Graphics Interchange Format Explained

What is a GIF File?

GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format and is a standardized way of storing and transmitting images over the World Wide Web. GIF files use what is known as lossless technology which means they can be reproduced without the quality of the image being compromised. There are limitations though to the gif file format which can only reproduce images at up to 256 colors leaving it best suited to black and white image reproduction or computer animation.

JPEG image files are more universally used that GIF files but there are a number of circumstances where it makes more sense to use a gif. The basic factors which determine which file code would be better come down to size and quality. When the size of the file is not an issue, GIF files will reproduce better but if loading time and storage space is an issue than JPEGs may be better suited to most applications on the web.

One area where gif files are considered far superior is in transferring black and white drawings. The gif version of most graphic images including color ones will remain crisp and clear after transfer and editing while jpeg versions lose detail the more that they are reproduced.  The only time the jpeg may be more desirable is when you have a great deal of color in the graphic; jpeg supports 16 million colors while gif files can only be reproduced in 256.

GIF files should be used for corporate logos, line drawings as well as on screen icons. The simple color patterns will load quickly and look good. GIF files should not be used for putting photos on the web; those images should be saved instead as JPEG files. There is a new file code intended to make up for the shortcomings of the GIF file format which has been designed for transferring detailed color images but it is not yet universally recognized by all computer programs. The PNG format is expected to eventually replace GIF and addresses most of the major limitations of the .gif image saving system in particular the use of a limited number of colors.