Image file formats

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This article is about digital image formats used to store photographic and other images. For disk-image file formats, see Disk image. For digital file formats in general, see File format.

Image file formats are standardized means of organizing and storing digital images. Image files are composed of digital data in one of these formats that can be rasterized for use on a computer display or printer. An image file format may store data in uncompressed, compressed, or vector formats. Once rasterized, an image becomes a grid of pixels, each of which has a number of bits to designate its color equal to the color depth of the device displaying it.

Image file sizes[edit]

Generally speaking, in raster images, Image file size is positively correlated to the number of pixels in an image and the color depth, or bits per pixel, of the image. Images can be compressed in various ways, however. Compression uses an algorithm that stores an exact representation or an approximation of the original image in a smaller number of bytes that can be expanded back to its uncompressed form with a corresponding decompression algorithm. Considering different compressions, it is common for two images of the same number of pixels and color depth to have a very different compressed file size. Considering exactly the same compression, number of pixels, and color depth for two images, different graphical complexity of the original images may also result in very different file sizes after compression due to the nature of compression algorithms. With some compression formats, images that are less complex may result in smaller compressed file sizes. This characteristic sometimes results in a smaller file size for some lossless formats than lossy formats. For example, graphically simple images (i.e. images with large continuous regions like line art or animation sequences) may be losslessly compressed into a GIF or PNG format and result in a smaller file size than a lossy JPEG format.

Vector images, unlike raster images, can be any dimension independent of file size. File size increases only with the addition of more vectors.

For example, a 640 * 480 pixel image with 24-bit color would occupy almost a megabyte of space:

640 * 480 * 24 = 7,372,800 bits  = 921,600 bytes

Image file compression[edit]

There are two types of image file compression algorithms: lossless and lossy.

Lossless compression algorithms reduce file size while preserving a perfect copy of the original uncompressed image. Lossless compression generally, but not always, results in larger files than lossy compression. Lossless compression should be used to avoid accumulating stages of re-compression when editing images.

Lossy compression algorithms preserve a representation of the original uncompressed image that may appear to be a perfect copy, but it is not a perfect copy. Often lossy compression is able to achieve smaller file sizes than lossless compression. Most lossy compression algorithms allow for variable compression that trades image quality for file size.

Major graphic file formats[edit]

Including proprietary types, there are hundreds of image file types. The PNG, JPEG, and GIF formats are most often used to display images on the Internet. These graphic formats are listed and briefly described below, separated into the two main families of graphics: raster and vector.

In addition to straight image formats, Metafile formats are portable formats which can include both raster and vector information. Examples are application-independent formats such as WMF and EMF. The metafile format is an intermediate format. Most Windows applications open metafiles and then save them in their own native format. Page description language refers to formats used to describe the layout of a printed page containing text, objects and images. Examples are PostScript, PDF and PCL.

Raster formats[edit]

JPEG/JFIF[edit]

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) is a lossy compression method; JPEG-compressed images are usually stored in the JFIF (JPEG File Interchange Format) file format. The JPEG/JFIF filename extension is JPG or JPEG. Nearly every digital camera can save images in the JPEG/JFIF format, which supports 8-bit grayscale images and 24-bit color images (8 bits each for red, green, and blue). JPEG applies lossy compression to images, which can result in a significant reduction of the file size. Applications can determine the degree of compression to apply, and the amount of compression affects the visual quality of the result. When not too great, the compression does not noticeably affect or detract from the image's quality, but JPEG files suffer generational degradation when repeatedly edited and saved. (JPEG also provides lossless image storage, but the lossless version is not widely supported.)

JPEG 2000[edit]

JPEG 2000 is a compression standard enabling both lossless and lossy storage. The compression methods used are different from the ones in standard JFIF/JPEG; they improve quality and compression ratios, but also require more computational power to process. JPEG 2000 also adds features that are missing in JPEG. It is not nearly as common as JPEG, but it is used currently in professional movie editing and distribution (some digital cinemas, for example, use JPEG 2000 for individual movie frames).

Exif[edit]

The Exif (Exchangeable image file format) format is a file standard similar to the JFIF format with TIFF extensions; it is incorporated in the JPEG-writing software used in most cameras. Its purpose is to record and to standardize the exchange of images with image metadata between digital cameras and editing and viewing software. The metadata are recorded for individual images and include such things as camera settings, time and date, shutter speed, exposure, image size, compression, name of camera, color information. When images are viewed or edited by image editing software, all of this image information can be displayed.

The actual Exif metadata as such may be carried within different host formats, e.g. TIFF, JFIF (JPEG) or PNG. IFF-META is another example.

TIFF[edit]

The TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) format is a flexible format that normally saves 8 bits or 16 bits per color (red, green, blue) for 24-bit and 48-bit totals, respectively, usually using either the TIFF or TIF filename extension. The tagged structure was designed to be easily extendible, and many vendors have introduced proprietary special-purpose tags – with the result that no one reader handles every flavor of TIFF file.[citation needed]. TIFFs can be lossy and lossless; some offer relatively good lossless compression for bi-level (black&white) images. Some digital cameras can save images in TIFF format, using the LZW compression algorithm for lossless storage. TIFF image format is not widely supported by web browsers. TIFF remains widely accepted as a photograph file standard in the printing business. TIFF can handle device-specific color spaces, such as the CMYK defined by a particular set of printing press inks. OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software packages commonly generate some form of TIFF image (often monochromatic) for scanned text pages.

RIF[edit]

RIF refers to raw image formats that are available on some digital cameras, rather than to a specific format. These formats usually use a lossless or nearly lossless compression, and produce file sizes smaller than the TIFF formats. Although there is a standard raw image format, (ISO 12234-2, TIFF/EP), the raw formats used by most cameras are not standardized or documented, and differ among camera manufacturers.

Most camera manufacturers have their own software for decoding or developing their raw file format, but there are also many third-party raw file converter applications available that accept raw files from most digital cameras. Some graphic programs and image editors may not accept some or all raw file formats, and some older ones have been effectively orphaned already.

As far as videocameras are concerned, ARRI's Arriflex D-20 and D-21 cameras provide raw 3K-resolution sensor data with Bayer pattern as still images (one per frame) in a proprietary format (.ari file extension). Red Digital Cinema Camera Company, with its Mysterium sensor family of still and video cameras, uses its proprietary raw format called REDCODE (.R3D extension), which stores still as well as audio+video information in one lossy-compressed file.

GIF[edit]

GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) is limited to an 8-bit palette, or 256 colors. This makes the GIF format suitable for storing graphics with relatively few colors such as simple diagrams, shapes, logos and cartoon style images. The GIF format supports animation and is still widely used to provide image animation effects. Its LZW lossless compression is more effective when large areas have a single color, and less effective for photographic or dithered images.

BMP[edit]

The BMP file format (Windows bitmap) handles graphics files within the Microsoft Windows OS. Typically, BMP files are uncompressed, and therefore large and lossless; their advantage is their simple structure and wide acceptance in Windows programs.

PNG[edit]

The PNG (Portable Network Graphics) file format was created as a free, open-source alternative to GIF. The PNG file format supports 8 bit paletted images (with optional transparency for all palette colors) and 24 bit truecolor (16 million colors) or 48 bit truecolor with and without alpha channel - while GIF supports only 256 colors and a single transparent color.

Compared to JPEG, PNG excels when the image has large, uniformly colored areas. Even for photographs – where JPEG is often the choice for final distribution since its compression technique typically yields smaller file sizes – PNG is still well-suited to storing images during the editing process because of its lossless compression.

PNG provides a patent-free replacement for GIF (though GIF is itself now patent-free), and can also replace many common uses of TIFF. Indexed-color, grayscale, and truecolor images are supported, plus an optional alpha channel. The Adam7 interlacing allows an early preview, even when only a small percentage of the image data has been transmitted. PNG can store gamma and chromaticity data for improved color matching on heterogeneous platforms.

PNG is designed to work well in online viewing applications like web browsers and can be fully streamed with a progressive display option. PNG is robust, providing both full file integrity checking and simple detection of common transmission errors.

Animated formats derived from PNG are MNG and APNG. The latter is supported by Mozilla Firefox and Opera and is backwards compatible with PNG.

PPM, PGM, PBM, and PNM[edit]

Netpbm format is a family including the portable pixmap file format (PPM), the portable graymap file format (PGM) and the portable bitmap file format (PBM). These are either pure ASCII files or raw binary files with an ASCII header that provide very basic functionality and serve as a lowest common denominator for converting pixmap, graymap, or bitmap files between different platforms. Several applications refer to them collectively as PNM (Portable aNy Map).

WEBP[edit]

WebP is a new open image format that uses both lossless and lossy compression. It was designed by Google to reduce image file size to speed up web page loading: its principal purpose is to supersede JPEG as the primary format for photographs on the web. WebP is based on VP8's intra-frame coding and uses a container based on RIFF.

HDR raster formats[edit]

Most typical raster formats cannot store HDR data (32 bit floating point values per pixel component), which is why some relatively old or complex formats are still predominant here, and worth mentioning separately. Newer alternatives are showing up, though. RGBE is the format for HDR images originating from Radiance and also supported by Adobe Photoshop.

Other raster formats[edit]

Vector formats[edit]

Main article: Vector graphics

As opposed to the raster image formats above (where the data describes the characteristics of each individual pixel), vector image formats contain a geometric description which can be rendered smoothly at any desired display size.

At some point, all vector graphics must be rasterized in order to be displayed on digital monitors. Vector images may also be displayed with analog CRT technology such as that used in some electronic test equipment, medical monitors, radar displays, laser shows and early video games. Plotters are printers that use vector data rather than pixel data to draw graphics.

CGM[edit]

CGM (Computer Graphics Metafile) is a file format for 2D vector graphics, raster graphics, and text, and is defined by ISO/IEC 8632. All graphical elements can be specified in a textual source file that can be compiled into a binary file or one of two text representations. CGM provides a means of graphics data interchange for computer representation of 2D graphical information independent from any particular application, system, platform, or device. It has been adopted to some extent in the areas of technical illustration and professional design, but has largely been superseded by formats such as SVG and DXF.

Gerber format (RS-274X)[edit]

The Gerber format (aka Extended Gerber, RS-274X) was developed by Gerber Systems Corp., now Ucamco, and is a 2D bi-level image description format. It is the de facto standard format used by printed circuit board or PCB software. It is also widely used in other industries requiring high-precision 2D bi-level images.

SVG[edit]

SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) is an open standard created and developed by the World Wide Web Consortium to address the need (and attempts of several corporations) for a versatile, scriptable and all-purpose vector format for the web and otherwise. The SVG format does not have a compression scheme of its own, but due to the textual nature of XML, an SVG graphic can be compressed using a program such as gzip. Because of its scripting potential, SVG is a key component in web applications: interactive web pages that look and act like applications.

Other 2D vector formats[edit]

3D vector formats[edit]

Compound formats (see also Metafile)[edit]

These are formats containing both pixel and vector data, possible other data, e.g. the interactive features of PDF.

Stereo formats[edit]