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There is a lot of confusion for the photographers about the exact difference between the many image formats supported by their digital cameras (JPG, RAW, TIFF, NEF, CRW and more). It is really difficult to choose from the amount of options of compressed or uncompressed image formats. Also some image files have a lossless compression and other are better suitable for World Wide Web.

What is TIFF?

TIFF is one of the most popular image file formats used on the web today. Its name has nothing to do with the emotionally negative verb 'tiff', it actually represents an acronym for 'tagged image file format'. The format was created by the company Aldus but was later acquired by Adobe Systems which now holds officially the copyright to its specification.

Originally designed as a common binary image format for desktop scanners, TIFF gradually evolved to become one of the most widely used formats for storing bit-mapped images such as digital photographs and line art graphics. It is one of the three popular formats (along with JPEG and PNG) suitable for representing multi-color images. TIFF graphics can also be black and white or gray-scaled.

What makes the TIFF image format so special?

The TIFF image file format is based on the lossless compression method, allowing for an image to be stored without losing even a percent of its original data. Moreover, an image in TIFF format can undergo multiple edits with no negative effect on its quality parameters. This makes it preferable over the flexible but 'lossy' JPEG file format. TIFF also gives users the option to choose the LZW compression technique, officially supported by the GIF image format. This technique is characterized by allowing decrease of the image file's size with the data compression execution

The TIFF file format offers a high level of flexibility, giving users the chance to handle images and data within a single file. This is done with the help of the image structuring header tags such as size, definition, applied image compression, data arrangement that are included in the TIFF file. An example of such file is a TIFF that stores compressed JPEG and RLE images or a vector-based clipping path, containing croppings, outlines, image frames, etc.

TIFF format specifications?

The TIFF format reproduces images' color configuration by using 32bit offsets. This defines a limitation on the size of a TIFF file of 4 GB. Files in TIFF format are usually recognized by their .tif extension.

Thanks to its rich set of advantages in color images reproduction, TIFF is supported by the majority of image manipulation software, publishing, page layout applications and word processors. Moreover, it is a preferred image format for a wide range of scanning, faxing and OCR (optical character recognition) tools.

Although being in use for a long time now, TIFF has not had a major update for at least 15 years. This may well be attributed to the persistently high levels of efficiency and stability shown by the TIFF 6.0 specification released back in June 3, 1992. For that period the format has only been added to some minor extensions/ specifications such as TIFF/EP - a digital image file format standard.