When choosing the right file format for storing digital documents, there are a lot of available options. However, two of the most popular formats for storing document images are PDF and TIFF files.

When it comes down to PDF vs TIFF, which one is the better option?

We’ll give you overviews of both the PDF file format and the TIFF file format and some directions to consider when choosing a format for your digital conversion project.

First, Who Cares?

Well, since our business is based around digital conversion, we do…

But enough about us.

Lots of people are particular about which file type they get when they scan their records because of what they’re using them for, or how their document management system ingests files.

Because the overall goal is to get your hard copies into an electronic format, sometimes it seems like semantics when deciding on a TIFF versus a PDF versus a JPG, and so on. But it can make a difference for some people because of what they plan to do with the files, how they plan to use them, and what their systems can ingest.

A File By Any Other Name…

Digital files are digital files are digital files, right? Not exactly. 

Although they’re both digital file types, PDFs and TIFFs differ in a few ways that can affect your project and your document management system. How much it’ll affect you is dependent on your project: how many images and files are created, the specs you require, and where they’re stored.

Typically the bigger projects (millions of images) are more impacted by the file type than others, because as the project scale grows, the side effects are also scaled up.

PDF Overview

The PDF (Portable Document Format) was originally created to present documents independent of the software or hardware being used. It’s widely recognized in the digital file world and has various formats that can be utilized, including PDF/A (PDF archival) to prevent changing the content on the document. 

PDF files are a great choice for storing document images because they are typically smaller in size and easier to transfer. They are also more secure because they can be password protected. However, PDF files are not as easy to edit as TIFFs.

A PDF file can be formatted as image-only (no text search) and hidden text (text search), which affects file size. Adding hidden text and creating a searchable PDF increases the file size. 

For image options, bitonal (black/white) and grayscale PDFs are available. Grayscale images can significantly increase a file’s size, and if hidden text is on top of that, you can have massive documents.

TIFF Overview

TIFF is short for Tagged Image File Format (also written as TIFF), is a raster image. This means it uses a matrix structure to create the image – lots of rectangular pixels. 

TIFF format is a good choice for storing document images because they are larger in size and provide better quality. They are also easier to edit than PDFs. However, TIFFs are not as secure as PDFs.

TIFFs are generally larger than PDFs, but can be compressed to reduce the file size. A key feature of TIFF compression is the lossless compression, which reduces the file size without losing any data (there’s also “lossy compression” but we won’t get into that here). Sometimes people want uncompressed TIFFs for their deliverable, which means that the full size of the image is delivered – these can be large. 

TIFFs are created as bitonal images, though they can be converted to JPEG or LZW if you’re looking for grayscale or color. Once you move into the JPEG or LZW world, the file size gets big. 

Lastly, the TIFF file format is great for storing metadata – information about the image that can be used for later reference, archiving, or indexing.

Choosing PDF Or TIFF Image Format

Here are some questions to ask yourself when choosing a file format for your document scanning project:

If you know you want one file format over the other, then you shouldn’t have too much debate about what to tell your scanning partner. Go with what you like!

PDF format will be the best option as they can be password protected, restricted for viewing and editing, and more. TIFFs don’t have the features to match a PDF document and are typically less secure.

A PDF could be your first option as they’re generally small in size, though you may want to go with a bitonal compressed TIFF. Once compressed, TIFFs can be diminutive and won’t take up much space, saving you in storage.

PDF files will be your best choice – they were created to be operable in a variety of scenarios and independent of software and hardware.

A PDF/A could be your ticket if you don’t want anyone tinkering around with your file.

Next Steps

Reach out to us today! Click the “Get Your Quote” button below, fill out the form, and we’ll quickly reply to you to discuss your project.

Further Reading

Choosing a file format is one piece of your digital conversion project puzzle. Here are some other things to consider as you move towards electronic ecstasy:

“Should You Scan Your Records In Bitonal Or Grayscale?” gives you a comparison between bitonal (black/white) and grayscale images. You might know the format you want, but which color palette?

“Now What? After The Digital Conversion Project” provides you with guidance on what to do with your digital files after they’ve been scanned. Are you keeping them on a USB? Loading them to your own system? Are you looking for a hosting app? All these are discussed.

“6 Components That Make A Great Digital Conversion Project” lays out six things that can make or break a scanning project. It’s not always the tech stuff that’s important – having a solid relationship with your scanning partner is critical.