PDF to TIFF and PDF to JPEG – to Convert or Not to Convert – that is the question

New documents are constantly being authored, shared, revised and archived, creating an ongoing challenge to businesses to maintain secure repositories of information, as well as keep up with the ever changing formats in which information is composed. The wide variety of creator applications available today makes for workflow and business processing challenges for organizations – even more so for large enterprises with disparate locations. Converting documents from one format to another can have many advantages for organizations, helping them realize increased productivity, better communication and enhanced process improvement, but what format should be used and why?

PDF, TIFF and JPEG are three file formats frequently found in the electronic information age. The need to convert documents from PDF to TIFF and PDF to JPEG depends upon several issues including information accessibility, data security and file storage and archiving. The following factors should be taken into account when considering what file formats should be used, and when:

Accessibility & Productivity

Converting documents into universally readable formats increases business process workflow as well as worker productivity – while enhancing colleague collaboration and communication too. Since the introduction of the TIFF standard, many variations have been introduced. The JPEG image compression format (used primarily because it is browser supported) is a lossy format, meaning that some quality is lost when the file is compressed, which can be problematic when the file is restored or shared.  The result of these developments is that documents that were once frequently converted from PDF to TIFF and PDF to JPEG formats are now more often kept as PDF files – due to free readers, the standardization of the format and the preservation of document integrity.

Searchability & Archiving

TIFF is a raster format and must first be scanned with an OCR engine (optical character recognition) before a document in this format can be searched. PDF is a more suitable archiving format than TIFF for a variety of reasons: PDF files are often more compact and therefore usually require only a fraction of the memory space of respective TIFF files, often with better quality. The smaller file size is especially advantageous for electronic file transfer (FTP, e-mail attachment etc.), and the PDF file format stores structured objects (e.g. text, vector graphics, raster images), and allows for efficient full-text search. Plus, metadata like title, author, creation date, modification date, subject, and keywords can be embedded in a PDF (or TIFF) file, enhancing archiving and retrieval.

Files stored in JPEG format (image files), aren’t directly text searchable (and frequently don’t contain word content), but may be named with titles (or otherwise indexed) and archived and located by naming attributes. However, JPEG files of documents may be scanned via OCR, and then text searched.

Document Structure & Portability

Standard TIFF does not include any method for defining document structure beyond sequencing pages, while PDF documents can include bookmarks, hyperlinks, tags and annotations. Also, Web browsers don’t support TIFF – so the format isn’t useful for Web pages – while PDF pages may be optimized for Web delivery, via an optional Adobe plug-in.

TIFF, JPEG and PDF are all portable across operating environments – so files will look the same on both PCs and Macs – possibly eliminating the need to convert some files from PDF to TIFF and PDF to JPEG.

Data/document Security

TIFF and JPEG formats do not contain built-in security protocols, so users can only be allowed, or restricted, access to documents. The PDF format on the other hand, has a sophisticated security system, which can be used to set document access passwords, or restrict usage.

PDF to TIFF and PDF to JPEG – to Convert or Not to Convert – there is no one answer

As a first step towards electronic document archiving, many organizations implemented TIFF archives – ensuring long-term viability, an established document structure, and an easy to transmit format – but one that is not easily searchable. Evolving business needs have dictated that the greater functionality of the PDF format is required for document storage, while companies commonly use the JPEG image file compression for storage and Web compatibility for color image files. Additionally, PDF is more versatile in that it may be used to store JPEG images and searchable text within the document as well.

Another good format alternative for JPEG to display documents in a browser is Portable Network Graphics Format (PNG). PNG was designed to replace the older GIF format, and is advantageous as it utilizes lossless compression, meaning no image data is lost when saving or viewing the image. (We’ll go into greater detail about PNG, and other file formats, in future articles.)

Regardless of the format used for creating, sharing or storing various document and image files, each has its strengths and weaknesses as outlined here. Fortunately for all of us, the vast majority of this information may be easily converted from one format to another with extreme accuracy. The final file format chosen will depend upon the preference of the user or organization – and their business requirements.