Which Image File Format and Which Software Should I Use?

By Jody S. Ginther Copyright © 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Vector vs. Bitmap or Raster and what file formats to use? What they are and when to use the various image formats can be confusing. What is the best graphics software to use for to create these file formats? Ok, slow down I can see you are confused. We will get to these questions one by one. First, you need to think of what you, your boss, or your clients will need to print or pass around to achieve the best final product. If many people will work with the same images, they need to be compatible with the software everyone is using. Will the images be printed, for a website, or will the same files be used for many purposes? First you need to understand the basics about vector and raster, (often called, "bitmap") images.

original format beautiful girl vector image of beautiful girl raster image of beautiful girl

Vector vs. Bitmap or Raster images. What is a vector, bitmap, or raster? Vector images are best for created images like cartoons, logos, et. I use vector, tiff, and raw images as much as possible. Why? Vector images are made by using mathematical algorithms. Who cares? You do. By using mathematics the image can be enlarged, reduced, and altered without loosing quality. With image formats like bitmap or raster images enlarging or reduction will cause a loss in quality. Take a look at the first original image as compared to the two enlargements. The second image enlargement was done by enlarging a vector image. The third picture is an enlargement done by using a bitmap or raster image. Yeah, ugly. So why would anyone ever use bitmap or raster images? Unfortunately that's what photos are. You can convert them to vector images but this may not yield the results you want. You will also find different software deal with these types of images in different ways. Be patient, we will get to that in a moment. For now just think vector for created images and raster for photos.

What about tiffs vs png and raw images? Scanning and storing photos for possible future printing brings us to the tiff file format. TIFF files were originally designed for this purpose. PNG or JPEG? PNG files are often the best choice to use on the web since JPEG files are not supported by all web browsers. PNG and GIF files can also be animated. Go to our 2D Graphics section to learn about animated PNG and GIF files. Raw images and keeping images and keeping images in the original editing formats for the software you are using is the best way to go if you will be making a lot of changes to the images. Photoshop uses PSD files, Inkscape uses svg files, and Corel uses CPT files. Since those formats were designed for those particular software programs stay within those format types as much as possible during the editing process. Generally every time you convert a file format to another you loose quality and data.

What software should I use? The answer to this one depends upon two more questions. How much money do you have? You could spend thousands of dollars on software by buying Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and other expensive graphic arts programs or you can do the same thing for free by using open source software. Then why spend money? Unfortunately many companies, and bosses will require skills in the more famous graphics software packages. If you will work independently and will create the final output yourself, and you don't need your files to be compatible with the most common software, then the open source graphics software programs are the best choice.You will need at least two. Why? As mentioned earlier you will be dealing with vector and raster type images. At this time, you will get better quality by using one graphics program designed to work with vector graphic images and a different graphics program specifically designed to work with raster or bitmap photos. I feel the best free open source alternatives at this time are GIMP and InkScape. GIMP is a great open source image graphics program for dealing with photos free to use and free to download. It is a great free alternative to PhotoShop or Corel. You can download and use GIMP graphics program free from their website Get GIMP. A free alternative to Illustrator for vector graphics is InkScape. You can download the latest version of InkScape here Get InkScape.

Summary: When to Use What?