Which Image Format Should I Use? (For Beginners)

What Image Format Should I Use?

I have often heard people ask “which image format should I use?” when talking about image file types. There are so many image types out there, that it can be hard to know which to use, especially when starting out. ImageShell Resizer alone handles 50 image file types. MS Paint, which comes with most PCs, will let you save in 5 formats. But things don’t have to be so complicated, and really… they aren’t.

Note: As this post is for beginners, the concepts are simplified and the details are few, so as to give a solid basic idea.

Four Plus One

In truth, at least for beginners, things are quite simple. The most popular image file types on the Internet today are 4. These include JPG, GIF, PNG and SVG. Another file type that you’re likely to come across, though most wouldn’t call it an image file type, is the PDF (our plus one). And those are all that you’re likely to come across unless you work with images for a living.

The Big Four

The JPG (aka JPEG) has been very popular for a while now. Its roots are in photography, but now it’s used for almost anything. If you have only ever come across one image format in your life, it’s probably a JPG! Your camera or smartphone, almost certainly has the default setting set to JPG. If you do a search on Google Images, the result you click on is almost certainly a JPG. If you go anywhere online, and right click to “save an image as” in your browser, it’s almost certainly a JPG. Everywhere you go, it seems you’ll bump into a JPG.

The GIF meanwhile, is also a file which is used in graphics, but cannot hold the quality that a JPG can hold. The GIF and JPG are more or less, the same age. In the 80s and 90s, when computer graphics were not as developed, it was not such an issue. Today though, it’s noticeable that GIF files are of a lower quality, especially when talking about photographs. Having said that, GIF files, can be animated (albeit for only 10 or 15 seconds at a time). As a result of this, they are popular as mini-animations on social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter etc), and that has ensured that the GIF is still relevant today. These days, if you come across a GIF, it’s almost certainly a little animation you’re watching.

The third type in this post is the PNG. Though not as old as the GIF or the JPG, it has managed to become very popular in recent years. One of the main reasons for this, is that unlike a GIF or JPG, it allows for transparency. A PNG file can give the illusion that it’s not a square or rectangle, which makes it ideal for logos (which are, more often than not, neither square nor rectangular). If you’re making a logo file, you probably have no choice but to use a PNG.

The SVG file is a vector graphics file. This means that, as much as it is an image, it’s also instructions on how to produce that image. In fact, you can edit an SVG file using a text editor. The big benefit of this, is that changing the size of the file, does not affect its quality. As a result, it’s become very popular on the web, with all the major browsers currently supporting SVG files. The truth is, SVGs are not suitable for everything. However, for numerous graphical elements on a webpage, they’re ideal. And that explains their popularity…!

The PDF

And so we’re now left with the PDF. A PDF is not normally considered a graphical image format, as it is most often associated with documents (i.e. it’s in the name: Portable Document Format). However, since PDFs are extremely commonplace now, I have included them in this list. Most of the time, a PDF is a document, that should not be edited. This attribute made the PDF so popular that, practically anyone who uses a computer, knows how to open a PDF. And of course, PDFs can contain images. So, if anyone ever tells you they can’t open an image file, you can convert to PDF (e.g. by using ImageShell Resizer), and send it over…

Conclusions

In case you’re still asking yourself “which image format should I use?”… basically, it goes a little bit like this: A photograph will almost certainly be a JPG. A little animation will be a GIF. If you have a logo, it’s probably a PNG. If you have a little icon or simple illustration on a website, that should be an SVG. And any of these, can be stuck into a PDF file.

Now, the above doesn’t mean that a GIF can’t be a photo, or a logo can’t be a JPG. They can, but you wouldn’t expect them to be. Ultimately, you are free to use whatever format you want for whatever purpose you want. The above is just what most people are doing these days…!

Shrinking 100 Image Files

There are lots of reasons why someone would think about shrinking image files. The one which comes to my mind, is so that people with Gmail accounts can see them when I send them! I recently bought a new phone, and took some pictures. As it happened, the default setting on the phone, was to take high resolution photos. So, after a day out, I had a bunch of glorious photos, which also happened to be huge.

Now, I know from experience that if you receive a giant photo in Gmail, it’s quite annoying.

For some perfectly good reason (that I don’t know or understand), the giant photos mess up Gmail’s proportions. You can only see part of the picture, and the horizontal scroll bar goes crazy (it gets huge). The reply button, along with the star and the reply options go off screen, never to be seen of again (well, you get the picture – pun intended!).

Anyway, so it’s at that point that I though… “well, lucky me! I know just how to solve this problem!”

The Fix

ImageShell’s Resizer makes it very easy to solve this problem. You just stick the files in one folder, you tell it what output size you want, and click on the resize (“play”) button! It doesn’t matter if you have one or one thousand photos! They all just pop out in the output folder. You can tell it to shrink all the photos by a percentage if your case was like mine. Alternatively, if you want them shrunk for some other reason, you can specify exactly what size you want in pixels. If you want to change the proportions, you can do that too, squeezing or expanding the picture.

And the best thing? Shrinking image files is so simple… Resizer, though very powerful, is extremely easy to use. Easy as pie in fact…

shrinking image files

8 Graphic File Formats And the PDF

Here’s a small post about the various file types that ImageShell Resizer (ISR) handles. This list includes the most popular formats on the internet, along with a handful of lesser known formats. The list is in alphabetical order, starting with the BMP.

BMP (Bitmap)

The BMP was developed by Microsoft in the 80s and was at one point quite a popular graphical file format. In recent years though, the BMP has lost its allure, particularly on the internet, due to its size. Of course, it is still in use on every Windows machine, meaning it’s unlikely to disappear anytime soon. However, online, its usage is quite low, currently at 0.2%.

More details can be found here.

GIF (Graphics Interchange Format)

GIF files are also from the 80s, developed this time by CompuServe. The GIF is a file format which at this time, is significantly more popular than the BMP. It’s use on the internet is at around 27%. The popularity of the GIF has also been going down on the internet. At the start of this decade, its use was very close to 70% online. So, though 27% is much, much higher than the BMP, there’s a significant downward trend. Having said that, GIFs have another strength, in that they can be short animations. As such, they are very popular on some social media platforms (e.g. Twitter).

More details can be found here.

JPEG/JPG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)

The JPEG/JPG format, is one of the most popular of pure graphics formats (the first in photography, and second only to PNG files on the internet). Originally conceived by the organisation of the same name, it has its roots in photography, and is now the primary file used in digital photography. Needless to say, it’s also one of the biggest players on the internet with over 70% of all sites on the internet using it.

It’s a compressed format, so that the size of the a JPG file as opposed to a GIF or BMP will generally be smaller. However, it should also be noted that compressing an original image into a smaller JPG will result is some loss of the quality (something which does not happen with many other formats, e.g. PNG or GIF).

More details can be found here.

PBM/PGM/PPM (Portable BitMap, Portable GreyMap, Portable PixMap)

These three file formats were all created by Jef Poskanzer in the 1980s. The first of the three, was the PBM which was created so as to be able to send graphics over the networks of the time without the file getting corrupted. The result is that the graphics held in PBM files are visibly very basic. Later, PGM and PPM were developed. The graphics held within these files are higher quality, though it should be noted that PGM, like PBM is black and white.

More details here on the PBM, PGM and PPM.

PDF (Portable Document Format)

The PDF is now world famous. It’s not really a graphics format as the ones above are, however, it can hold graphics. Its main strength is its reliability along with its popularity. You know that when you send a PDF, what you see is exactly what the recipient will see. You also know that the recipient will be able to open the file! For that reason, people do often convert their graphics to PDF files. It was originally developed by Adobe in the nineties, but Adobe subsequently made it an open format, handing control over to the International Organisation for Standardization (ISO).

More details can be found here from Adobe and from the ISO.

PNG

The PNG is currently the most popular graphical file format online at 74.8%. There is no single reason for this, and the popularity is actually, extremely close to that of the JPG. However, one notable difference is the way PNGs can handle transparency. For example, for logo design, PNG is the only way to go, since it will give you a file which looks like it’s not a square (or rectangle). JPGs (or GIFs or BMPs) simply can’t do this.

More details can be found here.

TIFF/TIF (Tagged Image File Format)

The TIFF was created by a company called Aldus (which was later bought by Adobe), again in the 1980s. TIFF files became very popular in the early internet/desktop computing era, for scanned files, faxing and publishing in general. Like the GIF, a TIFF can also contain numerous graphics/pages. On the internet, its use is very low, at under 0.1%. However in the realm of publishing (e.g. where you might want to use CYMK rather than RGB), TIFF is still commonly used.

More details can be found here.

Coming soon: ImageShell Resizer

Dear Readers,

Welcome to our site!

We are a small team of developers with a passion for images, image handling and image manipulation. We are about to launch the beta version of what we hope will be a useful piece of software which will be able to resize, crop, rotate and convert (format-wise) images. You’ll be able to download it for free with no time limits, advertising, or other annoyances and use it for any purpose, personal or commercial.

We would love to hear from you with any feedback and just as importantly, if you have any suggestions for imaging tools that you would like to see in our next software. If you have been looking for Open Source or free software to carry out some imaging task but can’t find it out there, please let us know and if we get enough demand, we will endeavour to include it among the capabilities of our next software, which we hope to make available for free as well.

Thanks for visiting, and if you think there are imaging software needs we can help you with, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

All the best,

From everyone at ImageShell