Images are essential for any website, especially for eCommerce websites that want to win customers with product images. However, not all images are created equal. Depending on your format, your images can significantly impact your website’s four core vitals:
- Scalability, and
Performance refers to how fast your website loads and how much bandwidth it consumes. The larger the file size of your images, the longer it will take for them to load and the more data they will use. This can affect your user experience, SEO ranking, and conversion rate.
Appearance refers to how well your images display on different devices and screen resolutions. The higher the quality of your images, the more details, colors, and gradients they will show. However, quality also comes at the cost of file size and loading time.
Scalability refers to how well your images adapt to different sizes and dimensions. The more flexible your images are, the more responsive they will be to different screen sizes and orientations. However, flexibility also requires more processing power and memory.
Compatibility refers to how well your images work with different browsers, devices, and platforms. The more compatible your images are, the more consistent they will look across different environments. However, compatibility also depends on supporting and adopting different image formats.
As you can see, choosing the right web image format for your website is not a trivial decision. It requires a balance between quality and performance, flexibility and consistency, innovation and compatibility.
In this blog post, we will compare the four primary image formats used on the web: JPEG, PNG, GIF, and WebP. We will discuss their main characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages and provide some tips on when to use each format. Let’s get started!
The most common image formats used on the web
Before we compare the most common image formats used on the web, let’s take a moment to understand the difference between raster and vector image file formats. There are two main categories of image file formats, and they represent images in very different ways.
Raster image formats are also known as bitmap image file formats, and Vector format which is also known as scalable image file formats.
Raster format displays static images composed of pixels, tiny squares of color that form a grid. Each pixel has a defined color, position, and proportion based on the image resolution. The higher the resolution, the more pixels there are, and the higher the image quality.
Common raster image formats are:
- JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)
- PNG (Portable Network Graphics)
- GIF (Graphics Interchange Format)
- WebP (Web Picture)
- AVIF (AV1 Image Format)
Vector format display images using mathematical equations, lines, and curves that define each element's shape, border, and fill color. There are no pixels in a vector image file format.
The most common vector image formats are
- SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics)
- EPS (Encapsulated PostScript)
- AI (Adobe Illustrator Artwork)
- PDF (Portable Document Format)
These formats are all raster image formats, meaning they display static images composed of pixels. Each pixel has a defined color, position, and proportion based on the image resolution. Raster images can produce high-quality photos and graphics, but they also have some limitations.
For example, they cannot be resized or scaled without losing quality or introducing distortion. They also have different compression methods, which affect their file size and loading time.
For the sake of discussion, we are going to focus on raster formats, because they are the most commonly relied-upon formats for online usage. choosing the right web image format for your website is not a trivial decision. It requires a balance between quality and performance, flexibility and consistency, innovation and compatibility.
Let’s begin with understanding the basic parameters based on which these image formats can be compared.
- Compression: The process of reducing the file size of an image by discarding some image data. Compression can be lossy or lossless. Lossy compression reduces the quality of the image, while lossless compression preserves the quality of the image.
- Transparency: The ability of an image to have a transparent background or alpha channel, which allows it to blend with other elements on the web page.
- Animation: The ability of an image to display a sequence of frames that create a motion effect.
- File size: The amount of disk space or memory an image occupies. The smaller the file size, the faster the loading time and the lower the bandwidth usage.
- Picture quality: An image's level of detail, color, and sharpness. The higher the picture quality, the more realistic and appealing the image looks.
- Popularity/browser support: The adoption and compatibility level of an image format among web users and browsers. The higher the popularity/browser support, the more consistent and reliable the image format is.
|Compression||Lossy||Lossless||Lossless||Lossy or lossless||Lossy or lossless|
|File size||Smaller for photos or complex images||Larger than JPEG or GIF for photos or complex images, smaller for simple graphics or text||Larger than JPEG or PNG for long or complex animations, smaller for short or simple animations||Smaller than JPEG, PNG, or GIF for any type of image||Smaller than JPEG, PNG, GIF, or WebP for any type of image|
|Picture quality||High for photos or complex images with many colors or gradients, low for logos, icons, text, or simple graphics with sharp edges or transparency||High for logos, icons, text, or simple graphics with sharp edges or transparency, low for photos or complex images with many colors or gradients||Low for images with limited color depth or palette, high for animations with few colors or frames||High for any type of image with optimal quality and performance||High for any type of image with optimal quality and performance|
|Popularity/browser support||Widely supported by all browsers, devices, and platforms||Widely supported by all browsers, devices, and platforms||Widely supported by all browsers, devices, and platforms||Partially supported by some browsers, devices, and platforms (94.8% global support as of October 2022)||Partially supported by some browsers, devices, and platforms (75.7% global support as of October 2022)|
JPEG: The Most Widely Used Web Image Format
JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group, which is the name of the committee that created the standard in 1992. It is a raster image format that uses lossy compression to reduce the file size of images by discarding some image data that is less noticeable to the human eye.
How does JPEG’s compression work?
JPEG compression works by dividing the image into blocks of 8x8 pixels and applying a discrete cosine transform (DCT) to each block. The DCT converts the pixel values into frequency coefficients, which are then quantized and encoded. The quantization step is where the loss of quality occurs, as some of the coefficients are rounded off or set to zero. The higher the compression level, the more coefficients are discarded, and the lower the quality of the image.
Some pros of using JPEG for web images are:
- It supports millions of colors and can produce high-quality photos with realistic details and gradients.
- It is widely supported by browsers, devices, and platforms.
- It can be easily compressed and optimized to reduce loading time and bandwidth usage.
Some cons of using JPEG for web images are:
- It does not support transparency or animation.
- It can introduce artifacts, noise, or blurriness when compressed too much or resized.
- It can lose quality every time it is edited or saved. This is known as JPEG degradation.
When to use JPEG for web images?
Some scenarios or use cases when using JPEG for web images are:
- Use JPEG for photos or complex images that have many colors, details, or gradients.
- Avoid using JPEG for logos, icons, text, or simple graphics that need sharp edges or transparency.
- Choose an appropriate compression level that balances quality and file size. Aiming for 60-80% quality is a good rule of thumb.
PNG: The High-Quality Web Image Format
PNG stands for Portable Network Graphics, a raster image format supporting lossless compression. This means it compresses the image data without discarding any information, so the image quality remains intact. PNG compression finds repeated patterns in the image data and replaces them with shorter codes. The more patterns there are, the higher the compression ratio.
PNG also has some other features that make it a high-quality web image format, such as:
- It supports transparency and alpha channel, which allows you to create images with smooth edges and backgrounds.
- It supports interlacing, which means that it can display a low-resolution version of the image while loading the full-resolution one.
- It can handle text, logos, icons, illustrations, or simple graphics with sharp edges and solid colors without losing quality or introducing artifacts.
Some pros of using PNG for web images are:
- It preserves the quality and details of the original image, even after multiple edits or saves.
- It offers better compression than GIF for images with more than 256 colors or with transparency.
- It can display images with smooth gradients without banding or posterization.
Some cons of using PNG for web images are:
- It does not support animation (except for APNG, which is not widely supported).
- It has a larger file size than JPEG or GIF, which can affect loading time and bandwidth usage.
- It has a limited color depth of 8 bits per channel (24 bits for RGB or 32 bits for RGBA), which can result in banding or posterization in images with smooth gradients.
When to use PNG for web images?
- Use PNG for images that need transparency or alpha channel, such as logos, icons, overlays, or cutouts.
- Use PNG for images with text, logos, icons, illustrations, or simple graphics with sharp edges and solid colors, such as charts, diagrams, or screenshots.
- Avoid using PNG for photos or complex images that have many colors, details, or gradients, as they will result in large file sizes and poor compression.
GIF: The Animated Web Image Format
GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format, a raster image format supporting animation. This means it can display a frame sequence that creates a motion effect. GIF stores each frame as a separate image with a color palette of up to 256 colors. The frames are then played back at a specified speed and looped indefinitely or several times.
GIF also has other features that make it compatible with animation, such as:
- It supports interlacing, which means it can display a low-resolution version of the image while loading the full-resolution one.
- It supports transparency, which allows you to create animations with transparent backgrounds or parts.
- It is widely supported by browsers, devices, and platforms, making it a universal format for web animations.
- Discuss the pros and cons of using GIFs for web images. Describe each pros and cons in one to two lines maximum and not more than that.
Some pros of using GIF for web images are:
- It can create simple animations or effects, such as banners, buttons, or loaders, without requiring any plugins or scripts.
- It can display images with solid colors or simple patterns without losing quality or introducing artifacts.
- It can be easily created and edited using various tools or online services.
Some cons of using GIF for web images are:
- It is restricted to 256 colors, which can result in poor quality or dithering in images with more colors or gradients.
- It has a larger file size than JPEG or PNG, especially for long or complex animations, which can affect loading time and bandwidth usage.
- It does not support sound or interactivity, which can limit its functionality and appeal.
Ideal scenarios to use GIFs for web images:
- Use GIFs for short or simple animations with few colors or frames, such as icons, emojis, or stickers.
- Use GIFs for images with solid colors or simple patterns, such as logos, text, or cartoons.
- Avoid using GIFs for photos or complex images that have many colors, details, or gradients, as they will result in poor quality or large file sizes.
WebP: The Next-Generation Web Image Format
WebP is a raster image format developed by Google in 2010 as a new standard for web images. WebP uses lossy and lossless compression, animation, and transparency to create high-quality images with smaller file sizes than JPEG, PNG, and GIF. WebP is based on the VP8 video codec, an open and royalty-free video compression technology.
WebP works by applying different compression methods depending on the type and content of the image. For lossy compression, WebP uses predictive coding to encode an image, similar to JPEG. Predictive coding uses the values in neighboring blocks of pixels to predict the values in a block, and then encodes only the difference.
For lossless compression, WebP uses already-seen image fragments to reconstruct new pixels, similar to PNG exactly. WebP also supports interlacing, which means that it can display a low-resolution version of the image while loading the full-resolution one.
WebP is designed to be a versatile and efficient image format for the modern internet era, where speed and quality are essential. WebP can handle any kind of web image with optimal quality and performance, whether a photo, a logo, an icon, or an animation.
Some pros of using WebP for web images are:
- It offers much better compression than JPEG, PNG, or GIF for any type of image, reducing the file size by 25-34% compared to JPEG and by 20-50% compared to PNG.
- It supports both lossy and lossless compression, animation, and transparency, making it suitable for any type of image.
- It can produce high-quality images with more details, colors, and gradients than JPEG or GIF, without introducing artifacts or noise.
Some cons of using WebP for web images are:
- All browsers, devices, and platforms do not fully support it. According to Can I Use, WebP has global support of 94.8% as of October 2022. However, some browsers such as Safari or Internet Explorer, do not support it natively.
- It requires additional tools or plugins to create, edit, or convert WebP images.
When to use WebP for web images?
Use WebP for any type of web image that you want to optimize for quality and performance. They are ideal for almost all scenarios.
Imagekit: The Ultimate Solution For Image Optimization And Format Conversion
ImageKit is a cloud-based service that provides image and video optimization, transformation, and delivery for websites and apps. It helps you create faster and better visual experiences on the web by automating the entire image workflow.
ImageKit’s automatic format selection feature detects each image request's browser capabilities and content type and delivers the best format accordingly. If the browser supports WebP, ImageKit will deliver WebP images. If not, ImageKit will fall back to other formats like JPEG or PNG.
ImageKit also offers image transformation and optimization features that allow you to enhance your WebP images further. Using simple URL parameters, you can resize, crop, rotate, watermark, add text overlays, apply filters, and more to your images. You can also use named transformations to save and reuse your favorite settings. ImageKit will apply these transformations in real-time and deliver the optimized images through its global CDN network.
To get started with ImageKit, you just need to sign up for a free account and follow the quickstart guides for your platform. You can also check out the documentation and sample projects for more details.