Tip #061: When To Choose JPG, PNG or TIFF?

… for Random Weirdness

Tip #061: When To Choose JPG, PNG or TIFF?

Larry Jordan – https://LarryJordan.com

Different codecs are best for different uses.

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While there are a LOT of image codecs, there are only four that you’ll need to choose from most of the time: PSD, JPG or JPEG, PNG, and TIFF. So, which should you choose?

Here are some tips.


This is the native Photoshop format.

Use this when you need to retain the ability to edit the elements of an image or when you want to enable, or disable, specific layers within the image.

NOTE: For best results, always embed media into the Photoshop file.


This is a highly-compressed file best used for final distribution. Good image quality in a very small file size.

Part of compressing a JPEG file involves throwing away color data and reducing some of the image quality. While this is almost always OK for images destined for the web, it is not a good idea for any image that you want to edit.

NOTE: Compressing an already compressed file will materially damage quality.


This is a modestly compressed image format. Excellent image quality with a large file size.

This is a more modern format than TIFF and is the best choice for outputting finished images at high quality. While you can’t reedit a PNG image the way you can a PSD, this provides excellent image quality. PNGs, unlike JPEG, supports an alpha channel for transparent image elements.

The biggest limitation of PNG is that it is only supports 8-bit color.


This is a lightly compressed image format, providing excellent image and color quality with a large file size.

TIFF is my go-to still image format. Supporting up to 10-bit color, alpha channels and essentially lossless images, it has been around for a long, long time.

The biggest limitation of TIFF is that, unlike PSD, you can’t edit elements within the image.

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3 replies
  1. stu aull
    stu aull says:

    FWIW on my creaky 2010 Mac Pro (latest FCPX) I have ALWAYS had photoshop PSDs crash the program when I used them, so use the PNGs for alpha-channeled files. Did not know TIFFs supported alpha and layers! ALWAYS something to learn from Larry – thanks!!

  2. Tod
    Tod says:

    Your assertion that PNG is only “8-bit color” needs questioning. While they often are, the specification I just checked suggests that PNG can support at least 32-bits per channel. When resaving a 16-bit TIFF, Apple Preview offers both 8-bit and 16-bit per channel options for PNG. I have several PNGs that report 16-bit color.

    I’d also point out that since TIFF does offer layers, TIFF does offer some element isolation for editability. I used to use layered TIFFs as an intermediate when PSD was not an option.

    For me, the functional difference between the two is that TIFF offers layers and is an older, more robust standard. However, I’ve also found that Mac applications tend to “favor” PNG so PNG has become my default for working images.

    • Larry Jordan
      Larry Jordan says:


      These are all excellent points. I agree, I use TIFFs because they are well-established and uncompressed.

      However, as you write, PNGs are newer and more ubiquitous. I was not aware they could also be 16-bit.




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