Once you’ve finally perfected a digital image for your website project, clicking “Save” certainly seems like a no-brainer. But actually, this seemingly simple step is far more important than you might think – and how you save a digital image can have a major impact on your project as a whole. So, before you save your next digital image, take a moment to pause, and consider a key factor: the image file format.
Let’s break down some of the most commonly-used digital image file formats, and how each one has specific features that can make it the right – or wrong – choice to suit your needs.
How to Know Which Image File Format is Right for Your Project
There are many types of image file formats, but we’re going to cover the four that tend to be used most often for digital media production:
Each file format has pros and cons, plus key characteristics that you’ll want to know about before hitting that “Save” button. For example, image file size, color, and transparency all play a valuable role in how an image can be used – and they all vary depending on the file format of an image.
JPEG is the most basic image file format, and typically the one that most people use on a regular basis.
Some key features of JPEG files include:
- Non-transparent (your image will have a solid-color background)
- Supports a broad spectrum of colors
- Often has “noise,” or a loss of sharpness, around straight lines (such as those in text)
- Does not support animation
JPEGs can be a good fit for digital photos of people, as well as images that contain many different colors. They are also a solid option for maintaining high detail quality.
However, a JPEG probably isn’t the right option if you want to know how to make an image transparent for web use. Also, there are straight lines (like letters) in the image, JPEGs are notorious for the visible “noise” that will surround the lines.
GIF is one of the older image file formats out there, so it makes sense that it is fairly simple in terms of features.
Some of the most notable characteristics of GIFs include:
- Supports animation
- Limited transparency
- A color spectrum limited to 256 colors
- Offers more sharpness around straight lines, compared to JPEGs
These features make GIFs a good choice, if you need a file format that allows for animation, and if your image sticks to basic colors (such as primary colors). However, if your digital image has a large and diverse color palette, you might find that saving as a GIF has a negative impact on its appearance – because a GIF maxes out at 256 shades.
PNG-8 files are widely used for professional purposes, because their distinguishing features offer many advantages:
- Supports transparency
- Supports sharp, clean lines
- Allows for a wide range of colors
- Not able to support animation
Once your image file formats “graduate” to the category of PNGs, sharpness, transparency, and color all get a major upgrade. You can have the best of both worlds: the crisp, straight lines and sharp details of a GIF and the rainbow of colors of a JPEG. But as a result, the file sizes are also much larger – which might not work for every project.
Finally, the PNG-24 is one of the most powerful file format options, taking the perks of a PNG-8 several steps further. Images saved as PNG-24 files:
- Supports full transparency options
- Will have an overall high quality, including for straight lines/text
- Supports an excellent spectrum of colors
- Cannot be animated
If quality is your top priority, the PNG-24 could be the perfect match. However, keep in mind that PNG-24 images will have a very large file size, which may be a drawback in certain scenarios.
Add Image Optimization to Your Professional Skill Set and Expand Your Career Potential
There are so many facets to digital media production, and selecting the ideal file format for images is just one of the many skills to master. Whether you’re interested in moving forward in your current job, or you would like to open the door to an entirely new career field, our Digital Media Production program can be an excellent next step.
At the BeOnAir Network of Media Schools, with locations in Chicago, Miami, Colorado, and Ohio, students build the experience and skills they need to excel as a media professional. If you’d like to learn more about the field – and advance your career goals – connect with our team today!
Featured Image: PHOTOBUAY / Shutterstock