When you hear the terms PNG, JPEG, or GIF, you likely fall into one of three categories: perhaps you live in the digital world and consider these acronym tools as familiar as your pen and pencil. Or you saw these letters after choosing the “Save As” option and just clicked the one that was more amusing to say (*ping*). Or, like me, you’ve read and re-read about the finer minutiae of different file formats only to forget a few months later. What temperature should a RAW photo reach before serving again?
Whether this is all brand-new, a quick refresher or you’re stroking your beard saying “ah, yes, I know this to be true,” here’s a quick run down.
Pixels vs. Vector, Lossy vs. Lossless
When you zoom pretty far into an image or a website, you’ll find a myriad of minuscule squares of color. Pixels are the building blocks of internet. However, if you print a family photo from Facebook to hang above your mantel it’s going to be a little blurry, if you can recognize your relatives at all. That’s because images live on the internet at 72 pixels per inch and that’s all the information they have. Scaled, the cubes just get bigger. In contrast, vectors are mathematical equations that can be scaled infinitely without losing quality.
Given an image only has a certain amount of information, a lossless file will preserve those pixels as-is. Saving all that information can be large and unwieldy. Lossy files offer a smaller solution but the quality will degrade every time you save the image.
Pronounced “jiff.” End of story.
GIFs are little graphics utilized for their tiny file size. They load pretty quickly and are often compiled together for comedic effect:
The downside is because of their small size, GIFs only use 256 colors which will distort your image. Nevertheless, the quality hasn’t stopped their proliferation on the internet.
Portable Networks Graphic. In English? A PNG offers a fuller range of colors than a GIF. These are excellent for your logo because unlike a JPEG, a PNG can be saved with a transparent background. That way your logo isn’t held hostage in a white box at the top of your website.
They are also a lossless file, which compresses them without losing quality. These tend to be the biggest files when compressed, which is why JPEGS are more common on the internet.
The nerd in me would like you to know this stands for “Joint Photograph Experts Group” (thank you, Prof. Sternsher). Why? For the same reason scientists like naming things after themselves. Or anyone for that matter.
JPEGS are ubiquitous around the internet due to their tiny compression size. Great at providing a sprawling background for your website. Not so great at keeping type or fine details nice and crisp. So, be judicious when saving a file with copy or fine lines as a JPEG. They are also lossy, so every time you save your file you’ll lose a little bit of quality.
In summary, GIFs are small and fun to look at but have aged out of any usefulness. PNGs are ideal for small graphics with a few colors, like your logo, icons or files with copy and crisp edges. For expansive photos of your cat, JPEGS are the way to go.
Best of luck, mates.
Now that you’ve got image file formats down, it’s time figure out your visual content strategy in this webinar.