File Formats for Images—Does It Really Matter Which One You Use?

EPS … JPG … GIF … PNG … how’s that for alphabet soup?

While many people might consider those file formats interchangeable, each serves a specific purpose—and each has limitations.

Keep reading to learn about each format—and specifically when you should use it:

Encapsulated PostScript (EPS)

This format is designed for vector images that are created and edited in Adobe Illustrator and CorelDRAW.

When to use it: When you need to print something huge. Vectors can easily be resized—even as large as a billboard or building decal wrap—without sacrificing the quality of the image or creating pixelation. EPS is ideal for high-resolution printing and images that contain a combination of text, graphics and images.

Keep in mind: If you open an EPS in a vector-based image-editing program, such as Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW, you will be able to easily edit, manipulate and resize the image. However, open in another program, and the file will be “rasterized” (or flattened) and become uneditable.

Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG)

A JPEG file is an image saved in a compressed image format, most often used to store and save “still” digital images.

When to use it: When the size of the file matters more than the quality of the image. JPEG compression dramatically reduces the file size of the image. If you are posting images online, it’s the format to use, because it will decrease load times. Plus, it’s ideal for low-contrast photographs and realistic images.

Keep in mind: You can open JPEGS in just about any program that supports images. Plus, you can find many desktop and mobile image editors—even free ones—that allow you to quickly edit your images. The one drawback is that the lossy compression used by JPEG can seriously affect the image quality.

Graphics Interchange Format (GIF)

GIF is a lossless compression file format that combines several images or frames into a file to produce an animated clip. They typically stop after the sequence of images is complete, although you can set them to loop.

When to use it: When you want to engage with people or grab their attention. Use GIFs online, specifically with social media, to share reactions, provide answers or even demo products in a fun, super-short format. They are also ideal for banner ads and other advertisements.

Keep in mind: You have several options for image editing programs that will help you create GIFs, including Photoshop and Microsoft GIF Animator. The downside for GIFs is that the format is limited to 256 colors, so they are ideal for graphics with few colors and simple images. Additionally, not all browsers support animated GIFs.

Portable Network Graphic (PNG)

Like JPEG, the PNG format is a lossy compression file format, best used to store high-quality graphics online.

When to use it: If you are creating illustrations or images for a website and you need parts of them to be transparent (e.g., placing a logo over a photograph). They’re ideal when you have sharp contrast and large areas of solid color (e.g., screenshots). If you plan to edit a single image multiple times, PNG is also your best bet because the quality isn’t compromised as much as with JPEGs.

Keep in mind: You can view PNGs in all web browsers and they don’t diminish the image quality as much as the JPEG format does, making them a solid option for online images. However, they are often extremely large files, so they slow download times. Decide if quality is worth the sacrifice.

So, as you can see, it does matter which file format you choose, largely depending on how you intend to share it with the world.

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