Tip of the week: Photoshop file formats explained

While saving files, people usually pick up their own favourite format depending upon the purpose of the file, further edit-ability, compatibility with other programs and so on. While we mostly understand in a broad sense what these file formats are about, I will try to briefly explain the common ones.

Adobe photoshop menu

Photoshop or PSD format: Being the default file format for photoshop, it supports all the photoshop features and is quite compatible across adobe products. It keeps layers and adjustments intact amongst other settings. One can continue where the work was left even on another computer. An excellent choice if you want to keep the edit-ability intact or if the file is part of an adobe or PSD compatible workflow.

Large document format: This being the PSB format, supports documents up to 300,000 pixels by 300,000 pixels. so for those really large files and HDRs with 32 bits per channel, you ideally save as PSB.

Cineon: This is a 10 bit per channel file which is lossless and you can create films out of this format without loss of quality. It’s a Kodak film format that they created for transfer to film from digital, so one of the best formats towards that end.

IFF format: Interchange File Format is a general data storage format for images, sound, video and text. Certain workflow programs related to 3d editing and movie production accept this format and if your workflow needs IFF, you may want to use it for its portability.

JPEG: The most commonly used and lossy format is used to save photos and image output from illustrations. The popular raster format uses compression and supports RGB (Best for displays) and CMYK (for print) besides greyscale. Some features like transparency, layers etc are not supported. Higher the compression, lower the quality of the image.

Photoshop Raw format: If you need a format with support for alpha channel but without layers and no loss of quality, then this is the format for you. It supports CMYK, RGB and grey. The strength of this format is it’s compatibility between different software and computer platforms. So transferring from windows application to another application on a mac is not difficult if the application supports this format. The issue of broken images is hardly present with Photoshop raw.

GIF: The preferred format for web graphics and animations, GIF is a compressed format that minimises image size and web download time. The strongest part of GIF is it preserves transparency for seamless placement of graphics on dynamic background making possible perfect animations layered on any background.

PDF: PDF or portable document format is not really just for images but it encapsulates pages, tables, vectors and active components. If you want to present the images or formats for business clients and edit-ability is not required, using PDF is a great idea. It’s also the most printer friendly format for office documents due to adherence to paper size and layout discipline. What you have is what prints!

PNG: Stands for Portable Network Graphics, it is a bitmap based format similar to GIF and used for web graphics. PNG is non patented and hence available across a lot of applications especially open source ones. PNG images can have a 8-bit transparency channel, and this allows the image colors to fade from opaque to transparent. Hence it has an ace up the GIF format in this area. The downside is that PNG does not support animation. PNG also does not support CMYK.

TIFF: Tagged image file format or TIFF for short is based on bitmap format and supported across a wide array of formats. It’s a lossless format and can take big images of up to 4 gigabytes! It has support for alpha channels. HDR images with 32 bits/channel are possible in Photoshop TIFF files.

EPS: Lastly I would mention the EPS format, the popular Encapsulated PostScript format is favourite for illustrations due to its cross program compatibility for vector graphics. Also, printers can use the EPS readily as its native to printing systems that can read the data accurately. This is the go to format for sharing files with the press once the design has been finalised.

Those are most of the formats in Photoshop, that I found worth mentioning, I hope you find the information useful. I would be happy to read your comments!

Photo credits: Dimarik16.

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September 17, 2019


Great article. Lots of useful info and good for a reference.

September 14, 2019


good information for everyone. thanks

September 13, 2019


 I have been using Photoshop for a long time, but I just found out that there is Cineon &nIff format. where is it located?

September 09, 2019


This is interesting information! Thank. Which format is best for printing photos?

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