Comparing JPG vs TIFF Scanning Options


Although we’re not talking about the spat you had with your best friend, if you’re a professional photographer, perhaps you’ve had a tiff with a colleague about the merits of a TIFF vs JPEG. Below, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of each file format in terms of scanning, printing, and posting online. Pixels and the number of pixels per inch measured horizontally (PPI or DPI) are an integral part of this discussion.


A pixel is a tiny square of color, whether an image is black and white or color. The number of pixels in the image determines the overall image file size measured in KBs, MBs, or GBs. This measurement has implications for scanning, although more so if you plan on printing the images. If you’re only posting them online, 150 DPI is usually sufficient. If you’re printing the image, 300, 600, or a higher DPI is recommended, based on the format of the original (e.g. 35mm slide or negative) and the maximum size you wish to print.


What is a JPEG or JPG?


Created by the Joint Photographic Experts Group in 1992 and named after them, JPEG image files are minimized with lossy compression, which means some details are lost. One benefit of JPGs is that you can control how much to compress images depending on the application. Another is that smaller file sizes have the advantage of not taking up as much space on a hard or zip drive and they load far more quickly on Web pages. JPEG is the standard image format on most cameras and smartphones, which is why you can store a huge number on an 8GB card if they are taken at medium format on your camera.


Cons: JPEG compression evens out transitional colors and can result in visual artifacts (e.g. blurred details or a pixelated image) if you’re not careful. A key thing to keep in mind is that every time you make any change to a JPG, a compression algorithm is applied. Due to this cumulative compression effect, you may end up with an image that is so compromised that it’s no longer usable, even if you’re only posting it online.


What is a TIFF File?


The highest quality image format, the first version of TIFF (tag image file format) was created in 1986 by Aldus Corporation as a standard method for storing black-and-white images created by scanners and desktop publishing applications. TIFF 4.0, released in April 1987, was the first widely used public version and featured added support for uncompressed RGB color images. Theoretically, TIFF is a lossless file format that uses no compression, however, this was impractical, so later revisions incorporated ways to compress the image. Released in June 1992, TIFF 6.0 added support for CMYK and YCbCr color images and the JPEG compression method. 


Cons: Although TIFFs are extremely high quality, the image files are enormous compared to JPEGs and are impractical if not unusable for posting online. Moreover, TIFFs are not a widely available option on most DSLR cameras.


What Image Format is Best for Scanning?


If you’re a professional photographer and your images will be printed and published, you may want to consider scanning and saving images as both TIFFs and JPEGs. That way you’ll always have the uncompressed file to work with and won’t have to worry about the cumulative effect edits impact on your images. For everyone else, unless you need an extremely large image with ultimately precise details, JPEGs should suffice, as long as the compression is kept to a minimum. Time, quality, storage and the intent of your project will ultimately determine whether you scan photos at 300, 600, or a higher DPI. 


Since 8 x10 inches is common print size, we’ll use this as a comparison. A 300 DPI 8 x 10 inch is 2400 x 3000 pixels, regardless of whether it’s a JPG or TIFF. But the JPG is 3.2–4.5 MB versus 21.2 MB for the TIFF.

If you’re looking for high-quality scans, you may want to consider Scan Cafe’s Pro Scanning options. With this service, we scan 35mm slides and negatives at 4000 DPI (24 megapixels), resulting in 11MB processed jpg files that can be printed 16 x 20 inches or larger.