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PDF vs. TIFF: Which is the Right Document File Format for Your Needs?

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Different strokes suit different folks. Variety is the spice of life. Choose your favorite cliché, but the truth remains the same: people need, and want, options.

This truth holds in the case of PDF vs. TIFF file formats. Each has its own strengths, and each has its own weaknesses, so it’s up to a given user to decide which is the right choice for a given document. Choosing an imaging format can be a matter of document management system compatibility, sizing needs, legal requirements, or simply a matter of personal preference. However the decision is made, there’s plenty to consider before going in one direction or the other.

Below, we explore the differences between PDFs and TIFFs, and compare the benefits of each to help you make the proper choice for your document scanning needs.

The Benefits of TIFF File Format

The abbreviation “TIFF” stands for, “Tagged Image File Format.” Developed in the mid-80s as a means of managing scanned black-and-white images and faxes, it has grown into a file format that suits all document image types, including both grayscale and color images.

The following five situations are best suited to using TIFF file formatting:

  1. Annotation: when documents need to be annotated following scanning, you’ll want to use a TIFF file. PDFs, unfortunately, cannot accommodate image overlay and post-conversion editing.
  2. Adding or moving pages within a document: a TIFF file usually consists of single pages combined together, as opposed to a PDF, in which one file holds multiple pages. As such, it is easier to add pages to a document, and later move them around within it, using the TIFF format, as opposed to having to re-convert a PDF before making any additions or removals.
  3. Downloading very large documents: if you are working with very large documents of more than 200 pages, they will download much faster when in the TIFF file format.
  4. More universal file type: you do not need special software to view a TIFF file, but you’ll need an Adobe viewer to view or manage PDFs.
  5. Exporting files: it is easier to export TIFF files out of document management software due to the ease with which they can be converted to a PDF. Converting PDFs to other file types, conversely, is more difficult and labor-intensive.

The Benefits of PDF File Format

The PDF (Portable Document Format) was developed by Adobe in the early 90s, and in the years since it has become the open standard for creating, viewing, and sharing documents.

The following five situations suit PDF formatting best:

  1. Archiving and legal requirements: Your legal department may require storing documents as PDF/A for compliance reasons. This specific format guarantees your documents will be viewable for decades to come, regardless of the particular Operating System (OS) platform currently in vogue.
  2. Viewing and printing multi-page documents: virtually every application has a means of viewing a PDF document, and will not require the further downloading of special viewing software. If the document will be viewed over the Internet, furthermore, PDF is by far the best format for it. PDFs are also more printer-friendly than other formats.
  3. Exporting and sharing with full-text search: OCR (optical character recognition) is embedded in PDFs. Therefore, the process of sharing documents where full-text search capability is necessary is made much easier with PDF file formatting. TIFFs, unfortunately, require a separate data file to be searched in this manner.
  4. Not using document management software: if your company does not use document management software, it’s much easier to store, retrieve, and manage PDF files as opposed to TIFFs.
  5. Multiple format capability: there many different types of PDF available, allowing you to choose the one that best suits your particular needs. For instance, PDF/A is available for archiving, PDF/E for engineering, PDF/X for print production, and PDF/VT for variable data and transactional printing.

The Right Choice for Your Needs Is the Right Choice, Period

When it comes to file formatting, and the case of PDF vs. TIFF, you’ve got options. But it’s important to remember that there is no one particular “best” choice. The right choice is the one that suits your needs in a given moment. Consider document type or application, business rules, legal requirements, and how the document will be used.

And remember also that, in a pinch, a TIFF can be converted to a PDF, and vice versa. Go over your determining factors carefully, and then pick the PDF or TIFF format that most suits the given purpose. You really can’t go wrong!

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