What’s the Best Image Format?

Living in the 21st century you see images all over this massive, intangible thing we call the internet. As you have probably noticed, these images don’t all have the same format, saved as various file types. So here’s the question- Which one is best? Let’s find out.

Here are the main image formats we’re going to cover:

  • JPG
  • GIF
  • PNG
  • SVG

Before we jump into this, let’s talk about lossless and lossy compression. Lossless compression of an image reduces the file size without any reduction of quality. When the image is decompressed, no data is lost and the image returns to its original, high quality state. As you may have guessed, lossy compression is the opposite. The image will lose a certain amount of quality, and will not gain it back on decompression.

JPG

A .jpg or .jpeg file is one of the most common image formats currently in use for the web. The acronym stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. It is the standard format for digital cameras, and can hold a bunch of fancy colors (up to around 16 million). This makes the JPG worthy of high quality images that are initially spectacular. Unfortunately, JPGs are lossy, so continually saving them wears down the quality of the image-  not recommended for consistent editing. This file format also lacks the ability to handle transparency.

GIF

The GIF, or Graphic Interchange Format- the lower quality image that people publicly debate the pronunciation of.  Although it can only contain 256 possible colors, it has the ability to be animated by having multiple “frames” with different image patterns stored in a single file. This would be the main reason to utilize this file format,  as it cannot produce a high quality image. A GIF has lossless compression and was the first format to accept transparency.

PNG

Portable Network Graphics, or PNG for short, can be simply explained as a middle ground between a GIF and a JPG. The two variants- PNG-8 and PNG-24 make this possible. PNG-8 holds the same amount of color as a GIF, but without the possibility of animation- so the file size is smaller. PNG-24 has millions of possible colors like the JPG, but also allows for transparency. This pushes the file size to be larger than a comparable JPG. PNG file types have lossless compression, so these are nifty for repeated editing. This makes it useful for web images that need transparency and situations where file size is not an issue.

SVG

This little guy is a bit different. The SVG is not a pure bitmap formatted image type, but an XML-based vector format, hence why the acronym stands for Scalable Vector Graphics. An SVG utilizes polygons and X,Y axes on a plane to create a smooth flow through an image. Very popular with web developers for high quality imaging, an SVG formatted image can be scaled better than the other previously mentioned file formats. Like the GIF, an SVG is lossless and supports animation. The downside is that not every application supports this file type- although it is steadily gaining support as new technology is pushed out.

So which one is the best? That’s a loaded question- each of them have their uses, one just needs to consider what they intend to do with their images.

Let’s not play favorites.