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…!
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…
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…!