File Format for Printing


Today’s Question: I can export my processed photos (from Capture One) as either JPEG or TIFF format, as well as DNG or PNG. Which format is preferable for printing?

Tim’s Quick Answer: When saving an image intended for print, I recommend saving as a TIFF file, because that will help ensure optimal quality for the finished image. I also recommend using the 16-bit per channel mode when exporting the TIFF image, assuming the source image was a raw capture or otherwise high-bit capture.

More Detail: The only format I strongly recommend against using when creating a derivative image for the purposes of printing a photo is the JPEG format. That’s because in almost all cases the JPEG format uses lossy compression, which means that even at a high setting for quality there will still be compression artifacts in the image. This can create a problematic pattern in the print, which can be avoided by using a different file format.

While not all printers support 16-bit per channel data output to the printer, I still recommend saving the derivative image as a 16-bit file to maximize the potential output quality. To be sure, as long as the image doesn’t need to be edited after creating the TIFF file, there is really very little benefit to saving this derivative image in the 16-bit per channel mode rather than 8-bit per channel mode. However, I prefer to err on the side of optimal print quality, and so recommend saving in the 16-bit per channel mode.

In addition, the TIFF file format is very widely supported by software and is recognized and supported by virtually all printing services. All things considered, in my view the TIFF file format is the best option to choose when saving a derivative image for printing.