When to Save As What – Photoshop file formats explained

When-to-Save-As-What---Photoshop-file-formats-explained---featured---01When it comes to editing your photos, Photoshop might already seem complex enough. But have you ever given any deeper thought as to which file format is best for which occasion when you’re saving your work? You surely know JPG as that’s the de facto standard for uploading and viewing photos on the web. Maybe you know that the alternative PNG format allows you to have transparency in your images but is not as good at compressing photos. But there are many other options to choose from that are far better suited for a variety of cases. In this video, Photoshop Principal Product Manager Bryan O’Neil Hughes explains the most important of these formats and answers the question as to when to use which format.

The video is just about 4 minutes long and skips all the theoretical stuff that may be taught about file formats. It gives you some handy tips, and you will certainly learn about some very useful formats that you did not know before – at least I learned some things that I will certainly use in the future.

Overview of the most important formats

  • Photoshop native
    • PSD – Photoshop Document (default): Supports all Photoshop features so that nothing gets lost when you save, close and load a file again. Supports files up to 30,000 x 30,000 pixels and up to 3 Gigabytes in size.
    • PSB – Photoshop Big: Supports images up to 300,000 x 300,000 pixels and 4 Exabytes. So this is for really, really big images.
  • Images that go on the web
    • JPG – the de facto web standard: Good for photos that need to be compressed into a smaller file size.
    • PNG – the other popular web format: Good for images and graphics that have transparency (background shining through). Not ideal for photos because it uses lossless compression that cannot compress images as much as JPG’s lossy compression can.
    • GIF – only needed for animation: GIF images can store entire sequences of images and play back an animation which is not possible with JPG or PNG.
  • Format(s) for transporting images between different applications
    • TIFF: Supports layers and different bit depths (8, 16, 32 bit). This makes TIFF a great format for saving an intermediate file which you want to open in another application (e.g. Photomatix) for applying further adjustments to it. TIFF is a de facto standard in the publishing industry because of its ability to transport high quality data.
  • Format(s) for 32-bit files:
    • EXR – Open EXR format: Especially if you are doing HDR and if you merge your images in one application (e.g. in Photoshop) and tone map them in another application (e.g. Photomatix), this is a handy format as it can efficiently store the native 32-bit data preserving all the details and tones of your images.
    • TIFF: see above
  • Format(s) for sharing your work with others
    • Photoshop PDF: Choosing this format will save your file in the popular PDF format, but in the Save as… dialog, you can specify that Photoshop editing capabilities can be preserved. In that case, the PDF can be opened like every other PDF in Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Acrobat Reader. But it can also be opened back into Photoshop, with all the layers so that you (or somebody else) can continue editing it.

Final tip

If you are saving an image for the web, you should use the Save for Web… option (File > Save for Web…) and not the Save as… command. Save for Web… gives you a larger preview and more control over the different options for the popular web formats. These are important for the display on a website. For example, you can embed a color profile in the image to avoid the colors from being displayed differently in different browsers.

[via Adobe Photoshop YouTube channel]
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