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The Unofficial TIFF Home Page

Last modified: Feb 14, 1997

Author (Niles Ritter)


  1. What is TIFF?
  2. Should I use TIFF ?
  3. Who owns TIFF?
  4. How can I reserve my own tags/compression schemes?
  5. Are there any TIFF mailing lists?
  6. Where can I download the TIFF Specification?
  7. What programs can read Multi-page TIFF?
  8. Is the LZW compression in TIFF patented?
  9. Where can I find Public TIFF Software ?
  10. What TIFF Extensions are Available?
  11. Other TIFF related Pages

What is TIFF ?

TIFF is an acronym for Tag(ged) Image File Format. It is one of the most popular and flexible of the current public domain raster file formats. etc.

Should I use TIFF ?

It depends upon your particular needs.

Limitations: There are no provisions in TIFF for storing vector graphics, text annotation, etc (although such items could be easily constructed using TIFF extensions), and so if this is a requirement you would be better off with a format with broader scope, such as PostScript, CGM, or PICT. TIFF is based on file-offsets, so that it is not easily "streamable" in the way JPEG JFIF streams are.

A common complaint of TIFF is rooted in its flexibility. For example the TIFF format permits both MSB ("Motorola") and LSB ("Intel") byte order data to be stored, with a header item indicating which order is used. There are old, poorly written TIFF programs on the PC which rebelled against this and assume that all TIFF files are Intel byte order. It is very easy to write a TIFF-writer, but very difficult to write a fully TIFF compliant reader.

TIFF uses 4-byte integer file offsets to store image data, with the consequence that a TIFF file cannot have more than 4 Gigabytes of raster data (and some files have begun to approach this boundary). However, this is 4G of compressed data, and so if the compression ratio is high enough, theoretically a TIFF image could be much larger (in fact, 2**32-1 pixels square).

Strengths: TIFF is primarily designed for raster data interchange. It's main strengths are a highly flexible and platform-independent format which is supported by numerous image processing applications. Since it was designed by developers of printers, scanners and monitors, it has a very rich space of information elements for colorimetry calibration, gamut tables, etc. Such information is also very useful for remote sensing and multispectral applications.

Another feature of TIFF which is also useful is the ability to decompose an image by tiles rather than scanlines. This permits much more efficient access to very large imagery which has been compressed (since one does not have to decompress an entire scanline).

Theoretically, TIFF can support imagery with multiple bands (up to 64K bands), arbitrary # bits per pixel, data cubes, and multiple images per file, including thumbnail subsampled images.

Color spaces supported include

Compression types include Pixel formats supported include:

Who owns TIFF?

TIFF was developed by Aldus and Microsoft Corp, and the specification was owned by Aldus, which in turn merged with Adobe Systems, Incorporated. Consequently, Adobe Systems now holds the Copyright for the TIFF specification.

TIFF is a trademark, formerly registered to Aldus, and which is now claimed (though not yet registered) by Adobe Systems, Inc.

How can I reserve my own tags/compression schemes?

TIFF tag and TIFF compression ID registration is handled by Adobe Developer Relations. Please send your requests to Adobe developer relations support staff at:
Adobe needs the following information to assign a TIFF tag or compression code:
Company Name:
Contact Name:
Brief description of tag format (optional, see below):

It is their policy not to divulge information about TIFF tag owners or the format of private tag data without the owner's consent. If you wish to make public the fact that you are the owner of a tag and/or details about a tag's layout, you can send them this information and they will store it in their TIFF registration database.

Are there any TIFF Mailing lists?

Yes, the main TIFF mailing list is maintained at SGI; to subscribe, send email with the following subject and message body:
	Subject: none

        subscribe tiff

(optionally, after "subscribe tiff" you may place an email address). You will receive a confirmation from the Majordomo listserver running there. To post messages, send email to

There is also a mailing list for discussing the GeoTIFF TIFF tag extensions for georeferenced raster data, which can be accessed by sending email:

	Subject: none

        subscribe geotiff Your-Name-Here
An archive. of the ongoing GeoTIFF list discussion is now available.

Where can I download the TIFF Specification?

The online PDF formatted TIFF 6.0 Specification is available from Adobe in their Technical Notes for Developers Section; you will need an Adobe Acrobat Viewer to read this, also freely available from Adobe.

A compressed PostScript version of the spec is available from the SGI TIFF archive, which also has an uncompressed version.

Older Revision Specs are also online (for historians, only!):

Revision 4.0

Revision 5.0

What programs can read Multi-page TIFF?

Here are some programs that have been used by readers of the TIFF mailing list:

Is the LZW Compression in TIFF patented?

Where can I find Public TIFF Software ?

TIFF Libraries and Source Code



WOCAR: Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for TIFF

ImTool package

SimTel package

Comp.Graphics Archives

Viewers and Editors


Unix Boxes/X

PC/DOS/Windows Flavored Systems

What TIFF Extensions are Available?

TIFF is a very extensible format, and there are a number of efforts to extend TIFF for specific applications by registering new tags with Adobe. A number of such extensions are described below:


Adobe Extensions for PageMaker

JPEG - in - TIFF

Zip - in - TIFF

TIFF Class F Revised Specification

TIFF/IT Prepress Interchange Standard

TIFF enhancements for Adobe PageMaker 6.0


Wang TIFF Image-Annotation extensions

Kodak TIFF extensions

Internet RFC's Related to TIFF

Other TIFF Related Pages

Last modified: Feb 14, 1997
Comments? e-mail (Niles Ritter)