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Image File Formats in Photoshop Explained

by Aaron Nace
September 25, 2018

From TIFs and GIFs to JPEGs and PNGs, learn about some of the most common file formats in Photoshop! In this tutorial, Aaron demonstrates how to export photos with accurate color, how to save work in layered files, how to create an animation, and how to make a background transparent.

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.PSD

If you work in Photoshop often, you’re already familiar with PSDs and how they work. PSD stands for Photoshop Document and it is the standard format for saving work within Photoshop. It is the first of several ‘layered’ file types that we’ll cover.

Photoshop allows you to create and manipulate layers, which each contain information that make up your image and all of the edits you’ve made. (If you’re only working with a single image without any edits, you’ll only have one layer.) Layered file formats will preserve all of the layer information in a document.

For example, if you bring a portrait image into Photoshop, it will come in as a single layer. Then if you create a new layer and use the Spot Healing Brush Tool to remove some blemishes, you will have a second layer in the document. You can additional layers for making adjustments to exposure and color or to add effects like noise and blur. Every layer you create will add additional information to the image and the document.

Saving as a PSD simply saves all of your work and all of the layers you have created. You can open up the PSD file at any time to make changes, add or remove layers, and export the image into a format more suited for the web.

This is the best file format to use when you’re working exclusively in Photoshop and when you want to have access to your work to make additional adjustments. We recommend always saving a PSD whenever you’re working on a project so that you always have the option to go back and make changes.

.PSB

PSBs are nearly identical to PSDs except that they are a ‘large document’ file format. This means that they are made specifically for extremely large images or Photoshop documents that contain a lot of information.

Any document that is 2GB or larger must be saved as a PSB. The only drawback here is that the PSB format is slightly less compatible with other Adobe products. For example, Lightroom does not allow you to work directly with PSB files like it does with PSDs.

.TIF

TIF is another type of layered file but in a more universally accepted package. Perfect for those who may be opening documents in software other than Photoshop.

The TIF format is great if you’re working with clients and want to able to share your layered documents without having to worry about compatibility.

File size is limited to 4GB so larger, more in-depth projects may still require you to save in a large document format like PSB. TIFs, like PSDs, are a great way for you to regularly save and back up your work without losing any layer information.

.JPEG

The most common images file format, JPEGs are compressed images that are ideal for sharing and displaying on the internet. Photos in this format are flattened, meaning that they do not contain any layer information. They are also compressed, meaning that there is some information loss.

JPEGs are by far the most flexible way to export your images out of Photoshop. There are a number of options for compression which allows you to maintain a certain level of quality where necessary. You can also convert images to sRGB, which is the color space used by web browsers for displaying image information.

This is incredibly important to remember! If you ever export JPEGs for display on the web (if you’re creating an online portfolio, for example) be sure to use the dialog under File, Export, and Save for Web (Legacy). This menu will give you a variety of options for saving your JPEG images as well as an option to convert them to sRGB. This will ensure that your photos look great and that the colors are accurate!

.PNG

Ideal for text, graphics, or icons, PNGs can be exported with a transparent background. This format is useful any time you need to have a button or logo display on a website and want to use the background of the website rather than a background that is part of the image itself.

PNGs will generally be a larger file size than JPEGs, so they can cause performance issues if used a lot on the same page.

.GIF

Is it GIF as in giraffe or GIF as in gift? Your guess is as good as ours. But no matter how you pronounce it, this is the most popular format for creating small snippets of video to display on the web.

Much smaller than a video file and much larger than a JPEG or PNG, GIFs are certainly useful but they can be slower to load when compared to a single still image. There are a variety of options to compress GIFs to control file size and it is the perfect file format for short little animations and cinemagraphs.