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Which Graphic Formats For What?

Novell Cool Solutions: Feature
By Jason Jones

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Posted: 20 Apr 2005

When you try to save something in The Gimp, it gives you quite a few options as to what format you'd like to save it in.

(and what you see in the image above isn't even 1/4 of the available formats.)

With so many graphic formats being available, I thought I'd explain the differences between the main formats, and what they should be used for.

  • JPG or JPEG - Joint Photographic Experts Group format
    • This is probably the most widely used format on the Internet today - (rivaling GIF)
    • It can display up to millions of colors
    • Has variable compression levels which alter the image to make it smaller / bigger and makes the image quality less or more
    • Is best used with medium to large images with lots of colors and detail, like digital photographs
    • It cannot display any transparent pixels
    • Scales very well. Image size can be easily adjusted
    • Does *not* support layers
  • GIF - Graphics Interchange Format
    • Rivals JPEG for the "most popular image format on the Internet" award
    • Can only display up to 256 colors
    • Has certain patent issues making it incompatible with free software - read more
    • Can handle completely transparent pixels just fine, but no alpha blending
    • Creates artifacts when scaled
    • Can achieve very small file sizes when used by small images, like icons, with few colors
    • Great for website small detail images
    • Does *not* support layers
  • PNG - Portable Network Graphics format
    • Built as a patent-free successor to the GIF format.
    • Can be used anywhere completely free of charge or worry of being sued.
    • Can display as many colors as JPEG - up to millions.
    • Can compress images without losing any quality at all - (file size is *much* larger than JPEG in these cases)
    • Can handle transparent pixels
    • Can handle semi-transparent pixels or alpha blending
    • Does *not* support layers
  • PSD - Photo Shop Document format
    • Native format of Adobe Photoshop
    • Can handle up to millions of colors
    • Supports layering
    • Can't be displayed through a web browser
    • Generally large filesizes
  • XCF - Experimental Computing Facility format
    • Native file format of The Gimp
    • Supports up to millions of colors
    • Uses XML to store information
    • The only format that is guaranteed to save all the image information in The Gimp
    • Supports layering
    • Can't be displayed through a web browser
    • Generally large files, but smaller than a PSD
    • Great format to use to backup your work in The Gimp
There are more details for each format than I have mentioned, but those are the basics.

If you feel I've missed something, feel free to comment!

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