Let’s look at these differences in more detail.
While TIFF files do support transparency, they’re incompatible with many web-based programs. Only applications that fully support TIFF files will support TIFF transparency.
In some instances, you may need to edit a TIFF file to get the results you need. Generally, this means either editing out pixels entirely, or using a layer to hide them. Because TIFFs support layering, this is achievable. But at the same time, it can be time-consuming.
PNGs are one of the most common file types for transparent logos, graphics, graphs, and images. They’re widely compatible with web and non-web-based programs. Web designers can even apply different degrees of transparency to their PNG images, which can help images integrate successfully into the different background colors of a webpage.
Versatility and compatibility are both big selling points of the TIFF file type — they are compatible with a range of operating systems and programs. Due to their size, however, they aren’t a good option for web use.
PNGs, on the other hand, are a great choice for web graphics. Their lossless file compression makes their size manageable for online applications. They’re a standard format and one of the most popular file types for online images. Note that their large file sizes mean PNG photos can take a while to load — so JPEG is often the preferred format for online image sharing.
Both PNG and TIFF files benefit from lossless compression, meaning that no matter how often you save, open, or resize them, they’ll maintain their quality.
However, TIFF files offer users a choice between lossy and lossless compression, which can help reduce the file size if this is a priority.
Learn how to compress an image
Even with a lossy compression option, a TIFF file is still likely to be larger than a PNG. TIFFs support high-resolution, multi-page design and transparency. This means they store a lot of information.
PNGs can be easier to manage between programs because they’re smaller files. They may be smaller than TIFFs, but they’re still larger than JPEGs. Ultimately, this is one of the main reasons why JPEGs remain a more popular file type for online photos.
Learn more about the differences between PNG and JPEG
You can expand PNG files to very large sizes — which means they can reproduce the image quality of a TIFF if needed. If that’s the case, then why aren’t they commonly used for print?
Print projects don’t fully optimize a PNG’s graphics. PNGs don’t support CMYK color, which is common in the printing industry. However, professional art printing tends to use special RGB printers for art and giclee prints, so PNG files can work well for creating archival-quality art prints.
TIFF, on the other hand, is fully optimized for print and supports both CMYK and RBG color spaces. Along with RAW, it’s one of the most popular formats for high-quality graphic prints and photos. TIFF files are common choices for very large-scale photo printing — including billboards.
Learn more about RAW images
TIFF is also a common choice for high-quality scans. If you have handmade art or photos to scan, you’ll probably get them back as a TIFF file. In fact, TIFF is one of the best scanning options available.
PNGs are also a worthwhile option for scanning — especially if you’re uploading your image online afterwards.
PNG and TIFF are both container files. This means they can support additional data from other formats, like JPEG.
TIFFs are especially useful in this field. Users can add several JPEG files into a single TIFF, which makes them a popular choice for tasks like sending a selection of photos in a single file.
PNGs use their ability as container files to maintain forwards compatibility — allowing them to adapt over time and incorporate data for future versions.