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What is a TIFF File?

The Tagged Image File Format (TIFF), or TIF format is a bitmap (raster) graphic file format. It was developed in 1987 by Aldus (now belonging to Adobe). The latest specifications (Revision 6.0) were published in 1992. This article will explain what a TIFF file is and what it is used for.

Characteristics of a TIFF File

The TIF format is an old graphic format, which makes it possible to store very large (more than 4 GB compressed) bitmap images (raster) losing quality and regardless of the platforms or the peripherals used (Device-Independant Bitmap, which is written as DIB).

The TIF format makes it possible to store images in black and white, true colors (up to 32 bits per pixel) as well as indexed images, using a palette. Moreover, the TIF format allows several color spaces to be used:

  • RGB
  • CMYK
  • CIE L*a*b
  • YUV / YCrCb

Structure of a TIFF file

The principle of the TIF format consists in defining tags (hence the name Tagged Image File Format) describing the characteristics of the image. The tags make it possible to store information regarding the image dimensions, the number of colors used, the type of compression (many algorithms can thus be used: Packbits / CCITT G3&4 / RLE / JPEG / LZW / UIT-T), or the gamma correction.

Thus, image description using tags makes software programming simple by making it possible to save in TIF format. On the other hand, the amount of options is so vast, that many image readers supporting TIFF format do not integrate them all, so that it happens that an image saved using TIF format may not be readable with another.
Photo: Unsplash

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