Image File Types and Their Purposes

Image File Types and Their Purposes

There are all kinds of different file formats for just about anything stored on your computer, but there are a couple of images that you might not immediately be able to tell the difference between. Depending on how the picture is used, the file format can make all the difference. Let’s investigate some of these image file types and what they are best used for. Doing so may help you make better decisions as you go about your daily tasks.

First, a bit of background information on these types of files. Image files can be split into two categories: vector and raster image files. Raster images are constructed out of pixels, which have a predefined proportion, meaning raster images are not easily resized or stretched without compromising their quality. Vector images, on the other hand, utilize formulas to allow them to be stretched, resized, or altered without sacrificing image quality.

We’ll cover the most common file extensions that you might encounter throughout your work, but know that most modern image editing programs, like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc. can export just about all of these file types. Many of the aforementioned solutions create image files using layers, so they are easily manipulated or changed up according to your needs.


PNGs, or Portable Network Graphics, have lower resolution than some other types of images, but they are great for web graphics. Furthermore, they have a transparent background and can be edited without losing quality. Enlarging PNG files, however, will cause the quality to degrade.


Unlike PNGs, which are relatively lossless, JPG (or JPEG–there is no difference between the two), also known as Joint Photographic Experts Group, tend to lose quality when you decrease the file size or resolution. These are the most common images in the world, as most digital cameras will save photos as JPGs. They are web-friendly and small enough to share, and as long as they aren’t compressed too much, can usually be printed.


GIFs are kind of a running gag on the Internet, but suffice it to say they have cemented themselves as one of the more interesting and versatile file formats out there. Graphic Interchange Format (GIF) files are most often seen in their animated forms, showing a low-quality animated clip. Since these are made up of 256 colors, their file size is much lower than you might expect. Still, these low-quality animations might be exactly what you need to tell your third cousin that he is being an idiot on social media.

In general, it’s important to pay close attention to the resolution of your images to ensure that they fit into what you are trying to do with them. For example, lower-resolution images might fit right in on the web, but look horrible when printed, so be sure to do your research beforehand.

Hopefully this handy guide explains the differences between the various file formats that are out there. What other topics would you like us to cover? Be sure to let us know in the comments.