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What Is the Difference Between JPG, PNG, BMP, and TIFF Images?

Marc Schenker April 22, 2024 · 15 min read

There are so many image formats that it’s sometimes hard to figure out what each is best for. There is a difference between JPG and PNG, as well as JPG and BMP and JPG and TIFF. It all comes down to what you want to use your images for.

What Is JPG?

JPG or JPEG is an image file format that stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. This joint committee created the standard back in 1992. The standard is a widely used means of lossy compression in digital images. Lossy compression, also referred to as irreversible compression, relies on estimates and only partial-data discarding to render your images.

This approach will reduce the size of your image format, so it’s easier to store and transmit. For example, a JPG that’s been highly compressed–where the image has been significantly reduced in size–will be of lower quality than one that’s only undergone low compression.

JPG shouldn’t be confused with lossless compression, which is an image whose data isn’t degraded to store or transmit the content.

JPG’s lossy compression technology is better used for:

  • Compressing multimedia files like audio, images, and video
  • Internet telephony
  • Streaming media

On the other hand, lossless compression is better suited for:

  • Data and text files
  • Copy
  • Banking records

This makes the difference between JPG and PNG quality notable because, as you’ll see, PNG uses an entirely different standard.

What Is PNG?

PNG, also known as Portable Network Graphics, is another file format that’s based on lossless compression. It’s actually a raster graphics file format invented to replace GIF or the Graphics Interchange Format. The very first version of PNG was released as early as 1996.

This file format supports a range of images like:

  • Complete-color, non-palette-based RGB/RGBA images
  • Grayscale images
  • Palette-based images

As eluded to above, lossless compression is the opposite of lossy compression. It’s when you can reconstruct the original data from compressed data. In other words, it’s a technique whereby you’re not losing image size or quality when you store or transmit your image. Use cases for this style of compression include:

  • Text documents
  • Executable programs
  • Source code

You now have a better understanding of the difference between PNG and JPG. Interestingly, though, a BMP file and TIFF images are a little bit of a mixed bag, as you’ll soon see.

What Is a BMP File?

A BMP file format is short for bitmap, a mapping of a domain (for instance, a set of numbers) to bits. It’s a raster graphic file format meant to store your bitmap digital images independently of your display platform, like a graphics adapter. This is particularly applicable in OS/2 and Microsoft Windows environments.

BMP has the capacity to store 2-D digital images in both color and monochrome, different color depths, and with data compression, color profiles, and alpha channels as options. WMF, the Windows Metafile, covers the BMP image file format.

This image file format has historically been a very popular one, given its ease of use and widespread support in Windows and other systems. Many image-processing programs from various operating systems can therefore read and write BMP. Featuring an open format and generous, widely available documentation, it’s also known to have quite a large file size. This is due to its natural lack of compression; however, it’s still possible to compress many BMP files thanks to lossless data compression. To achieve this, we would use archive file formats like ZIP since they contain redundant data.

In general, many older graphical user interfaces (UI) used this technology in their internal graphics subsystems.

Knowing that we know about JPG, PNG, and BMP, you’ll see how TIFF is almost in a class of its own. The difference between PNG and TIFF–and the difference between BMP and TIFF–is that TIFF has more flexibility.

What Is TIFF?

With an initial release date of 1986, TIFF, which stands for Tagged Image File Format, is an almost 40-year-old image file format. In its 35 years of use, it’s built a reputation for itself as both an adaptable and flexible type of technology. Its big benefit is its ability to control data and images all within one file. It does this by including all the header tags that define the geometry of the image. Header tags include:

  • Applied image compression
  • Image-data arrangement
  • Definition
  • Size

As a result of this flexibility and usability, TIFF has won a large following among photographers, graphic designers, artists, and professionals working in the publishing industry. This file standard stores raster graphics. Originally invented by the Aldus Corporation, later bought by Adobe, TIFF is supported by numerous uses cases for desktop publishing. These include:

  • Printing
  • Scanning
  • Page-layout purposes
  • Desktop publishing
  • Image manipulation
  • Optical character recognition
  • Word processing
  • Faxing

The beauty of TIFF is that it can contain both lossy and lossless images. By using it as a “container†for your JPG formats, you can use it to support lossy images. In this context, the difference between PNG and JPG is starker since each can only support lossless and lossy compression, respectively.

All told, the differences between each of the four image file types center on compression and how easy the image is for usage in various applications.

So What Is the Difference Between JPG, PNG, BMP, and TIFF Images?

If you’re just looking at a picture on the web, you may not immediately notice the differences between these files types, especially if you’re looking at a smaller screen. The differences become more obvious when you apply them to specific user types. In addition, their contrasts become clearer behind the scenes, when you start to consider a quantifiable that isn’t immediately apparent, like website speed or performance.

In general, the differences line up like this:

JPG Image – This file format supports lossy compression for your digital images. This means that the size of your file will decrease (higher compression relates to smaller file sizes). You can make images significantly smaller. The sacrifice for this is that the quality of your images will suffer (be less clear) since compression discards some of the original data to make the image smaller. This is particularly true the smaller you go.

PNG Image – A PNG image is the opposite of JPG’s lossy compression. It supports lossless compression. As the name implies, “lossless†refers to its ability to keep all of the original data in the file format. As a result, the quality of your original image won’t change or degrade. However, the tradeoff for this benefit is that the file size will be larger than JPG. This can be an issue when it comes to website speed and the UX for your website visitors, as larger images make an entire website take longer to load.

BMP Image – The bitmap file format is an interesting one since it’s a standard developed by Microsoft and considered a classic. This means it’s been generally used in older graphical user interfaces. By nature, it’s a bigger image file. Still, you can subject it to lossless compression with ZIP technology.

TIFF Image – The TIFF image format has been around since the 1980s. While it’s also a classic in that sense, its popularity hasn’t waned. If anything, it’s gotten more popular as the decades have worn on. That’s because professionals working in industries like the graphic arts, photography, and publishing. One of its biggest benefits is its sheer flexibility, which allows users to manage images and data in the same file. It also supports both lossy and lossless compression, empowering creatives with a lot of freedom when working with it.

Now that you understand the differences between JPG and PNG, as well as BMP and TIFF, it’s time to explore when it’s best to use each one.

When You Should Use JPG, PNG, BMP, and TIFF

You’ve got the project brief from your client. You’ve sent over your design proposal, which they approved. You’ve created your mood board and have a clear idea of where you’re going to take your project. The only thing that’s left for you to decide on is what image type to use.

Fortunately for you, we’ve broken down the ideal use cases for each image file format below. Now, you’ll be able to work with each type in confidence and do a better job in your clients’ creative projects.

When Do You Use a JPG Image?

You may have guessed by now that JPG’s lossy compression is a factor in deciding when’s best to use this image. That’s true, but the first thing you need to realize is that JPG is still one of the best formats for web images. If you’re a web designer, you’re going to be working with this format a lot.

Because of the loss of quality in lossy compression, a JPG image will go easy on your website’s servers. This allows the image to load faster, which in turn means a faster website performance for your site visitors. Fast speeds are one of the most important priorities for website users today, especially since more people have been using mobile rather than desktop to access websites for the last few years.

Another benefit of JPG is its compressed and smaller file size. In practical terms, this just means that you won’t be taking up as much space on your servers with JPGs as with other formats. You won’t run out of space so quickly.

Finally, it’s standard practice to use JPG for lots of web-design projects. To support this demand, a plethora of browsers and other web tools easily integrate with JPG. That’s not necessarily the case with other formats.

Knowing all these basics, here’s when to use JPG:

  • When you’re working with opaque images – JPG doesn’t support images that can be seen through. If you don’t need to use see-through images, go with JPG.
  • When you’re working with photography albums – If you’re working with lots of photos, such as a photo album, go with this file format. Since JPGs load faster due to their smaller sizes, you’ll see photos displaying quicker and more seamlessly.
  • When you’re working with more complex images – Going back to the photograph example, a photograph is regarded as a more complex image. The good news is that the drop in quality isn’t that noticeable when working with these richer images. So if you use JPGs when working with photographs, you’ll get the best of both worlds: smaller images that load faster without a noticeable drop in quality.

When Do You Use a PNG Image?

A PNG image has one thing in common with a JPG: Both are ideal for use on the web. While a PNG won’t be as compressed as a JPG and therefore larger, it’s still one of the two most common formats that browsers and other web tools support. In other words, if you’re designing a website, you’ll do yourself a big favor by choosing PNG, too.

That said, here are the specific use cases for this file type:

  • When you’re working with online portfolios – Whether you’re a graphic designer, web designer, photographer, or online marketer, entrepreneurs usually have their own portfolios on the Internet. Portfolios are meant to showcase your best designs, websites, pictures, etc., in great detail. That’s why going with PNG–which provides a fully intact, original image due to its larger file size–is the better choice.
  • When you’re working with images that feature hard lines – In general, images that have hard lines, like logos, suffer from easy-to-spot pixelation, which isn’t attractive. That’s why going with PNG in this case, with its higher quality, is the way to go. Its lossless compression ensures that the original image stays clear and sharp.
  • When you’re working with transparent images – Use a PNG image when your goal is to blend your image into the webpage seamlessly, instead of having a more opaque background.

When Do You Use a BMP Image?

Interestingly, both PNG and JPG are bitmap formats. A bitmap is really just a series of pixels or very small dots. Each pixel is a tiny square that’s been assigned a color, then put together in a pattern to create an image. When you zoom on a bitmap closely enough, you’ll even be able to see the individual pixels.

Here’s when using a BMP in your design project is a good idea:

  • When working with color gradations – This makes sense: The more color patterns your concept requires, the more you’ll need to rely on bitmaps. This is especially true when you’re dealing with photographs since they have a large range of color gradations.
  • When working with images you’ll alter – Depending on the requirements of your project, you may be called to modify your images quite a bit. In this use case, working with BMP is the way to go. To change how your BMP will look, simply modify the individual pixels’ color profiles. In this way, you can also edit and add some effects to your BMPs.

When Do You Use a TIFF Image?

As we mentioned earlier, a TIFF image is among the most flexible and usable types of graphic formats. That’s endeared it to many professionals who work in the graphic design and arts industries. You’ve come across TIFF images many times in your life already. Each time you’ve taken a picture with a digital camera or scanned a document, you’ve working with this file format.

Well-respected for its high quality, TIFF is popular in desktop publishing and photography projects. This is because, in and of itself, TIFF does not use compression technology. As a result, it doesn’t degrade the quality of your images every time you edit them.

Here’s a quick rundown of when the time is right to use TIFF:

  • When you’re working with high-quality scans – If you need a scanned image that retains all of its original data, ensuring the most pristine quality, then go with TIFF. Any artwork, photographs, and important documents will have no noticeable loss of quality from the original. This is ideal when you want rich images on your website.
  • When you’re working with high-quality print graphics – If you don’t want to work with RAW, then TIFF is the highest-quality print file available to you. Higher quality usually demands larger sizes. TIFF is ideal for printing huge photographs, but overall, it’s excellent for printing images at any size.

Knowing When to Use Each Format Is Key

While both PNG and JPG are ideal for a multitude of web-based projects, each is best for specific kinds of projects. BMPs are well-suited to images that you have to edit, and TIFF images are your go-to when you have the luxury of not caring about size and concentrating on nothing but the sheer quality of your prints.

As a creative, you’ll always work with images and photographs of different sizes and quality for unique purposes. Understanding the unique strengths and weaknesses of these four image file types is crucial to picking the best image formats for your projects.

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About the Author
Marc Schenker

Marc is a copywriter and marketer who runs The Glorious Company, a marketing agency. An expert in business and marketing, he helps businesses and companies of all sizes get the most bang for their ad bucks.

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