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Digital Image (extensions) - Or alphabet soup? A quick tutorial.

I have a feeling that many artists and makers are confused about the different digital images.

DigitalImageGR Are you confused about:

  • RAW
  • PSD
  • TIFF
  • JPG
  • GIF
  • PNG


Does it seem like alphabet soup?

Believe me, I understand, it took me years to get it straight.

Here is a slide presentation on YouTube with audio. Below is a text version on ASK Harriete & a handout. Download DIGITALTIPSfinalRGBCMYK





To create RAW files, you need to set your camera to save files in its own RAW file format.
RAW creates the largest possible file for an image
in your camera.

Cameraraw A camera RAW image files contain the most complete actual data captured by the sensor without any in-camera processing; these are the only files containing “pure” data. Working with camera RAW files gives you maximum control; you can set the white balance, tonal range, contrast, color saturation, and sharpening.

Think of camera RAW files as your photo negative or original slide.
You can reprocess this file at any time to achieve the results you want. 

Book publishers often ask for RAW files to avoid amateur quality Photoshop modifications.








PSD is a file extension for images used only in Photoshop.

PSDs are uncompressed image files.
PSDs can contain multiple layers.
PSDs can contain millions of colors.







TIFs are uncompressed image files.
TIFs can contain millions of colors.
Your photographer should send you TIFF as a "master image".

DIGITAL image of JPG





JPEG is a file extension used specifically for images.
JPEGs are compressed image (and smaller) files.
JPEGs can contain millions of colors.
CREATE JPGs from your PSD or TIFF images.
Do not open and resave JPGs as they progressively reduce quality.









GIFs are compressed image files.
GIFs contain only 256 colors.
GIFs support transparent backgrounds.
GIF is the only extension that supports animated images which may include multiple or automated imagery. This is an animated GIF going very fast, but they can be set for any speed.






PNG is short for Portable Network Graphics
A great alternative to GIF as a compressed image.

PNGs can contain millions of colors, so great alternative to GIF
PNGs support transparent backgrounds.
PNGs are widely supported and growing in popularity, GIF is still the most popular.

Find more information in the Professional Guidelines document Working With Digital Images Effectively.


This post was updated on February 3, 2022, to provide current links.