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What is a TIFF File?

By Sonal Panse
Updated May 16, 2024
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The Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) was developed by the Aldus Corporation in collaboration with various other contributors in 1986. It is a bitmapped image format that supports various resolutions. A TIFF file contains descriptive information about the image and is identified by a .tiff or a .tif file extension.

TIFF file formats are used for storing very large, high quality images. It is the favored format in many graphic applications, including image manipulation programs, desktop publishing, and 3-D imaging applications, as well as in optical recognition software and scanning and faxing applications. A version called GeoTIFF is used to store geo-referenced raster imagery.

Images that are saved in the TIFF format can have a maximum size of 4 GB. This file size limitation is one of the drawbacks of TIFF, but to get around it and to exceed the size boundary, the creation of a new, related file format has been proposed.

The TIFF format specifies a number of tags to store information about the image, and user applications can define their own tags to describe images. The specification is readily extensible, but writing customized tags for specific applications may make file sharing difficult between different applications. It is best to use extensions that are independent of specific applications and can be readily accepted by a variety of programs.

TIFF images come in many types, including four baseline ones: the black and white bilevel image, the grayscale image, the palette or indexed image, and the RGB image. While the color scope of palette images and gray scale images is limited to 8 bits or 256 colors, the number of colors that RGB images can display run to 24 bits or 16.7 million colors and even the billion strong 48 bits. TIFF can also support images in YcbCr and CMYK formats.

As TIFF files are very large, they often need to be compressed to smaller sizes for the sake of portability. Compression does not affect the image quality. For web use, the files are usually converted to JPEG (or JPG) and BMP formats. These formats are faster to load, and they are also more easily read by web browsers.

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Discussion Comments
By anon924781 — On Jan 07, 2014

I have no trouble opening or viewing .tif images, but they take ages to print (HP Laserjet CM1312 MFP). I'm guessing this has something to do with the file sizes? I am running Win7. I have checked all the print settings prior to printing and can't seem to find anything that alleviates the issue (e.g., changing image quality).

Does anyone know of a simple solution, or is it easier to convert to JPEG or PDF and print that way (I have a TIF to PDF Converter, but that sometimes changes the paper orientation automatically which can be a pain too)? A customer sends me lots of .tif files and I'm sick of waiting minutes for an image to print!

By anon355539 — On Nov 17, 2013

By anon324868 — On Mar 12, 2013

I just downloaded several very large satellite images in TIF format, and they are all black. Help! How can I see them?

By Perdido — On Feb 18, 2013

@orangey03 – I can't answer for the entire print industry, but I can tell you that the newspaper where I work uses TIFF files in the ads. Since most of what we print comes out in black and white, it's important to start with a high quality image, because there will inevitably be some loss in quality through the printing process.

Whenever a logo or a photo goes into an ad, I save the image as a TIFF. Though I usually save the finished ad as a PDF so that it can be imported onto the page without any size issues, saving the photos as TIFFs ensures that they will look their best.

Sometimes, we save ads as TIFFs when they are built in certain programs. However, we don't do this with every ad, because it would slow down the computers as they were sending the pages to the printer.

By orangey03 — On Feb 17, 2013

Does the print industry work from TIFF files? I know the files are big, but they are also high quality, and I would think that any publication would want to print the best images possible.

By Kristee — On Feb 17, 2013

I get frustrated when I try to edit a TIFF file. I work in with files in layers before flattening them, and once I flatten them, I convert them to TIFF files.

The only way to edit the TIFF file is to edit the entire thing. The layers are gone once you flatten it.

I know it is possible to save layers in a TIFF file, but this will make the file extremely large. It takes forever to save changes to a layered TIFF file, and sometimes, my computer even freezes up, so I do all my editing before converting to a TIFF.

By lighth0se33 — On Feb 16, 2013

I convert TIFF files to jpegs before uploading the images to my website. A TIFF file would slow down the loading of the page so much that many people would give up on the site before it every fully loaded, and keeping people interested is so important when you are trying to sell something online.

The jpeg files do look fuzzy if you make them any bigger, but if you keep them at the size you made them, they look just fine onscreen. TIFF files would look even more awesome, but using them just isn't feasible.

By WoodWorker — On Sep 25, 2010

TIFF image files are unbelievably large... if you were to compress a TIFF file, you could reduce the filesize significantly. If you can accept virtually unnoticeable losses, you might want to try a compressible format such as JPG or PNG.

By JoseJames — On Sep 13, 2010

As a photographer, I use TIFF files often when sending images to a print lab. It really is the only option that is well accepted and retains quality suitable for high-resolution output.

My only complaint about TIFF files is the large data size they have. I think the photographic industry is ready for a new format that is capable of handling large images from new digital single lens reflex cameras.

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