Overview of the Popular Types of File Formats

Do you know the difference between PDFs and JPEGs or FLACs and MP3s? There’s nothing worse than getting a file that you have never seen before. You don’t know how to open it, and you are on a time crunch. Understanding different file types can help you make sure your documents are properly configured, choose the best audio for your video editing project, and more. In this guide, we’ll explain the most common types of file formats so that you can make informed choices.

What are the Types of File Formats?

The types of file formats are:

  • Image Formats.
  • Audio Formats.
  • Video Formats.
  • Document Formats.

What is a File Format?

A file format is a type of standardized data structure used for storing and/or sending digital information. File formats are organized in a way that defines certain parameters, such as the size and type of data stored within them. This data could be words, images, sounds, and/or computer code. Each different file type has its own unique set of specifications. Knowing which format to use can help you share files more effectively and ensure that your content looks great no matter what platform it’s viewed on.

Image File Formats.

Image file formats are used to store digital images. There are several common image file formats, including JPEG, PNG and GIF. JPEG files are best for photographs, while PNG and GIF files are suitable for graphics with fewer colors, such as logos. 

PNG files have a higher quality but results in a larger file size than other formats. JPEG files lose more details than PNG files when their size is changed. However, they take less time than PNG files to download and to load on web pages. Also, keep in mind that JPEG files don’t support transparency as well as PNG files. PNG files also lose quality when they are enlarged too much. Keep the final desired size in mind from the start when working with and creating images files. You’ll have less trouble later with graphics quality.

GIF files generally have less quality than the other two file formats and work best with simple images like logos. What sets them apart is that GIF works well for animated images. GIFs can work on most computers and browsers but may require a special software to open and edit.

Audio File Formats.

Audio file formats are used to store digital audio. Some of the most common audio formats include MP3, WAV and OGG. MP3 files have a high level of compression but still provide good sound quality, making them the most popular choice for audio streaming and playback. WAV files have an uncompressed format and are ideal for storing master copies of music tracks or podcasts. OGG files use lossy compression and provide better sound quality at a lower bitrate than MP3s.

Video File Formats.

There are several video file formats that are widely used, from desktop video to web-based delivery to mobile devices. The most common format for desktop playback is MP4, which compresses H.264/AVC or HEVC/H.265 streams for improved internet performance. The WebM format is another popular choice for online videos, offering a royalty-free, open source codec and support for multiple languages and subtitle tracks. 

For streaming services such as Netflix, AV1 offers higher quality audio and video with significant data savings. When it comes to mobile devices, the 3GP container format was developed specifically for storing and sharing multimedia content over mobile networks.

Document File Formats.

Document file formats are commonly used to store and transfer files of text, numbers, images, or a combination. The two most popular document file types are PDF (Portable Document Format) and DOC (Microsoft Word). PDFs are widely supported across platforms as they can be read by any device with a PDF viewer such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. DOC files can be opened and edited in many office applications such as Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Apple Pages, and Open Office.

However, PDFs are preferred since they are unlikely to reformat the data when they are opened on a different device. You know that large annoyance when the word document you are working on looks perfect on your computer but when you send it to someone else you seem to have lost an inch of writing space as well as your headers and gained several pages to the document? That is far less likely to happen with PDFs. This is why it is recommended to send important documents in this format.

Other types of document file formats you may encounter include:

  • Program Update Information (.upd) – used for text info about software updates.
  • OpenDocument Format (.odt) – large files that can contain text and images; usually comes compressed like a zip file.
  • Rich Text Format (.rtf) – versatile file for keeping text and graphics formatted correctly across devices; this can include complicated formatting.
  • Plain Text (.txt) – as the name suggests this is just for text; Notepad uses this type.
  • EPub (.epub) – large file (like a zip file) used for e-Books and requires an e-reader or special program like EPUB File Reader to open.


In this guide, we explained the most common file formats so that you can make an informed choice:

  • What is a File Format?
  • Image Formats of JPEG, PNG and GIF.
  • Audio Formats of MP3, WAV and OGG.
  • Video Formats of MP4 and WebM.
  • Document Formats of PDF and DOC.

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