Digital Formats Decoded: TIFFs, EPSs, PSDs, and JPGs, oh my!

Ask the Experts: Digital Formats Decoded

by Wendy Dunning, from the November 2012 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.

Q. I’m confused about the different file formats for digital images. What are TIFFs, EPSs, PSDs, and JPGs, and what are the pros and cons of each?

A. All of the acronyms you mention are, as you say, digital file formats for images. The acronyms can be written either in all capital letters or all lowercase letters.

TIFF (tagged image file format) and EPS (encapsulated postscript) are both good formats for print images. TIFFs are especially nice because they can be compressed to a smaller file size without loss of image quality. This method of compression is called non-lossy. PSD (Photoshop Document), the native (default) Photoshop file format, can be used for print also.

JPG or JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group), is a great format for the Web and is the default format for lower-end digital cameras. The important thing to keep in mind about JPG is that it’s a lossy compressed image file format. In other words, when you compress a JPG file, you lose data. Every time you resave your image as a JPG, you’re losing image data and, eventually, your image will degrade. High levels of compression accelerate the degrading of the image.

Higher-end cameras offer a RAW format. Unlike the other format names, RAW isn’t an acronym for a specific format; the term can refer to any of a large number of raw (unprocessed) image file formats. RAW files have more data and a wider gamut of color available because they haven’t been processed into TIFFs or JPGs or other formats. The RAW setting, if available on your camera, is best for shooting high-quality images; however, you’ll need more advanced software to process the images.

Images of any resolution can be saved in any image format. In other words, just because you have a TIFF or RAW image doesn’t mean that you have a higher-resolution image than you’d have with a JPG image.

Wendy Dunning is the design manager of the Fine Art Community of F+W Media, Cincinnati.

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