Are GIFS a Lossy Or Lossless Format?

If you are working on a design that incorporates digital images such as a GIF you may be wondering if they are lossy or lossless formats. Editing and file size requirements can make a difference in how you save a file. Knowing how GIFs and other images are saved can help you decide what type of formats to use in certain situations.

A GIF is considered to be lossless. Generally, GIFs are best used for creating banners and buttons as a call to action for the viewers. These images are usually less detailed than that of a JPEG which is a lossy format used more for photography and other detailed images.

To learn more about the formatting used to create a GIF and other information continue reading.

Understanding GIFs and How They Work

To begin, the acronym GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format and they are a lossless format which means there is no loss of quality in the images once they are compressed. The problem with using a GIF is that they can only store up to 256 colors.

It is possible for a GIF to handle more than 256 colors however this is accomplished by a long process that often results in the GIF being such a large file that it makes more sense to save the image in a JPEG format at that point.

Most web designers or social media fanatics find that GIFs are best used to create:

  • Flashy website banners to attract the viewer’s attention
  • Call to action buttons that link to other pages
  • The funny memes we see plastered all over social media pages

If you try to save a photo as a GIF the quality will not be as good because the standard range of colors is not broad enough to give the image the detail it needs to be clear.

Trying to use a filter or other color blending techniques to smooth the image causes them to look grainy or blurry rather than crisp and clear.

A lossy file is a file that loses certain data during compression which is considered to be redundant or unnecessary. These redundant pieces of information allow the file to take up less space, keeping your overall file size down.

Some examples of lossy files are:

  • JPEG
  • MPEG
  • MP3

Most people cannot detect such differences unless they have a trained eye or ear. The loss of quality is generally noticed in images when they are enlarged because they lose scalability when saved in this format.

Pros of using a GIF file:

  • Faster load times
  • Fast and easy to make even if you don’t have a lot of graphic design experience
  • The lossless format means you won’t lose any file information
  • Smaller file sizes

Cons of using a GIF file:

  • Only uses 256 colors
  • Can be difficult to edit due to multiple layers in the file
  • Poor internet connections can affect the quality of the images

For information on other lossless file formatting continue reading.

PNG Formatting – Another Lossless Option  

As mentioned earlier, GIFs are great for usage on websites to create flashy banners and buttons to draw the viewer’s eye to a particular part of the page.

The downside to these lossless files is the not-so-large range of colors they can support. This is where the PNG file can be helpful in some situations.

What is a PNG and How Are They Used?

PNG stands for Portable Network Graphic and they are a kind of raster file which are commonly used to create company logos with transparent backgrounds or other web images such as charts or diagrams.

Pros of using a PNG file:

  • More detailed images than a GIF due to a broader color palette
  • Open formatting allows the file to be viewed in more programs without special licensing
  • No loss of data when compressed

Cons of using a PNG file:

  • Unable to support animation like a GIF so not good for creating banners or buttons
  • Larger file due to broader color palette
  • Not the best print quality because they are designed to be used on the internet

Formatting Matters When Watching File Size Counts

As you can see there are pros and cons to using a lossless file format, however, when used appropriately with the right programs they can add a lot of value to a webpage. GIFs are a great way to draw the eye and the mouse to the areas you want to attract the most attention.