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How on earth is one to choose from all the file format options when saving a file in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements? And what is the best choice for saving a photo for the internet or to be printed?

Here is a quick summary of the pros and cons of using the major formats.  At the end of this post, you will find a cheat sheet to download for printing or saving on your computer.


JPEGs are great for posting pix to the web or sending them in email, especially if perfect quality isn’t an issue.   JPEGS support a full range of colors and can be compressed to small file sizes.  Make sure you save each file as a JPEG only once.  It should be the last step in your workflow.  Each time you save a JPEG, it compresses and the quality erodes just a little because the compression process discards data.

When saving a file as a JPEG, make sure you have an uncompressed file as a backup too – either the original that you downloaded from your camera, or a PSD, TIFF or Raw file.  When you save a file as a JPEG, choosing a higher quality results in larger file size, and choosing a lower quality results in more noise and JPEG artifacts.


GIFs are suitable for graphics with large areas of the same color with definite transitions between colors.  They are often used for logos and web headers, both because of their clear rendering of text and line art and because they support transparency.  This type of file is able to compress itself to fairly small sizes with no loss of data; however, the number of colors is limited to 256.

This low level of color support makes GIFs unsuitable for photos.  When you save an image with more than 256 colors as a GIF, dithering is the name of the process that shrinks it down to 256 colors.  A dithered image will look grainy or pixelated.


The PNG file format might end up being a better alternative than both JPEGs or GIFs, once all web browsers begin supporting it.  It supports a full range of color, although the file size is often bigger than the corresponding JPEG.  However, it also uses a lossless form of compression.  This would be an ideal choice for photographers trying to sell their works online who want to show every detail of an image.  It’s better for graphics than GIFs because there are more options regarding transparency.  Internet Explorer 6, however, does not read PNGs.


I save all images and graphics that I process in Photoshop or PSE as PSDs for two reasons.  First, I always have an uncompressed image to return to if I need to print an image of the highest possible quality.  Second, I always have my layers to return to if I need to make changes to my edits.  These files are big!  Whichever image editing software you use, it’s a good practice to save versions of your work in the native editing format.


A universally understood file format that saves on a vast quantities of information about an image.  These files are huge.  They might be required by the absolute best photo printers (which I doubt most of us will ever encounter).  Some folks I know save all their files as TIFFs instead of PSDs.  And yes, TIFFs do retain your layers.

My File Format Strategy

I import photos from my camera as Raw files and run my initial edits in Lightroom.  If I am only printing the images, I keep them in the Raw format.  These images are often about 640 x 480, saved at medium to medium high compression.

If I import my photos in to Photoshop or PSE for further edits, I save them as PSDs.  And I save frequently while I’m working on them as my computer often crashes at inopportune moments.

Finally, if this is an image I want to share, as the last step I save as a JPEG.  If it’s going on my website, I make a copy that is perhaps 640 x 480 pixels and usually save it as a medium to medium high quality JPEG.  I use a lower quality for emailing images.

And, I always have my PSD file to go back to if I want to make further changes.

Cheat Sheet for Texas Chicks Peeps

Download this file if you’d like a handy cheat sheet to remind you of what type of file to use when.

File Format Cheat Sheet

04. JPEG, GIF, PNG, PSD, TIFF. KWIM? was last modified: June 19th, 2015 by Erin Peloquin


  1. Sarah Says :
    Posted on September 29, 2009 at 10:06 am

    LOVE THIS!! Thank you so much — I have been so confused as to what is best in different situations. Thanks so much for the cheat sheet 🙂

  2. lori Says :
    Posted on September 29, 2009 at 11:44 am

    VERY helpful and thank you for putting it in easy terms
    .-= lori´s last blog ..my house is dirty but my scrapbook is up to date : / =-.

  3. Chelsi
    Posted on September 30, 2009 at 12:14 am

    thank you! this is so helpful. it really takes the guess work out of it.

  4. b Says :
    Posted on September 30, 2009 at 7:47 am

    Great post, thank you! Most of this I sort of knew but I really did not understand what a GIF was. I tend to save my files as Tiffs instead of PSD because other programs can open a Tiff easier. But thanks for the reminder that things need to be saved other than a jpg format. I tend to get lazy!! lol

  5. meg Says :
    Posted on September 30, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    this is awesome! thank you so much for putting this together. very helpful.

  6. Marsha Says :
    Posted on September 30, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    Thanks for the tips and the handy cheat sheet! Awesome.

    Question for you though. Do you have a reason you start in LR before going to PS? I find myself starting in PS and then going to LR.
    .-= Marsha´s last blog ..simple says it all =-.

  7. abbey
    Posted on October 1, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Thank you soo much for this. I too have been confused at the different formats.

  8. Friday Favorites October 2, 2009 — Daily Dwelling Says :
    Posted on October 1, 2009 at 11:35 pm

    […] lesson in how to choose from the different file format options in Photoshop and PSE. Check out JPEG, GIF, PNG, PSD, TIFF, KWIM? I’m saving it as a […]

  9. wayoutnumbered Says :
    Posted on October 2, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    I really stink at formatting but I have learned that png files are great if you want to make a logo, watermark, etc. Anything with a transparent background that you may want to place on multiple photos. I’ll be printing the cheat sheet!
    .-= wayoutnumbered´s last blog ..Blue =-.

  10. Paul Says :
    Posted on August 10, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    I use JPEGs for sending images to the printer or sending through e-mail. I use PNG, JPEG, or GIF files for my blog. IE6 can read PNG files, but the browser has trouble with transparency – meaning it doesn’t work.

    I use TIFF files for archiving scanned photos/negatives/slides. TIFF files are the best for that because not only do you retain all the photo information, and are universally accepted, they also support up to 48 bits of colour data – which is what I scan my photos in at.

  11. Harald Johnson Says :
    Posted on January 30, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Recently discovered Texas Chicks; good job Erin! (I went to UT, and my sister lives in Austin where she’s a Mom) This is an old thread, but I’ll just add: in doing research for my books on digital printing, I did testing of JPEG compression, and it turns out that you don’t really start hitting poor results (e.g., artifacting and JPEG “blocks”) until you start using very low Quality levels. Anything from Medium and up is usually fine, including for sending off for printing or even self-printing an inkjet printer. I’ve even printed large prints for exhibitions from JPEG (if needed), although I prefer to print from high-res TIFFs when possible, and then at a minimum of 200ppi at final size. Some printmakers ask for 300ppi at final size, but it’s really not needed in most cases. More than you want to know, eh? Good luck! — Harald Johnson, author “Mastering Digital Printing, Second Edition” and photo gaming publisher

  12. cyn mcdoanld
    Posted on March 8, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    i’ve been reading your posts on saving images- i had no idea that saving so often as a jpg would harm the pictures-thank you for letting us know- my problem is if i save the (elements 9) scrapbook page as a psd i can’t see the thumbnail? is there anyway to change this otherwise i am forever clicking on tons of blue folders to find the page i need-
    thank you cyn mcdonald

    • admin
      Posted on March 8, 2011 at 3:33 pm

      Hi Cyn, If you’re looking for files from the File Open dialog within Elements, you can see a preview of the file when you actually click on it. Don’t double click though, that will open it. Does that help?


    • Rosy
      Posted on January 14, 2012 at 6:57 pm

      I am a digital scrapbooker too and I started saving all of my pages as tiffs (with layers) because they are a bit smaller and show a thumbnail. You can also view them without opening Elements, but maybe there are dangers in this that I’m not aware of?

  13. Jaime Lee Says :
    Posted on August 24, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. I have to send some pics and they want them in jpg.

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