Understanding Google SketchUp’s Raster Formats

When you export a raster image in Google SketchUp 8, you’re saving your current view to a separate file somewhere on your computer. As a raster image, that file consists of tiny, colored dots, or pixels. When you look at all the pixels together, they form an image. You have four raster image formats to choose from in Windows; three of them are available on the Mac.

Tagged Image File (TIFF or TIF)

TIFFs are the stalwarts of the raster image file format world; everyone can read them and just about everyone can create them. TIFF stands for Tagged Image File Format, but that’s hardly important. Here’s everything you need to know about TIFFs:

  • When image quality is important, choose TIFF.

  • TIFFs don’t compress your image data.

  • Pay attention to your pixel count. If you’re exporting a TIFF, you’re probably looking for the best image quality you can get. And if that’s the case, you need to make sure that your TIFF includes enough pixels to display at the size you need.

Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG or JPG)

JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group, which makes it sound much fancier than it really is. Almost every digital image you’ve ever seen was a JPEG (pronounced JAY-peg); it’s the standard file format for images on the Web. Check out these JPEG details:

  • When file size is a concern, choose JPEG. The whole point of the JPEG file format is to compress raster images to manageable file sizes so that they can be e-mailed and put on Web sites.

  • JPEGs compress file size by degrading image quality.

  • JPEG + SketchUp = Danger. Because of the way the JPEG file format works, JPEG exports from SketchUp are particularly susceptible to looking terrible.

Portable Network Graphics (PNG)

Pronounced ping, this graphics file format isn’t as widely used as it should be. At least as far as SketchUp is concerned, PNG combines all the best features of TIFF and JPEG. PNG details are as follows:

  • PNGs compress image data without affecting image quality. They’re smaller files than TIFFs (just like JPEGs), but they don’t mess up any pixels (totally unlike JPEGs).

  • If you’re exporting an image for someone who knows a thing or two about computers, choose PNG. If you plan to send your exported image to someone who knows what he’s doing, go ahead and send a PNG. If the recipient of your export is less technologically sophisticated, stick with a JPEG or TIFF file; it’s the safe choice.

Windows Bitmap (BMP)

Windows Bitmap, or BMP, files are old school; they can only be used on Windows, and they’re big. If a BMP were a car, it would be the old, rusty van in your parents’ garage. As you can probably guess, BMPs aren’t recommended, with a couple exceptions:

  • To send your exported file to someone with a very old Windows computer.

  • To place an image in an old Windows version of layout software: If your layout person is using a copy of Word or PageMaker that’s a several years old, he may need a BMP file.

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