What file types make for the best printable pictures

Digital pictures are great but many times we want to show them off to people, make a scrapbook, or decorate our rooms with them.  So we need to print them.  However, some pictures seem to print better or clearer than others.  This is also true if you are using printable birthday card templates.

The best format for printing photos is JPG (pronounced “J peg”.) JPG is the format your digital cameras use and if you have a photo straight from your camera, this will print very nicely for you.  It is the most popular format for photos, because JPG format supports almost 17 million colors.  That’s right, 17 million colors!  The competition is in the hundreds (GIF format supports 256 colors.) So, with JPG files we have richer color with better and smoother gradients. That means your lights to darks will  print very nicely without little lines between. If you want to print a vampire calendar for example, you are going to get the best results with a JPG images.

The bad news on JPG format. They tend to be large files especially with the newer digital cameras.  Anything with more than 10 mega pixels will probably be over 2.0mb and difficult to upload to websites, see: uploading photo problems.

GIF is probably the most popular format on the Net.  It is commonly used by graphic artists for illustrations, design elements, clipart, etc. GIF images are very light in files size.  They will load quickly and therefore upload quickly.  The format is designed for a maximum of 256 colors.  That’s plenty for most cartoons or graphics.  So, if you are printing a Shrek birthday card, then a GIF image will look great.

GIF images can also be animated and transparent.  However, animated GIF images obviously can’t be printed.  That is to say the animation won’t show and when you try to print one, you’ll end up printing just a single frame of the animation (like printing a paused scene in a movie.) Transparency is great for designing but not really necessary for printing as is.

The bad side to GIF images is that they are generally small and what you find on the Net are reduced quality.  You can’t enlarge these without distortion.

PNG (pronounced “ping”) format is relatively new.  It was created to overcome the limitations of GIF images, mostly color issues.  They have spread across the web because of their popularity with online photo editors.  PNG is a great format for generating fun photos, your photo on a magazine, head-in-a-hole type images.  PNG will print nicely, so if you have made a fun picture online and want to print a thank you card with your photo, it should look great!

The bad news on PNG photos for printing is that your image will never be better quality than the original JPG file.  The PNG images produced will reduce the image size and the result is decreased resolution.  If you try to expand the picture it will “pixilate”, which means the square color pixels become larger and your lines become fuzzy or grainy.

Those 3 files types are pretty much the standard for now.  That’s an indepth look at the differences between JPG, GIF and PNG file formats for printing.  Although, as a general rule for home use, if the picture is big and looks great on your screne, it should look great printed out for family or friends.

Happy printing,


This entry was posted on Friday, August 27th, 2010 at 8:00 am and is filed under tips and suggestions and tagged: , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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