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Tiff Verses PDF - Document Scanning Format Options

When it comes to digital document management, how does your company handle images? There are two widespread digital image file formats in use: Portable Document Format (PDF) developed by Adobe in 1993, and Tagged Image File Format (TIFF), created by the Aldus Corporation in the 1980s.

Here's a quick breakdown of the key differences:

The Basics

While both formats handle image files, PDFs support multiple data layers and TIFFs are single-layered graphic files — essentially a large, static picture. Despite the use of multiple layers, however, PDFs tend to be smaller in size thanks to better compression algorithms. In addition, PDFs maintain page orientation when scanned, while TIFF files do not. It's also worth noting that Adobe's offering is built around an open-source file format, while TIFFs are proprietary. This means that PDFs are created using software that anyone can contribute to, update and use, while TIFFs use proprietary code that is no longer maintained or patched.

Image Clarity

Of course, the ability to view files in your digital document management system isn't enough; achieving high quality and fidelity is essential across a range of industries, from architecture to aerospace. Here, PDF files also have an advantage because they're created using Adobe's PostScript technology, which “describes” the document image to a monitor or printer, allowing you to zoom or otherwise manipulate the file without any loss of quality.


TIFFs, meanwhile, are bitmap images meaning they lose clarity as you zoom in or out.

Speed and Size

On average, multi-page PDF documents will be one-tenth the size of a TIFF, making them much easier to send across corporate networks and more cost-effective for long-term hosting and storage. In addition, PDF files “stream” as they load, meaning you don't need to wait for the file to be completely downloaded before viewing. Layered PDFs are also text searchable, while it's not possible to perform this operation with TIFF files.

Support and Integration

Adobe and the document management community continue to offer support for PDF files, and all leading digital document management systems natively support PDF viewing. Updates for TIFF files, meanwhile, stopped in 1992, meaning you can't reach out to support teams if something goes wrong or files are corrupted. PDF formats are also gaining ground among industries where security and compliance is paramount; for example, PDFs are now used by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts for their Electronic Court Filing (ECF) system and many other industries are following suit.

The bottom line for these image types? Both provide an easy way to scan and view images, but PDF files are smaller, faster to load, searchable and meet government compliance standards. If a single image or quick scan is all you need, TIFF may suffice, but for true digital document archive capabilities, take a look at the PDF File Format.

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