Choosing between the best image file formats doesn’t have to be a difficult task.  Three of the most popular and used formats, PNG, GIF, and JPEG, have their own strengths and weaknesses.  Based on what each format has to offer, and how you want to use the image, you can make a wise choice on which one to use.

Lossy vs. Lossless – What the Heck is It?

Although you may not have heard of lossy or lossless compression, this is one of the main differences between PNG, GIF, and JPEG files.  Basically, lossy and lossless describe image quality loss when a file is compressed.

For example, the JPEG format uses lossy compression.  This means each time you compress a JPEG file to a smaller size you lose a little image quality.  As long as you don’t compress the file too much you might not even notice a difference.  But, if you compress a JPEG file significantly there will be a noticeable quality loss.

PNG and GIF files use lossless compression, which is just what it sounds like.  There is no loss of image quality when you compress one of these files.  Although you won’t lose image quality, you do give up the ability to do significant compression.  While you will be able to retain the quality of an image you won’t be able to do very much compression.

This is one way to help decide which type of format works best for you.  If you need the ability to considerably compress a file and are not overly concerned with losing some image quality, JPEG files would work well.  However, if you can’t sacrifice quality and don’t need to worry about compressing a file to a smaller size, then you will want to consider a PNG or GIF file format.

More Information about GIF Files

Another attribute to keep in mind about GIF files is that they only contain a maximum of 256 different colors.  Although that is a lot of colors, it might not be the best format for high resolution images like digital photos.

Because it can only contain 256 colors at most, GIF files are normally used on websites, for logos, or for simple drawings.  GIF files can be animated though, which also makes them very well suited for web pages.

The JPEG Format

Unlike the GIF format, a JPEG file can have thousands of colors.  This is why JPEGs are widely used as the format for digital photographs.  With all those colors a JPEG can provide a very sharp and crisp image.

As mentioned above though, JPEG files use lossy compression.  If you want to place a high resolution JPEG onto a website you would probably need to compress it, which means you will lose image quality.  As such, JPEG files aren’t normally used as logos or as part of a web page design.  Check your hard drive though and you will probably find lots of digital photos in the JPEG format!

PNG Files

The PNG format is another option for image files and is turning out to be a good replacement for GIF images.  A PNG file can two configurations, PNG-8 and PNG-24.  Like GIF, a PNG-8 file can only have 256 colors.  A PNG-24 file is more similar to a JPEG file in that it supports thousands of colors.

But, if you need to animate the image you will want to stick with a GIF file.  Unfortunately, PNG files don’t support animation.

PNG files use lossless compression though, just like GIF, which means you won’t lose any image quality when you make a PNG file a smaller size.  PNG files are gaining popularity for comic strips or where transparency is needed.

Three Great Options for Images

As you’ve read, all three image formats provide their own benefits and drawbacks.  You’ll want to keep in mind the amount of compression you need, whether you mind losing image quality, and how you want to use the image.

Good luck with all your image files.  We hope this article has helped you navigate through the three different formats to choose the best one for your project or business.