PDF Vs PNG: Which Has Better Image Quality?

In terms of image quality, there is no competition between the lossless compression style of PNG formatting and the lossy compression style of JPG formatting; but have you considered the PDF format for images? While PDF isn’t commonly used for graphics and images, it could be a serious contender with the same high-quality compression style as PNG.

PDF and PNG are on the same level in terms of image quality. It would be best to use PNG for web images and PDF for print images. With only 72 dpi, the quality of PNG is just not good enough for print. The lack of transparency and ease of integration makes PDF less preferable for the web.

Despite these similarities, quite a few significant differences can determine which format is used. That decision is based on a few factors about your image and its purpose, so keep reading to find out what those are and which image format would best suit your needs.

Portable Document Format (PDF)

PDF or Portable Document is the standard for document sharing because it creates an exact replica of the file you’re sharing, including graphics and images. PDFs are also great for sharing screenshots.

Typically, you won’t see PDF files with just images or photographs, but a text-heavy document with those two elements dispersed throughout the file. You might not think of PDF as an image format, but it’s worth looking at the pros and cons before writing it off.

The Pros of PDF

One of the primary benefits of a PDF is the ability to control who has access and their allowances. For example, you create a logo or graphic and want to share it with a client. Not only can your client get easy access to the PDF, but they can also annotate the document to provide feedback.

Here are a few more benefits of saving a file/image as a PDF:

  • PDFs can endure additional compression using an online tool without losing the quality of the image, so the file size won’t be so large, taking up a lot of storage space and causing slow uploads/downloads.
  • PDFs are a secure file format that allows adding a password or watermark. You can authorize access, editing, copying, and restrict specific users or groups of users.
  • PDFs are the preferred delivery format for printers. Commercial printers are calibrated for the CMYK color mode, which PDFs use.
  • PDF format is suitable for vector and raster images.

The Cons of PDF

The main drawback to PDF, especially for web design, is that it doesn’t allow for transparency, which is critical for adding graphics and logos to websites or product mockups. You can put a PDF, like a newsletter or a flyer, online, but using it in place of a web page can seriously hamper the user experience.

Here are a few more challenges of saving a file/image as a PDF:

  • PDFs are not optimized for web browser windows or device viewpoints.
  • PDFs don’t allow for the same ease of scrolling around or scanning as a regular web page.
  • PDFs are also not accessible for those using assistive technology for web content.

Portable Network Graphics (PNG)

PNG or Portable Network Graphics is primarily used for saving and sharing images and graphics. Although you can save a photograph as a PNG, especially if you want to maintain that high quality, it’s mostly used for icons and logos.

Like its main rival JPG, PNG can be shared and viewed across various platforms and applications, like placeit.net, making it quite user-friendly. Let’s look at the pros and cons to determine which format is best and for what job.

The Pros of PNG

The primary benefit of this format is its ability to maintain image quality, especially for web-based images. The image quality isn’t affected since there is no reduction in image size, therefore retaining all its data.

Here are a few more benefits of saving an image as a PNG:

  • PNG supports images and graphics with transparent backgrounds.
  • PNG is easily editable in design applications like Photoshop
  • PNGs maintain lots of color depth which makes for more vibrant images.

The Cons of PNG

The primary drawback to PNG is the large file size that comes with the lossless compression style. Unlike PDF, there aren’t options for further compression that wouldn’t affect the quality of the image. Reducing the PNG file size would have to be accomplished by limiting the number of colors or the amount of detail in your image.

Here are a few more challenges of saving an image as a PNG:

  • PNG is suitable primarily for raster images, not vector images.
  • PNG isn’t best for printing because it uses an RGB color mode, and commercial/digital printers are calibrated to the CMYK color mode.
  • PNG’s large file size takes up a lot of storage space on your device and causes slow uploads/downloads.
  • PNG doesn’t support embedding EXIF metadata used by most digital cameras.

When Should You Use PNG or PDF?

While the image quality between PNG and PDF is neck and neck, it is evident what each image/file format is best suited for based on the pros and cons that have been laid out in this article.

It would be best to use PNG for web images and PDF for print images. With only 72 dpi, the quality of PNG is just not good enough for print. The lack of transparency and ease of integration makes PDF less preferable for the web.

There are always exceptions to the rule. PDFs allowance of additional compression without compromising quality can help with upload/download times. Some fine art printers differ from digital or commercial printers by using RGB, ideal for PNG images.


All in all, PDF and PNG have advantages that can be utilized and disadvantages that can be avoided in the right context. They also have the ability to be somewhat interchangeable at times; it’s just about the user’s needs. So, whether you’re uploading a logo or graphic for apparel mockups or posting a newsletter with images and animation, there is an image/file format suitable for you.