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What is a PNG file? The file format explained

If you save a lot of images or graphics, you might be wondering which format you should use. One of the most common choices is PNG, which is why we’ve broken down everything you need to know about this file type. 

Read on to learn more about PNGs, including what they are, how many colours they support and how they compare to another popular file format, JPEG. 

What is a PNG file? 

PNG is a file format used to save and share high-quality images. The acronym PNG stands for Portable Network Graphic. 

PNGs support a massive 16 million colours and can preserve transparent and semi-transparent backgrounds along with solid ones. They also benefit from lossless compression, meaning images don’t lose any important data when compressed. 

PNG is an open format, which means you can save and open a PNG file from pretty much any image editing software without any licensing requirements. 

The format arrived as a follow-up to GIFs, which had a number of limitations, including a significantly smaller colour palette (256 to PNG’s 16 million) and patent licensing requirements for editing programs.

However, unlike GIFs, PNGs do not support animation, so they aren’t much good for sharing those silent reaction videos via text or on Twitter.

You can learn how to export a file as a PNG in Photoshop from our guide. 

What is the difference between JPEG and PNG? 

PNGs and JPEGs are two file formats that allow you to save images to your PC or mobile device and share them on most websites and social media platforms. 

One of the benefits of saving an image as a PNG is that this file type is capable of retaining more information due to its lossless compression and broader colour palette. This makes them ideal for sharing web graphics, photos and scanned text that you need to remain sharp. 

JPEG files, on the other hand, use lossy compression. This means that they inevitably lose some information when saved. 

PNGs also support transparency, so graphics can be saved with no background or transparent aspects to them. Save your image as a JPEG and it will be filled with a solid background, meaning you’ll need to use an editing tool to cut out the background later on if needed. 

However, all of the above means that PNGs are larger files than JPEGs. This makes JPEGs a better option if you’re short on space or want to save a large number of photos to your device. It also means that JPEGs have faster load times on websites.

Furthermore, PNGs don’t support CMYK colour modes, which can pose a challenge during printing.

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