The Guide To File Formats: How You Should Save Your Images

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The Guide To File Formats: How You Should Save Your Images

Question: What file format should I save my images in after editing them in Photoshop or Elements?

Answer: What will you be doing with them? What access will you need later to layers?  How many times will you need to re-edit the photo?

If you are thinking, “that answer just asked more questions,” you are right.  There is no one correct answer on what file format you should use.  I always shoot RAW in camera.  I first do basic exposure and white balance adjustments in Lightroom, then export as a JPG, then edit in Photoshop.  Then, I save the file in both high resolution and often a web-sized version too.

Do you save as a PSD, TIFF, JPEG, PNG or something else?

For today’s conversation we are discussing a few of the most common file formats. We will not be covering Raw file formats like DNG and camera formats in an effort to keep this simple.

Here are a few of the most common file formats:

PSD: This is a format proprietary to Adobe, used for programs such as Photoshop, Elements, and exporting from Lightroom.

  • When to save this way: Use the Photoshop (PSD) format when you have a layered document where you’ll need access to individual layers at a later date. You may want to save this way with multiple retouching layers or if you are making collages and montages.
  • Benefits: Saving images this way retains all non-flattened adjustment layers, your masks, shapes, clipping paths, layer styles, and blending modes.
  • Downsides: The files can be very large, especially if there are a high number of layers. Since they are a proprietary format, they may not be opened easily by others, this format is not ideal for sharing.  You cannot use this format to post to the web and they are hard to email to others due to vast size. Some print labs have the ability to read these but many do not.

TIFF: This targeted file format has no loss in quality as long as you are not up-sizing.

  • When to save this way: If you plan to edit the image multiple times and do not wish to lose information each time you edit-save-open-edit-save.
  • Benefits: It retains layers if you specify and it is a loss-less file type.
  • Downsides: It saves an interpretation of what the sensor records in a bitmap so enlarging more than actual file size can cause jagged edges.  Additionally the file sizes are enormous, often 10x or greater than a JPEG file.

JPEG: The Joint Photographic Experts Group (referred to as JPEG or JPG) is the most common file type. It produces manageable, high-quality files that are easy to share and view without special software.

  • When to save this way: The JPEG file format is an excellent choice for photos once you are done editing, no longer need layered files, and are ready to print or share on the web.
  • Benefits: When saving as a JPEG, you choose your desired quality level, allowing you to save in higher or lower res, depending on the intended use (print or web). They are easy to email, upload to social networking sites or a blog, and to use for the majority of print sizes.
  • Downsides: The format compresses the image each time you open and save it, so you lose a small amount of information each full cycle of open-edit-save-open-edit-save. Though the loss does occur, I have never noticed any visible impact on anything I have printed. Also, all layers are flattened when you save this way, so you cannot re-edit specific layers unless you also save in an additional format.

PNG: The Portable Network Graphics format has a loss-less compression, created to replace GIF images.

  • When to save this way: You PNG if you are working on graphics and items that need a smaller size and transparency, usually but not always for web.
  • Benefits: The biggest perk to this file format is transparency.  When I save items for my blog, such as rounded corner frames, I do not want edges showing in white.  This file format prevents that when used correctly.
  • Downsides: When used on larger images, it can produce bigger file size than a JPEG.

We hope this information helps you choose the best file format for your intended purpose.  I alternate between three of them: PSD when I need to maintain and work more on layers, PNG for graphics and images that need transparency and JPEG for all print and most web images.  I personally never save as TIFF, as I have just not found the need.  But you may prefer it for your high resolution images.

We’d love to hear from you.  What formats do you use and when? Just comment below.

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The Guide To File Formats: How You Should Save Your Images