File Format for Printing


Today’s Question: In the [August 3rd] newsletter you discuss converting a TIFF file to a JPEG file and the resulting file size. At the end you say, “JPEG images should only be used for derivative images that are shared digitally, not as archival images or as the basis of photo prints.” What file format do you recommend for photo printing, especially if sending the file to a third-party printer?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I recommend using the TIFF file format for saving photos that have been prepared for printing, as long as that is supported by the print service you’ll use.

More Detail: Most photographers are (I hope!) capturing their photos in a raw capture format. That is great for maximizing image quality and for optimizing the photo, but you wouldn’t want to send a raw capture format to a print service. Whenever you will share a photo with someone else for any purpose, you would want to create a derivative copy of the original capture.

As mentioned in my answer from August 3rd, for sharing online or other digital sharing the JPEG format is a good option because it provides a smaller file size. There is some degradation in image quality caused by the JPEG compression however, so I don’t recommend using the JPEG file format for images that will be printed.

In my view the best file format to use for printing is the TIFF format, either without compression or with lossless compression such as LZW or ZIP. This will ensure optimal image quality for the derivative created from your source capture, which in turn will help ensure the best print quality.

Of course, when sending a file to a third-party printer it is also important to meet the requirements of that provider. With some online printing services, for example, you may be limited to only being able to upload JPEG and possibly PNG images. This isn’t ideal, but in general you can still achieve good print quality even with a JPEG file as long as a high setting for quality was used.

If possible, however, I recommend saving photos intended for printing with a file format that will not involve any lossy compression. The TIFF file format meets this requirement, while also being widely supported by most printing services.