Description of the guidelines for selecting the appropriate picture format in an Office program

For a Microsoft PowerPoint 2000 version of this article, see
272399 .


This article discusses the following topics:
  • The various picture file formats that you can insert into Microsoft Office programs
  • How to select the best format for a particular purpose
  • How to select the appropriate resolution and color depth for your pictures
This article does not discuss, in technical depth, the various file formats and the limitations of each format. Instead, this article provides an overview of the primary uses of each picture format, some advantages and disadvantages of each format, and the options, such as color depth and resolution.

For more information about the graphics file types that your Microsoft Office 2003 product can use, click Microsoft product Help on the Help menu, type graphics file types in the Office Assistant or the Answer Wizard, and then click Search to view the topics returned.

For more information about the graphics file types that your Microsoft Office 2007 product can use, click the Microsoft Office Product Help button, type graphics file types in the search field, and then click Search to view the topics returned.

This article is divided into the following sections:
  • Picture Formats
    • Raster Pictures
    • Vector Pictures

  • Resolution and Color Depth
    • On-Screen Display
    • Printed Output

  • Glossary

More Information

Picture formats: Raster pictures

BMP: Windows bitmap

Windows bitmaps store a single raster image in any color depth, from black-and-white to 24-bit color. The Windows bitmap file format is compatible with other Microsoft Windows programs. It does not support file compression and is not suitable for Web pages.

Overall, the disadvantages of the Windows bitmap file format outweigh the advantages. For images of photographic quality, use a PNG file, a JPEG file, or a TIFF file. BMP files are suitable for wallpaper in Windows.

  • BMP supports 1-bit through 24-bit color depth.
  • The BMP format is widely compatible with existing Windows programs, especially older programs.
  • BMP does not support compression, which results in very large files.
  • BMP files are not supported by Web browsers.

PCX: PC Paintbrush

ImportantThe PCX file format is only supported in the 2003 Office system. It is not supported in the 2007 Office system or later versions of the Office system.

PC Paintbrush pictures, also called Z-Soft bitmaps, store a single raster image at any color depth. Paintbrush pictures are more widely used in earlier Windows programs and MS-DOS-based programs. Paintbrush pictures are compatible with many later programs. PCX pictures support Run Length Encoded (RLE) internal compression.

  • PCX is a standard format across many Windows-based programs and MS-DOS-based programs.
  • PCX supports internal compression.
  • PCX is not supported by Web browsers.

PNG: Portable network graphics

PNG pictures store a single raster image at any color depth. PNG is a platform-independent format.

  • PNG supports high-level lossless compression.
  • PNG supports alpha channel transparency.
  • PNG supports gamma correction.
  • PNG supports interlacing.
  • PNG is supported by more recent Web browsers.
  • Older browsers and programs may not support PNG files.
  • As an Internet file format, PNG provides less compression than the lossy compression of JPEG.
  • As an Internet file format, PNG offers no support for multi-image files or animated files. The GIF format supports multi-image files and animated files.

JPEG: Joint Photographic Experts Group

JPEG pictures store a single raster image in 24-bit color. JPEG is a platform-independent format that supports the highest levels of compression; however, this compression is lossy. Progressive JPEG files support interlacing.

The level of JPEG file compression can be increased or decreased. However, image quality is sacrificed for file size. The compression ratio can be as high as 100:1. (The JPEG format comfortably compresses files at a 10:1 to 20:1 ratio, with little picture degradation.) JPEG compression works well with photo-realistic artwork. However, for simpler artwork with fewer colors, sharp levels of contrast, solid borders, or large solid areas of color, JPEG compression does not provide superior results. Sometimes the compression ratio is as low as 5:1, with a high loss of picture integrity. This loss occurs because the JPEG compression scheme compresses similar hues well. But the JPEG compression scheme does not work as well with sharp differences in brightness or with solid areas of color.

  • Superior compression is supported for photographic artwork or realistic artwork.
  • Variable compression allows control of the file size.
  • Interlacing (for Progressive JPEG files) is supported.
  • JPEG is a widely supported Internet standard.
  • Lossy compression degrades the original picture data.
  • When you edit and resave JPEG files, JPEG compounds the degradation of the original picture data. This degradation is cumulative.
  • JPEG is not suitable for simpler pictures that contain few colors, broad areas of similar color, or stark differences in brightness.

GIF: Graphics Interchange Format

GIF pictures store single raster image data or multiple raster image data in 8-bits, or 256 colors. GIF pictures support transparency, compression, interlacing, and multiple-image pictures (animated GIFs).

GIF transparency is not alpha channel transparency and cannot support semitransparent effects. GIF compression is LZW compression, at a roughly 3:1 ratio. Animated GIFs are supported in the GIF89a version of the GIF file specification.

  • GIF is a widely supported Internet standard.
  • Lossless compression and transparency are supported.
  • Animated GIFs are prevalent and easy to create with many GIF animation programs.
  • GIF supports only a 256-color palette; therefore, detailed pictures and photo-realistic images lose color information and look paletted.
  • Lossless compression is inferior to the JPEG format or the PNG format, in most cases.
  • GIF supports limited transparency and no semitransparent effects or faded effects, such as those that are provided by alpha channel transparency.

TIFF: Tagged Image File Format

TIFF pictures store a single raster image at any color depth. TIFF is arguably the most widely supported graphics file format in the printing industry. TIFF supports optional compression and is not suitable for viewing in Web browsers.

The TIFF format is an extensible format. This means that a programmer can modify the original specification to add functionality or to meet specific needs. Modifying the specification can lead to incompatibilities between different types of TIFF pictures.

  • TIFF is a widely supported format, especially between Macintosh computers and Windows-based computers.
  • Optional compression is supported.
  • The extensible format supports many optional features.
  • TIFF is not supported by Web browsers.
  • Extensibility results in many different types of TIFF pictures. Not all TIFF files are compatible with all programs that support the baseline TIFF standard.

Picture formats: Vector pictures

DXF: AutoCAD Drawing Interchange File

The DXF format is a vector-based, ASCII format that the Autodesk AutoCAD program uses. AutoCAD provides highly detailed schematics that are completely scalable.

  • AutoCAD allows you to create highly detailed and precise schematics and drawings.
  • AutoCAD files are popular in the architectural, design, and engraving industries.
  • AutoCAD has limited support in Office, which supports AutoCAD versions up through R12.
  • AutoCAD has a steep learning curve. Note that other graphics programs are also capable of exporting DXF pictures.

CGM: Computer Graphics Metafile

The CGM metafile can contain vector information and bitmap information. It is an internationally standardized file format that is used by many organizations and government agencies, including the British Standards Institute (BSI), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and the United States Department of Defense.
Note In Office 2007, the CGM graphics file format requires a graphics filter.

  • CGM is an international standard format.


The CorelDRAW! metafile can contain both vector information and bitmap information.
Note In Office 2007, the CDR graphics file format requires a graphics filter.

  • CDR is widely used in the prepress industry and the artistic design industry.
  • CDR has limited support in Office, which supports CorelDRAW! version 6 and earlier.

WMF: Windows Metafile

The Windows Metafile is a 16-bit metafile format that can contain both vector information and bitmap information. It is optimized for the Windows operating system.

  • WMF is a Windows standard format that works well with Office.

EPS: Encapsulated PostScript

The Encapsulated PostScript format is a proprietary, printer description language that can describe both vector information and bitmap information.
Note In Office 2007, the EPS graphics file format requires a graphics filter.

  • EPS produces accurate representation on any PostScript printer.
  • EPS is an industry-standard format.
  • The on-screen representation may not match the printed representation. The on-screen representation may be low-resolution, a different image, or only a placeholder image.
  • EPS files are designed to be printed. They are not the most suitable format to display information on the screen.

EMF: Enhanced Metafile

The Enhanced Metafile format is a 32-bit format that can contain both vector information and bitmap information. This format is an improvement over the Windows Metafile Format and contains extended features, such as the following:

  • Built-in scaling information
  • Built-in descriptions that are saved with the file
  • Improvements in color palettes and device independence
The EMF format is an extensible format, which means that a programmer can modify the original specification to add functionality or to meet specific needs. This modification can lead to incompatibilities between different types of EMF pictures.

  • Extensible file format
  • Improved features compared with WMF
  • Extensibility results in many different types of EMF pictures. Not all EMF files are compatible with all programs that support the EMF standard.

PICT: Macintosh Picture

The PICT file is a 32-bit metafile format for the Macintosh computer. PICT files use Run Length Encoded (RLE) internal compression, which works reasonably well. PICT files support JPEG compression if QuickTime is installed (Macintosh only).
Note In Office 2007, the PICT graphics file format requires a graphics filter.

  • PICT is the best file format for on-screen display on the Macintosh computer.
  • PICT is the best printing format to use when you print from the Macintosh computer to a non-PostScript printer.
  • Fonts may be represented incorrectly when they are moved cross-platform.
  • QuickTime must be installed to view some PICT files correctly.

Resolution and color depth

This section discusses the appropriate color depth and resolution for raster pictures. If you save pictures with the correct resolution and color settings, you create smaller files. Smaller files mean smaller, faster documents and presentations. It is in your best interest to make a picture as small as possible, within the requirements of your picture usage.

On-Screen Display

Number of colorsInternet useNon-Internet use
1 (black and white)GIF at 72 pixels per inch (ppi)GIF at 72 pixels per inch (ppi)
16GIF at 72 ppiGIF at 72 ppi
256 (simple picture)*GIF at 72 ppiGIF at 72 ppi
256 (complex picture)*JPEG at 72 ppiJPEG at 72 ppi
More than 256JPEG or PNG at 72 ppiJPEG, PNG, or TIFF at 72 ppi

Note Microsoft recommends a resolution of 72 pixels per inch, because most monitors have between 60 pixels and 80 pixels per inch. Saving at a higher resolution does not result in a higher-quality display, because your monitor cannot display more pixels than physically exist in the monitor. You should calculate the points per inch according to the completed size of your picture, not the original size. For example, if you are scanning an 8.5-by-2-inch letterhead for use on a Web page with a completed width of 2 inches, you can scan at 72 ppi for 2 inches, for a total of 144 pixels. The resulting file looks great when it is sized to 2 inches and is displayed on a monitor.

*Note At 256 colors, JPEG files offer a higher level of compression than GIF files do. However, JPEG compression does not compress some simple files as effectively as GIF compression does.

  • If your picture is grayscale, has large areas of one solid color, or has areas of high contrast (sharp differences between light areas and dark areas), choose the GIF format.

  • If your picture is in color and contains several different colors (hues) that are similar in lightness or darkness (value), choose the JPEG format, because JPEG offers better compression. JPEG compression works according to hue and works well with different hues of a similar value. JPEG compression does not work as well with similar hues at different values.

Printed output

How to create good printed output is a complex subject, because of the vast number of printers that are available and the capability of each printer to produce color output and grayscale output. The primary factor for good printed output is the number of lines per inch (LPI) that your printer is capable of printing.

To print in color or grayscale, a printer must print in halftones. Halftones are arrays of dots that are arranged in a grid and that represent each image pixel as a shade of gray. For a dark gray, most of the dots in the grid are filled in. For a light gray, only a few dots on the grid are filled in. The LPI setting for the printer determines the size of this grid. The higher the LPI, the smaller the grid, and the fewer shades of gray the printer can render.

To print in color, the printer must print overlapping lines of colored dots. Each dot is set at a different angle from the other dots and is slightly offset, so that the dots do not completely cover each other. This measurement is known as the Screen Frequency and is represented in degrees of rotation of the lines of dots that make up that color.

The following table helps you to choose the optimum resolution for scanning, in dots per inch (dpi).

Printer typeOutput dpiOutput LPIScanning ppi
Laser printer30055-65120
Laser printer60065-85150
Ink-Jet printer30050-60110
Dye-Sub printer30055-70125

To calculate your target scanning resolution, you can multiply the LPI of your printer by two. This is a general rule. To find out the LPI of your printer, see your printer documentation.

Note You must experiment when you apply the general rule of multiplying the LPI by two. Some printers support very high resolutions. If you save your picture at more than 300 ppi, larger pictures may take up large amounts of disk space and may slow down other operations on your computer. Multiple large pictures in a document can cause a program to stop responding or can cause Windows to stop responding.

The only exception to this rule is pure black-and-white images, or "line art" images. These images use 1 bit to store color information. Scan these images at a 1-to-1 ratio. If you have a 600 dpi printer, scan these images at 600 ppi in Line Art mode.

If you want your picture to be in grayscale or to have fewer than 256 colors, use either the TIFF format or the GIF format. The TIFF format is the standard of the printing industry for graphics, because the TIFF format does not use a lossy compression scheme. Other formats, such as JPEG, use a lossy compression scheme. TIFF also supports multiple levels of transparency, which few other formats do.

If the picture has more than 256 colors, save the picture in the TIFF format or the PNG format. Microsoft recommends the PNG format if you want transparency. If you do not want transparency, use the TIFF format.

Microsoft recommends that you save your picture at printer resolution for the completed picture size. For example, assume that you have an 8.5-by-2-inch letterhead, and you want to print the letterhead at a size of 2 inches. If your printer supports 600 dpi and an LPI of 85, set the picture resolution to 150 ppi at 2 inches, for a size of 300 x 71 pixels.


  • Alpha channel: An alpha channel describes an area of transparency in a picture. This area of transparency allows a background to show through. An alpha channel allows more than 64,000 levels of transparency, which makes it possible to use semitransparent effects and blended effects.
  • Color depth: The color depth is the number of colors in your picture. Color depth is categorized by bit depth. If you use a deeper color depth, there are more colors in the picture, but a deeper color depth also increases your file size.
    • 1 bit - Black and white only
    • 8 bit - 256 shades of grayscale, or 256 colors
    • 16 bit - High Color, 65,536 colors
    • 24 bit - True Color, 16,777,216 colors
    • 32 bit - True Color, 4,294,967,296 colors
  • Compression: Compression is a mathematical scheme that makes a picture file smaller by removing redundant information. There are two types of compression: lossless and lossy.
  • Compression, lossless: Lossless compression is a compression scheme that emphasizes maintaining the integrity of the original picture. When the picture is uncompressed, it maintains the same resolution and picture quality of the original, uncompressed picture.
  • Compression, lossy: Lossy compression is a compression scheme that emphasizes producing a small picture file, even at the cost of picture quality. Lossy compression can produce smaller picture files than lossless compression; however, when you uncompress the picture, some of the original picture data is lost and cannot be recovered.
  • File size: File size is the ultimate limiting factor when you work with picture files. File size is the most common cause of problems when you work with pictures in Microsoft Office. File size is determined by the following factors: picture size, resolution, file format, compression, and color depth.
  • Gamma correction: This is a method to correct the lightness or darkness of pictures, so that the pictures appear with the same brightness on any monitor.
  • Hue: Hue describes the relative amounts of red, green, or blue in a color. For example, both pink and crimson have a red hue.
  • Interlaced: Interlacing is a method to send picture data over the Internet. When a picture is interlaced, the following occurs: After one sixty-fourth of the picture is downloaded, you can see a general image of what the picture looks like. As more of the picture is downloaded, the resolution improves until the whole picture is displayed.
  • Metafile picture: A metafile picture usually contains vector picture information. A metafile picture can contain any kind of picture data, such as a raster picture.
  • Palette: A palette is a list of the colors that are available to a particular picture. Different picture file formats have a different maximum number of colors. If your picture contains more colors than are available in a specific picture format, the extra colors are replaced with colors in the color palette. The colors in the resulting image may look distorted. This is known as a "paletted effect."
  • Pixel: A pixel is a fundamental unit of measurement in a raster-based picture or on a monitor. Both raster pictures and monitors are defined by rows of dots that can be individually assigned a color. These dots are called pixels.
  • Raster picture: A raster picture is a picture that is displayed by defining rows of colored dots that are placed next to each other. Each dot is assigned an individual color.
  • Resolution: Resolution is the amount of picture data in a specific area of a picture. Resolution is usually defined in pixels per inch. The higher the resolution, the more precise and clear the picture is. However, when you increase the resolution, the file size of a picture also increases.
  • Transparency: Transparency is a method that allows areas of a picture to appear transparent, therefore revealing the background. There are several methods of transparency, including alpha channel transparency.
  • Value: This property describes the lightness or darkness of a color. For example, pink and baby blue have a similar value, although they have different hues.
  • Vector picture: A vector picture is made up of areas that are defined by coordinates and mathematical formulas. This file format is more versatile than a raster picture format, because vector pictures can be scaled to any size. In some cases, vector pictures can be ungrouped into smaller components.


For more information about the graphics file types that are described in this article, visit the following third-party Web sites: Microsoft provides third-party contact information to help you find technical support. This contact information may change without notice. Microsoft does not guarantee the accuracy of this third-party contact information.