What You Should Know About TIF File Extension

Tagged Image File Format

The TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) or TIF is an extension that is used for a high-quality bitmap image.

It is the default file format for several applications on OS X, not excluding the default screen capture utility Grab.

It is a file format that is very popular in the image editing and photography industry, and users attest to its ability to be easily edited.

The TIFF file format is used with images that have high color depth, and it also has the ability to give details of bilevel, grayscale, palette color, and full-color image data in different color spaces.

It was originally created based on a specific need for professionals to have a standard format for scanning images.

Graphic designers and photographers are very conversant with the TIFF file format due to its flexibility and universal compatibility, and it is highly supported by applications that involve scanning, word processing, image manipulation, optical character recognition, and page layout.

All files with this format end with the extension (.tif) or (.tiff).

There are other versions of TIFF, such as GeoTIFF, which is described as a format extension that can be used to store georeferenced and geocoding details in a TIFF, and it can be used to store geographical image data.

Another feature that makes the TIFF file format intriguing is that it is not machine-reliant, and it is unbound from hurdles like operating systems, processors, or file systems.

Tagged Image File Format

Brief History of the TIFF File Format

As far as the early 1980s, different scanning formats were used by desktop scanners for scanning images, and there was no standard format to scan images.

It was this challenge that birthed the effort to develop a common scanning format for desktop scanners which eventually led to the development of the TIFF image file format in the mid-1980s.

The TIFF file format was initially created by Aldus Corporation in 1986, and this came up after crucial meetings with various scanner manufacturers and software developers. At its initial stage of usage, it had support for only binary image format, but with the passage of time, it began to support grayscale and color images.

In October 1988, it was updated, and it could support palette color images and LZW compression, but today, the TIFF file format has the ability to store high-depth color images of all types.

No major update has been made to the TIFF file format over the years since 1992.

In the year 1994, Acrobat Systems acquired the TIFF file format from Aldus Corporation, and they currently hold all the rights and ownership of the TIFF file format.

The TIFF File Format Specification

This defines a structure for an Image File Header (IFH), Image File Directories (IFDs), and corresponding bitmaps.

Each Image File Directories and its corresponding bitmaps are called a TIFF subfile.

There are no restrictions, however, to the number of subfiles that a TIFF image file must contain at every given time.

It must be noted, too, that each Image File Directory consists of one or more data structures called Tags.

The TIFF specification gives us a number of tags and some rules for vast consideration.

The TIFF file format is therefore extensible and has gone through various corrections that give room for the addition of an unlimited amount of private or special-purpose information.

The TIFF File Organization

TIFF files are generally organized into three different sections, namely Image File Header (IFH), Image File Directory (IFD), and the bitmap data, but of these three, only the image file header and the image file directory are of uttermost importance.

We can have a TIFF file with no bitmap data though it would not be like the usual TIFF file.

Every image file directory consists of one or more data structures which are referred to as tags. A tag is a 12-byte record that holds a particular type of information about the bitmapped data.

A tag can also contain any type of data and the TIFF parameters that are used to outline specific information.

We can classify tags as either public or user-defined tags.

Public tags are the tags that have been laid out already by the TIFFs specification, and privileges are not given to the users to modify them outside of the parameters that have been defined already by the TIFF version running on the system.

User-defined tags, which can also be referred to as private tags, are those tags that are earmarked for exclusive use by software developers through the Aldus developer’s desk. Let us examine the Image File Header (IFH) and the Image File Directory (IFD) in brief.

Image File Header (IFH)

The TIFF has the easiest header among the many formats that are available.

The Image File Header (IFH) constitutes three main fields of information, and it only has a total of eight bytes as its length.

The field of information in the Image File Header includes the identifier, version, and the IFDOffset.

The identifier consists of either of these two values, 4949h (II) or 4D4Dh (MM).

These values reveal if the data in the TIFF file is expressed in either the intel format or Motorola format.

According to the TIFF specification, the version consists of the version number of the TIFF format.

The version number has always been forty-two (42) regardless of the TIFF version, and it is mostly known as an identification number than a version number.

IFDOffset is known as a 32-bit value that is the balanced position of the first Image File Directory in the Tiff file.

This value can either be passed as a variable to a file seek function to find the beginning of the image file formation.

The value of the IFDOffset is always 08h if the image file directory comes immediately after the header.

Image File Directory (IFD)

This can be referred to as a cluster of information that is identical to a header, and it can be used mainly to describe the bitmapped data to which it is attached.

It also consists of data on the height, width, and depth of the image, including the number of compressions used on the bitmapped data. It works just like a header, but it is dynamic and does not just differ in size, but it may also be located anywhere within the TIFF file.

A file may also have more than one Image File Directory (IFD) too.

An Image File Directory (IFD) may be of various sizes because it may contain a variable number of data records, which can be referred to as tags, and each tag will constitute a unique piece of information the same way fields do within a header.

However, the difference between tags and fields is that a tag can be added or deleted from the image file directory in the same manner that a piece of paper can be removed from a notebook, but a field is fixed and unmovable.


We defined a tag briefly in the previous section, and we saw that it contains a variable number of data records, and it can be added or deleted anytime within the Tiff file.

The skillfulness of a TIFF tag, however, pays the price in its size.

A TIFF tag contains a 12-byte structure, and they are:

  1. BYTE 8-bit unsigned integer
  2. ASCII 8-bit, NULL-terminated string
  3. SHORT 16-bit unsigned integer
  4. LONG 32-bit unsigned integer
  5. RATIONAL Two 32-bit unsigned integer
  6. SBYTE 8-bit signed integer
  7. UNDEFINE 8-bit byte
  8. SHORT 16-bit signed integer
  9. SLONG 32-bit signed integer
  10. RATIONAL Two 32-bit signed integer
  11. FLOAT 4-byte single-precision floating-point value
  12. DOUBLE 8-byte single-precision floating-point value

Who uses TIFF Files

Organizations in a lot of industries use the TIFF file format to run their day-to-day operations.

  1. TIFF is a very suitable file format for those in the publishing business due to its high quality.
  2. Industries that have a dire need to store multiple client documents, especially those in the medical profession.
  3. Businesses are looking for an alternative other than the portable drive format (PDF).
  4. Businesses whose day-to-day operations call for the use of many fax transactions.

Why should you use TIFF Files?

A lot of businesses prefer the TIFF format as their original format for managing their documents and keeping digital records.

Here are some reasons why it is preferred to other file formats:

  1. TIFF is a file format that is widely accepted, so it can be viewed on virtually all computers.
  2. It is a secure document format. i.e., links and hidden data cannot be incorporated into it. This makes it a very good choice for companies that deal with sensitive information.
  3. You can merge multiple pages into one TIFF file.
  4. Due to its high-quality output, it is a bit difficult to change, unlike other image formats, and this adds another layer of security to the file format.
  5. The formatting of any document and record is stabilized across all devices, operating systems, and screen sizes.

Tagged Image File Format

How do you open TIFF files?

Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) vs. Portable Drive Format (PDF)

Several file formats have been used over the years to store documents and images, with each of the file formats having its advantages and disadvantages.

However, the tagged image file (tiff) and the portable drive format (pdf) are two of the most widely used file formats.

Let us make a comparison between these two file formats in the table below:

PropertyTagged Image File Format (TIFF)Portable Drive Format (PDF)
Image Type It only contains bitmap images.It contains bitmap and vector images
SecurityIt is less secure when compared to the portable drive format.It is embedded with an advanced security technique.
Ability to ModifyIt can easily be modified and updated.It needs a particular software for it to be modified.
Presentation QualityIt has a less quality presentation when compared to the portable drive format.It has a high-quality presentation.
Print QualityIt is not very suitable for printing due to its inability to keep to original document content.It can keep to original document content; hence it is suitable for printing.
Document and Link AttachmentYou cannot attach other documents and link to them.You can attach other documents and links to it.

Advantages and Disadvantages of TIFF Files

Advantages of TIFF Files

These are some advantages you can enjoy from using the TIFF file format:

  1. TIFFs are all-inclusive and adaptable as a file format. It can be used with significant operating systems ranging from Windows, Linux, Macintosh, etc.
  2. They can work as a repository for JPEGs with smaller sizes hence storing multiple images in one raster graphic.
  3. TIFF is a good option for storing high-resolution images when you want to edit them.
  4. TIFF files hold on to the original image detail and color depth even when you transfer them across multiple systems, which makes them the best fit for high-quality professional photos.
  5. Due to the impressive details it brings, TIFF files are the best for high-resolution scans.
  6. It is very easy and simple to edit and modify TIFF image files. This is because it is very popular amongst professional photographers who always have the need to edit their images.
  7. It is very flexible because it can be compressed with any compression tool that is at your disposal.

Disadvantages of TIFF files

  1. TIFF files hold on to their detail and result, and the effect of this is that the size does not change, and it can take up valuable space on the drive of your computer system.
  2. The high quality of TIFF files makes it a poor choice for web design and software development as it would slow down the speed of the website. Lighter formats are most preferred for this purpose.
  3. The size also makes it difficult to send across to clients in far distances.
  4. You cannot attach other file types to TIFF files, unlike other formats such as PDF, etc.


So far in this piece, we have seen what the TIFF file format entails, its specifications, the various uses of the TIFF file format, the difference between this format and the PDF format, and then also considered the advantages and disadvantages of the TIFF file format.

I strongly believe that everything you need to know about the TIFF file format has been well expatiate in this piece and should you be confused at any point, please go through again from the beginning for a better understanding.

I do really hope you find this piece exhilarating.

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Ovo is a highly specialized Computer and Networking Expert with experience in Windows, Cisco, Microsoft Office (Excel, Word, etc) and Networking engineering. Ovo is a creative, team player that loves sharing his experience with technology with readers to follow along. He has great attention to detail when discussing various technologies, tutorials and guides.