As we move more of our daily lives into cyberspace, we get to see more file types. There are easily recognizable ones like MP3 for music files and FLV for videos. However, one persisting issue has to be with the simplest media format we have: images. There are a ton of image file types, with the most common among them being PNG, GIF, and JPEG.
While they all store images in their files, each of these file types actually cater to different purposes. If you’re new to digital art, graphic design, or web development, it is important for you to know what’s the difference between PNG, GIF, and JPEG files.
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Enumerating the differences between .PNG, .GIF, and .JPEG file types
First of all, their respective acronyms offer some insight into the usage of each file type. PNG stands for Portable Network Graphics, GIF means Graphics Interchange Format, and JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. To see what sets each of them apart, let’s start with the technical aspects of each file type.
In terms of compression algorithm, or the technique that makes files smaller in size for easier transfer, only JPEG has a lossy compression algorithm while the other two have lossless compression algorithms. Imagine the same image size for all three formats. This means that JPEG images generally suffer from quality issues in exchange for the smaller file size.
As for the compression difference between PNG and GIF, they both have lossless methods allowing them to keep higher resolutions, often at the cost of greater file sizes. Fun fact, the controversy regarding the licensing agreement over the GIF compression method led to the development of the PNG standard in 1994 although two decades later, in 2004, all relevant patents surrounding the issue have expired.
Another important difference between these three file types is transparency. This refers to how an element or an image is “see-through,” or how elements can be separated from the background that is either empty or of a solid color. This time, JPEG images don’t support transparency in their images, GIFs can support up to 256 colors without alpha channels, and PNG files have variable transparency settings and support for millions of colors. If you have a JPEG image of a bird on a white background, for example, you can’t select the subject alone and leave the background behind. In a GIF file, only one color can be designated as transparent and it has to be one of the basic 256 colors. This means that separating the image from the “background” can lead to scattered grains of pixels being included when you separate the layers. These problems and limitations do not exist in the PNG format; while you see a white background when you view the bird image, you can import and use the image alone on any application you wish without traces of the background included.
Learning when to use each file type
Learning when to use each of these image file types will save you time and help you maintain the quality of your work. Instead of wasting time making poor-quality images work, sometimes it’s just a matter of using the wrong type of file. To start, JPEG remains one of the most popular image formats as it is used mainly for photography and banner images that don’t require any transparencies. Its simplicity and file size makes it perfect for a wide range of general applications. Additionally, it is also supported by virtually all image hosting devices and applications.
If your job deals more with online, Internet content, GIF is a great option. More importantly, the main advantage that GIFs have over the other file types is that they can be animated. If you’ve seen animated images of cute animals or short movie clips turned into memes, you’re probably looking at GIF files. It gives this file format an advantage over the others, especially in terms of marketing and social media engagements. Also, as far as web development is concerned, GIFs can be used for high-resolution web images without sacrificing loading time. In the process of web development, this file type is often used before launching a set. QA engineers generate dummy files as per custom specifications, which include images, text, and even other forms of media. In presenting these to clients, a website has to be at its best, and GIF loading times surely help.
If transparency is the name of the game, then PNG is the file type you should go with. They are also used for web content. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re using animations, GIF; if you need transparent images, PNG. The best example of PNG over GIF is in placing logos on a website. Of course, as the image of the brand that the site carries, the logo has to be strikingly visible and displayed at the best resolution available–something that can be achieved by using PNG files.
These applications of image files also present a trade-off apart from the uses listed above. Higher quality files usually come at larger file sizes, which in turn starts to slow down a website loading time when used too frequently. People in charge of web design and development should take this into consideration.
While there are a lot more file types available for images, starting with the three most common file types is a good step toward making your experience with these visual assets easier. Remember that PNG, GIF, and JPEG files all have their pros and cons. Still, each of them is perfect for a certain application and the right use makes for a better experience for you and your audience.