozen different formats available for saving images, but some are more common than others. In this article, we’ll outline 5 of the most common image file formats. Knowing how each type is used will help you determine how to save your own files for your photo projects.
Photo File Formats: JPEGs, PNGs, TIFFs, HEICs, and PDFs
Not all photo file types are alike. Before you can choose which file type is right for your photo project, you must understand each one and how common they are.
The most well-known and widely-used file type is the Joint Photographic Experts Group file (abbreviated as JPEG or JPG). They tend to compress well and don’t take up much space. This is often the default when you’re downloading photos from places online.
Portable Network Graphics, or PNGs, are also very common. These tend to be used for graphics more than photos and are larger files than JPEGs. PNGs are commonly used for company logos, website images, and other “fancy” photos as they offer the added benefit of saving with a transparent background. You can use a service like Canva or Adobe Photoshop to remove background content from images.
Tag Image File Format files (TIFFs) are often used by photographers to save original photos before they’re edited. These tend to be very large files and are generally unnecessary for most people.
High-Efficiency Image Files (HEICs) are newer file formats that combine a static photo with a short video. Depending on your smartphone settings, you may be storing and sharing files as HEIC images when you snap a photo with your phone camera.
Finally, a Portable Document Format (PDFs) is less common for images and most often used for (surprise!) documents. PDFs are often used as document email attachments and online forms.
What file type should you use to save your photos?
Choosing a file type when saving your photos ultimately depends on your project. Determining which type is right for you, however, should be pretty simple.
Here are a few quick rules of thumb:
When you plan to print your images, save your photos as JPEGs. This is also a great choice for photo books ordered from photo printing companies.
For Online Images
Use PNGs when you need a high-quality image for use online or if you need to remove the background from some or all of the photos.
For Later Editing
Use TIFF only if you have intentions of professionally editing your photos. This file type is very large and unnecessary for most purposes.
For Forever Digital
If you don’t intend to print your photos, you can keep your files saved as HEICs. As these are moving images that include a video file, they have to be converted to share or print.
When In Doubt: Go with JPEGs
So what’s the “safest,” most-used, and fail-safe way to save your photos? When in doubt, go with JPEGs.
At the end of the day, it’s pretty difficult to make a mistake saving your photo files. If you find you need to change the file type later, there are plenty of free options online that will convert your photo to the appropriate format.
Feeling overwhelmed by your digital photo collection and need some help getting organized? Grab a copy of Photo Organizing Made Easy: Going from Overwhelmed to Overjoyed by The Photo Managers’ founder, Cathi Nelson.