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Don’t Use TIFF. For Anything. Ever.*

On Friday we started a series of free Webcasts (ones that we usually do for KelbyOne Members, we opened them to everyone during this virus crisis), and the first one was on how to prep your images for printing at a photo lab. I did the entire thing in Lightroom Classic since…well…the other Lightroom (cloud) doesn’t do printing at all…so…there’s that.

Anyway, I take questions from viewers during the live Webinar and one of them sent us down a bit of a rabbit hole, and surprisingly it was about file formats, and in particular, should they save their files in TIFF format for maximum quality?

Here’s the short answer. No. In fact, don’t use TIFF for anything ever really, unless you’re absolutely instructed to by another person who is still hanging on to information that was at one time valid, in a particular situation (you were sending your photos to a graphic designer who was using a design or layout application that at that time only supported TIFF, but of course now they all support .PSD (Photoshop’s native file format) and JPEGs, which are better choices). So, TIFFs were “OK” before the .PSD format because supported by about every application on earth.

I know you’ve heard that TIFFs are “lossless” and all that outdated stuff (yes, they’re lossless but so are PSDs). So, in short, don’t shoot in TIFF mode on your camera (Shoot in RAW or JPEG). Don’t save files in TIFF. You can pretty much pretend TIFF doesn’t exist. TIFF files are tremendously large in file size and don’t offer any advantages over saving your files in .PSD format (yes, even Lightroom lets you save your images in .PSD format because it’s a kick-butt format that keeps your original data intact but still gives you a smaller file size).

* OK, there is one particular situation, that I doubt most of us will ever encounter, where you have to use TIFF (rare though it may be), and that is if you have a photo that is more than 2-gigabtyes in size, you have to save that as a TIFF. That’s a pretty huge file (I’ve never had one that large myself), but since somebody was going to point it out in the comments because that’s what people do on the Internet, I thought I’d include it).

So which file formats do I save in?

Mostly JPEG, but otherwise, .PSD (for example, when I’m sending a file from Lightroom to Photoshop for editing, and back — you can read more about that here). Even when I’m sending an image to a photo lab for printing, I sent it as a JPEG. In fact, if you go to Lightroom’s Print Module, and choose to save your layout as a file to send to the lab, it only gives the choice of a JPEG. (see below).

You’ll also notice I save my JPEGs out of Lightroom at a Quality setting of 80. I like the quality/file size ratio (the image still looks perfect but the file size is smaller. I work on a laptop and I’m always fighting the fill-size war, but there’s nothing at all wrong with choosing 90 or 100 quality if you like.

Hope you found that helpful. 🙂

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook to find out when my next free live Webinar (open to everybody) – I’m doing one later this week – is scheduled.

Stay healthy and take care of each other. 🙂

-Scott

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55 comments

  1. Marc Smith 15 April, 2020 at 00:57 Reply

    TIFF is recommended by Library of Congress as a sustainable long-term archival format.

    JPG is an access format, it’s lossy and not preservational at all. It’s good for sharing, not good for archiving.

    The problem with these native Adobe image formats is that they’re not sustainably archival, in numerous ways. Highly proprietary history, not widely used, not supported by a range of software/devices. The formats are highly susceptible to loss over time. They may be a good working format for some particular program, but they provide low security to someone wanting to be able to keep and access their own images in future.

  2. Dagny 26 March, 2020 at 17:52 Reply

    Most raw files are TIFF’s with proprietary camera specific data added. As for file size, ZIP compression of TIFF’s works fine.

  3. Eric Horner 24 March, 2020 at 18:50 Reply

    Not true! Many editing and publishing programs support PSD format. Adobe Bridge has very iffy support for the many different TIFF variants, and frequently croaks on them. Not that I’m agreeing to trash TIFFs.

  4. Gary 24 March, 2020 at 14:39 Reply

    Um, no. In addition to what’s been said above:

    You can’t make an assertion without supporting data. Of which you have none.

    Yes, TIFF is old (1994 was the last official version) and yes, it’s owned by Adobe (who bought Aldus, and now owns the copyright). So what? So are GIF and JPG, both of which have severe quality problems.

    N.B. PSD is a glorified TIFF file (extra proprietary stuff). Bet you didn’t know that? Probably why Adobe bought Aldus. But that means we’re using, for all intents and purposes, TIFF files every day.

    Finally: LR had a recent update that enabled support for PSB files. So, no more 2GB limit. And yes, it’s possible for a file to grow past that size, despite your personal experiences.

    You’re better than this. What happened?

  5. DVR 24 March, 2020 at 14:27 Reply

    I’m sure someone has pointed out that. PSD files are NOT IMAGE FILES and that .TAGGED IMAGE FILE FORMAT files are image files???

  6. Mark Roy 24 March, 2020 at 12:56 Reply

    No. No no no no no. Just no.
    Never ever ever give sweeping generalisations as advice.
    That’s my advice 😉

  7. Canon A1 24 March, 2020 at 12:36 Reply

    Hi Scott, the mistake you have just made is like putting petrol on a fire instead of water!! Always check what you send out before pushing the button. Otherwise keep on with your usual good work 🙂

    • Dave Stephens 25 March, 2020 at 01:25 Reply

      TIFs have a 4 gig limit. TIFs are fantastically useful in this wild world of old and new programs sharing data with PCs and Macs and Linux of various ages and operating systems… Nothing wrong with TIFs or PSDs or PSBs, all good pro level formats for all images…

  8. David Willis 24 March, 2020 at 08:54 Reply

    People really get fired up about this topic it seems. I won’t co-sign on the vitriol but I agree this is bad advice. PSD only works in Adobe applications. I use both LR and CaptureOne so TIFF is the necessary and natural format for layered files that I want to use in both applications. And I would NEVER save an original as a JPG for the same reason I never make a destructive edit in PS. JPG is for final output/deliverables. For me, it’s lossless formats only for originals.

    • David Willis 24 March, 2020 at 23:50 Reply

      Turns out I’m wrong about CaptureOne not opening PSDs. IDK if it’s always been that way and I just didn’t know or if support was added at some point but either way, it definitely works now.

    • David Willis 26 March, 2020 at 00:36 Reply

      I just used LR’s “Edit in Adobe Photoshop” function to create both a TIFF and a PSD from the same DNG and the file sizes were essentially identical. The PSD was actually 1KB larger. And Windows was able to read the metadata in the TIFF but not the PSD.

      Also, when I selected PSD as the file format, LR warned me that “PSD can be less efficient than TIFF with respect to metadata updates” and that “maximize compatibility” must be used when saving for LR to be able to read it.

  9. Claudiu Luchian 24 March, 2020 at 07:12 Reply

    Proof digital printing for whites you know what the hell I’m saying CMYK it’s supported only by TIFF. Good luck printing on your pink t-shirts Kelby!

  10. Nicola Cammisa 24 March, 2020 at 07:08 Reply

    What a pile of misleading information is this article.
    Scott Kelby, I used to have more respect for you.
    But with these articles you do a disservice to our community, especially those just starting out.
    TIFF is an independent format.
    PSD is a proprietary format.
    File size difference between the two is so negligible, it’s not worth the time to type it.
    I shall stick with TIFF, thank you very much!

  11. MR DALVINDER BASI 24 March, 2020 at 05:48 Reply

    You can add Ken Rockwell to the list of knowledgeable photographers giving bad advice. He shoots in jpeg only and that is what advocates.
    Really disappointing to see people like Scott and Ken misleading people, especially misleading new photographers, who are trying to get information on best practices and techniques.

  12. Ian McLeod 24 March, 2020 at 01:21 Reply

    What’s wrong with DNG? It is drives me insane when I’m asked for TIFF for a photo. DNG contains all the instructions and ensures the full capability of the output is utilised or is calibrated at the output end. Done. It’s literally like printing from a negative (DNG) as opposed to a print (pretty much everything else).

    Just use DNG for photos. It’s fine.

    • Mark Roy 24 March, 2020 at 13:06 Reply

      DNG is great if you want the end user to make all the post-processing decisions for you. Most photographers prefer to court and density, cropping, burning, dodging, spot removal, filtering and other treatments and enhancements themselves and save them in the resulting file, be it psd, tif, jpg, png etc. A dng is basically raw data that’s flat as a pancake.

      • callmebob 24 March, 2020 at 13:16 Reply

        You can set LR to write the editing metadata into the DNG the same as you’d do to a .XMP.
        How whatever app the second user interprets it, it up to that app.

        I personally write all that stuff to .xmp (another huge purist no-no, which has saved my butt a couple of times).

  13. Anuj Premi 24 March, 2020 at 00:56 Reply

    Reading all the replies (almost) i have come to realize to share files in tiff format that is lossless over jpg as most of the ppl dont have photoshop installed on their system and i would want to preserve details of my hi res retouched photos. I save my tiff in lzw compression for smaller size without losing details.

  14. Anuj Premi 24 March, 2020 at 00:47 Reply

    Not that i am rebutting your claims, but i always render my image sequence (frames) from autodesk maya and max for animation

  15. ALFRED C INGRAM 23 March, 2020 at 22:22 Reply

    Tiffs are also standard in astrophotography. Remember that tiffs had layers before Photoshop. Metadata before Photoshop. Once they were the only game in town for commercial printing. They are still vital for astronomical discovery.

  16. Jonathan Mayer 23 March, 2020 at 21:48 Reply

    TIFF using LZW compression is still lossless, and not much larger than jpeg. Also preserves size/resolution more reliably than jpeg. I usually use JPEG, PSD, or PDF but TIFFs are still relevant. Biggest problem with TIFF is that people skip compression because they don’t know that LZW and ZIP are lossless, and that the compatibility warnings only apply to programs written before this century.

  17. wuhan flu 23 March, 2020 at 20:04 Reply

    Not everyone has Photoshop and you can’t expect your customers to have it. tiff opens with no additional software needed beyond the OS default tools. I’ll save to psd if the intention is to later open it again in psd. if I need a common interface it’s definitely going to be tiff.

  18. Dale 23 March, 2020 at 19:23 Reply

    Whoa Scott, you make one possible misstep and they cannot wait to chastise you. That is the glory of the faceless internet, they can be as nasty as they want without taking into account all the free things that Kelby gives and the great webcasts.

    Just consider that there are a lot more nice people out there that those who just wait for someone to pounce on!

    Take Care and keep on keeping on.

    Dale

  19. David 23 March, 2020 at 16:47 Reply

    TIFF handles meta data updates better than PSD – quote from Lightroom itself (in the settings). Sorry you just lost me on this one this is just plain wrong.

  20. Dennis Chapin 23 March, 2020 at 16:43 Reply

    I have saved files as tiff and psd for over 20 years and I have had more psd files end up corrupted than tiff files. Tiff files can also be saved with layers.

  21. Jaalam aiken 23 March, 2020 at 15:43 Reply

    First thought after reading this was, “who in the hell wrote this and why would any respectable photography site publish it”? Continue scrolling and see “Scott Kelby”. Mind blown and a bit disappointed.

  22. Monica 23 March, 2020 at 13:30 Reply

    I upload photos to Viewbug & am able to sell through Viewbug. However, jpegs are too small to sell. I need to use tiff due to minimum size requirements.
    Also, when I was less Lightroom experienced, I converted some great pics to jpeg & didn’t keep them in a larger format or in LR. Decided I want to reprocess some of them & cannot do much with jpegs. Now, if it is important to me, I export in tiff & jpeg and keep for potential reprocessing & uploads for sale.

  23. Irwin Strowe 23 March, 2020 at 13:12 Reply

    Even though I am in the minority here, looking at the comments so far, I agree with Scott – not using tiff.

    In the past when I have for some reason saved files as tiff they were typically larger than psd files (this is just my experience and recollections). So I saw no reason to use tiff and stuck with psd.

    I was disappointed that Luminar as a plugin did not support psd files. So if that is your workflow, then tiff it.

    Remember this is Lightroom Killer Tips.

    So if you are only using Lightroom, or you do the Lightroom – Photoshop – Lightroom workflow then psd it.

    Keep up the good work Scott.

  24. Mike W 23 March, 2020 at 12:29 Reply

    I don’t normally use TIFF but with the Luminar 4 plugin for Lr, it seems that’s the only option available. If you use Luminar as a stand-alone app … export the photo from Lr, open it in standalone Luminar … then you have the option to export the completed photo as a JPG or PSD. But that option doesn’t seem available if you open Luminar as a plugin. Their customer service has been no help so I’m just accepting that the (very few) photos I edit in Luminar will come out with a TIFF extension.

  25. marc labro 23 March, 2020 at 12:20 Reply

    hello,
    i am using psd between LR and photoshop but all plugins (topaz, nik, luminar, ON1…) require a TIFF, not a psd. did i miss something ?
    I must say that very often i must create a 200MB TIFF just to add a orton glow, a sunshine effect in ON1 or luminar.
    But Lightroom is so limited that unless we completely migrate to ON1 or Capture One to be non destructive in amazing effects (luminar too bad for raw develop and brush) we have no other choice.

  26. Burt 23 March, 2020 at 12:09 Reply

    I found your assertion not to use TIFF interesting… but then you never backed it up with a shred of evidence, unless I am blind here.

    You also did not mention that the PSB (PSD for files over 2GB) files are now supported on Lightroom. You said flat out that you have never had a PSB go over 2GB. Happens to often. Not daily, but at least a dozen time a year. Enough that I need a process to handle it. That update to LR was one that I cheered for recently.

    At any rate, JPG is lossy. Editing it repeatedly reduces the quality every time (even more so if storing at 85%). TIFF is lossless. You can edit it over and over and over and never lose any quality, just like PSD/PSB.

    If disk space is not a concern (my internal disk is 4TB SSD, and my external is 96TB RAID, so I don’t about a few KB here or there..), then I see non reason at all to avoid TIFF. Your quickie rant here certainly did nothing to convince me… 🙁

  27. Pundamilia 23 March, 2020 at 11:33 Reply

    What about images on physical media (film, prints) that are scanned in order to be edited. You don’t want to scan them to .jpg files. TIFF would seem to be the preferred choice here, large file size notwithstanding.

  28. HarryJax 23 March, 2020 at 10:46 Reply

    I think you just lost a lot of readers and they are thinking twice about what they have learned from you.

  29. Geoff Lacy 23 March, 2020 at 09:45 Reply

    Whoah! -6 points Scott! You don’t mention plugins. Almost all, of not all, plugins require jpeg or tif format. So when moving from Lightroom or Photoshop to just about any plugin, you’re going to have to choose; 1. Jpeg, which is only available in 8 bit, or 2. Tiff, available in 8 or 16 bit. I choose tiff because going back and forth with a jpeg save each pass turns your photo into Swiss cheese. And tiff gives you 16 bit color which is nice when your pushing pixels around and doing gradients. Even if I export to 8 bit tif before printing – I want 16 when pushing pixels around. I’m still a fan and Thank you for all you other advise.

  30. Martien 23 March, 2020 at 09:00 Reply

    Yes this is total BS , you just proved your worth. Perhaps spend some time exploring the benefits of Tif instead of writing nonsense. Use JPG he says…

  31. Carson Jones 23 March, 2020 at 08:59 Reply

    This is some of the worst photography advice I’ve seen in a long time. The TIFF format is lossless and open format and widely supported by pretty much any application (past / present / future) that can open an image. Adobe control the PSD / PSB proprietary format and there’s no reason to think they’ll ever make it open-source.

    I wouldn’t say photographers shouldn’t use PSD / PSB / JPEG but I certainly wouldn’t say that the TIFF format should never be used. In fact for archiving files I would strongly recommend this format because it is lossless, open source, and widely supported. Honestly this is such a strange article from Scott, whom I respect given everything he’s helped to teach people in the past. His advice seems to contradict what I would consider to be a ‘best practices’ approach for archiving your work. The TIFF format makes a lot of sense and I recommend it, especially for archiving.

    Professional Retoucher

    • Carson Jones 23 March, 2020 at 09:10 Reply

      Interesting. I just read, after reading a previous post, that Adobe now owns the TIFF format as well. I wasn’t able to determine how Adobe is controlling its copyright for the TIFF format. Is it charging for its use? Regardless, the TIFF format is still more widely supported by applications that open images. I would like to see Adobe make this an open-source format.

    • Carson Jones 23 March, 2020 at 09:19 Reply

      Found this information from Adobe that provides some insight into the current format and it’s level of support…

      Compatibility

      Every attempt has been made to add functionality in such a way as to minimize
      compatibility problems with files and software that were based on earlier versions
      of the TIFF specification. The goal is that TIFF files should never become obsolete and that TIFF software should not have to be revised more frequently than
      absolutely necessary. In particular, Baseline TIFF 6.0 files will generally be readable even by older applications that assume TIFF 5.0 or an earlier version of the
      specification.
      However, TIFF 6.0 files that use one of the major new extensions, such as a new
      compression scheme or color space, will not be successfully read by older software. In such cases, the older applications must gracefully give up and refuse to
      import the image, providing the user with a reasonably informative message.

  32. Aqualung 23 March, 2020 at 08:54 Reply

    I use .TIF exclusively for uploading to Facebook. With all the FB compression and ‘mangling’ that goes on, they actually turn out/display better than .jpg files.

  33. Dill Waddell 23 March, 2020 at 08:50 Reply

    Hi Scott,
    You know, it’s ok to get out of the house even if you are in a lockdown area. Take a walk, ride your bike, even roller skate or something equally quaint.
    Your pseudo-rant about tiff files was pointless, a fact that even you acknowledge near the end of it. Clearly, being stuck in a small space has left you with a dearth of interesting ideas. Publishing dreck just to collect a bit of ad-generated revenue is really very sad.
    Bless!

  34. ButchM 23 March, 2020 at 08:49 Reply

    Peter Teuben … you are aware that Adobe owns the rights to .TIFF file format as well as .PSD? So, .PSD is just as ‘open’ as .TIFF.

  35. Dokin 23 March, 2020 at 08:02 Reply

    Sorry. But tiff is a very standard format for GIS images and images from the satellites with all the different bands. Sorry but jpeg don’t cut it because it is lossy and can only hold 4 channel. We are talking 13-20bands

  36. Jeff 23 March, 2020 at 07:45 Reply

    This is BS! Been a commercial photographer for over 30 years. I always provide my clients with a set of .tif files. PSD files are larger generally and jpeg files are compressed. You would never want to do editing on them. Not everyone has a program that will open psd files. Tiff files are the safest, most flexible format to use when providing files to a client.

  37. John H 23 March, 2020 at 04:48 Reply

    I was unable to connect to your webcast Friday (20 Mar 2020) “how to prep images for printing at photo lab”.

    Is that webcast available for replay?

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