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Why PSDs are Better Than Layered TIFFs

Q: I have created a silhouette for a model’s head in Photoshop by using a layer mask, but when I bring it into InDesign, the supposedly silhouetted head is floating on an opaque white background. My frame has a background of None, the image has the “checkerboard” background in Photoshop. Why isn’t it behaving correctly in InDesign?

Thanks, A Frustrated Designer

A: The image has been saved as a layered TIFF. Resave it as a layered native Photoshop file and all is well! While TIFFs can have layers, I sort of regard that as going against nature. Apparently, InDesign feels the same way :-)

Claudia McCue

Claudia McCue

Claudia McCue incorporates more than 20 years of traditional and digital prepress production experience in her current incarnation as a consultant, trainer, and author devoted to the graphic arts industry. Claudia's company, Practicalia LLC, provides custom onsite training for a national client base of design firms, printing companies and marketing professionals. She is the author of Real World Print Production With Adobe Creative Cloud (Peachpit Press, 2013), and a frequent presenter at industry conferences. She is also the presenter for several Lynda.com titles, including "Acrobat X: Creating Forms," "Print Production Fundamentals," and "Up & Running With Acrobat XI Pro." When not chained to the computer, she can be found riding her motorcycle on country roads. She swears it’s the cure for writer’s block.
Claudia McCue

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44 Comments on “Why PSDs are Better Than Layered TIFFs

  1. When I’m asked by Creative Suite users, whether to save as layered TIFF or PSD, I’d also tell them to save as PSD.

    Another reason is that if you use Illustrator, Illustrator handles placed PSD files much better than TIFFs.

    The only reason to use TIFF if you still need to support a QuarkXPress (ugh!) workflow, and then you’d have to flatten the TIFF anyway!

    • I’m with you. I always save as layered TIFs and save with transparency. I’ve never had an issue with any programs and other users who dont have adobe can view the images on their computer without needing photoshop.

  2. Claudia and Steve, I’m sorry to say that I have to disagree with you: Like GeorgS, I almost always used layered TIFF. There is no good reason why a TIFF would not work if it were saved correctly (with Layers turned on and with Transparency turned on in Photoshop’s TIFF Options dialog box).

    One of the benefits of layered TIFF files is that you can use Zip compression on both image and layer data, which often creates a smaller file than the PSD. (PSD only uses RLE compression, I believe, which is not as good as Zip.)

    While there is nothing inherently wrong with PSD, I like using TIFF because it’s more flexible, is based on a somewhat open (at least published) standard, and makes me feel like I’m not totally toeing the Adobe line. ;)

  3. David,

    True, but most folks overlook the Transparency checkbox. They can’t miss with the PSD option. I know layered TIFFs are legal, I just think it’s creepy. :-)

  4. And, if you’re really using a Creative Suite workflow (including Illustrator), you’re going to be disappointed with layered TIFF.

  5. Oh, one more thing. You can’t save multitones (monotones, duotones, tritones, quadtones) as a TIFF file. You can with PSD.

  6. A very interesting discussion and as someone sitting on the fence but leaning more towards .psd files the multi-tone point clinches it for me.

  7. I see absolutely no reason what so ever to use layered tif files. Sure, they compress better, but all I send out is PDF/X anyway. If you ask me the entire layered tif option should not exist. It is confusing.

  8. Claudia, I think you hit it on the head: It’s “creepy.” Except that for me, it’s PSD that is creepy. TIFF is my “norm” — it’s my comfort food. That said, the ability to use multitones and turn layers on/off is a very compelling argument. I believe that these limitations are actually a “bug” in InDesign; you should be able to do these with TIFF, too. Hm.

    But Steve, other than these features, I don’t understand your comment about being “disappointed with layered TIFF” in a CS workflow. Why?

  9. I’ve always found that people seem to force themselves to always use one particular format. For each job, you really need to use the format that works best for you. Sometimes it will be PSD, and sometimes it will be a layered TIFF (it’s the EPS format I usually stay away from though)…

    But I do want to also take issue with one of your statements Steve — as you stated that you’d have an easier time in Illustrator with a PSD as opposed to a TIFF. Hmmm.. not exactly.

    So Illustrator has been going through some internal changes over the past few releases, and much of the raster code has been updated. While I can’t go into a tremendous amount of detail here (maybe something for me to blog about on my Illustrator blog), but believe it or not, Illustrator’s internal support for TIF images is more modern and better in some ways than its support for PSD files. At least in CS2 anyway — hopefully that will change in the future…

  10. I don’t have the time this morning to retest this, but when I was researching Real World Adobe Creative Suite 2, I tested different file formats that would work.

    Transparent TIFFs didn’t work in Illustrator. Spot channel TIFF’s didn’t work in Illustrator. But Illustrator supported transparent and spot channel PSD files.

    If I’m wrong, I’ll happily admit it, and correct it in the next edition.

  11. OK, I just tested, as of Illustrator CS2 (there may be changes in CS3 that I don’t know about or can’t talk about), Illustrator doesn’t correctly preview a TIFF with a spot channel.

    Also, Illustrator CS2 doesn’t correctly preview a layered TIFF with transparency. The same file previews fine in InDesign CS2.

  12. If I were going to use layered TIFs, I would still have to save the original .PSD so, even if I could compress the TIF, it would seem to me that having two files as opposed to one to store for a job would take up more space.
    Am I missing something?

  13. Nice discussion. My experience with spot channels, is to save the file as an EPS, or the spot channels do not appear. I’ve played with the DCS option to get EPS that preserve spot channels, but it can be dodgy (I’d get up one day, and it wouldn’t work anymore). DCS creates very large files. On the up side of DCS, if you pack it into a ZIP or SIT file, it compresses very nicely, the surprise is for the person on the other end who opens the file.

  14. I don’t find DCS to be a very useful format for many workflows. It’s designed for separations, not composite output. With that said, if you made the DCS from Photoshop, it’s smart enough to be able to composite it.

    PSD works fine with spot channels. I’ve never had a problem with it.

  15. I mistyped: I meant that “if you made a DCS from Photoshop, InDesign is smart enough to be able to composite it.”

    [Note to self: Don’t post before finishing morning coffee.]

  16. Ofcourse there’s also Photshop PDF with spot color support. DCS is really a ‘thing of the past’ esp. when working with certified pdf.

  17. I apologize if this is swaying off-topic, but Woz’s statement about “Photshop PDF with spot color support” piqued my interest. But let’s say I have a grayscale image I want to specify to print monotone as a Pantone color. Converting my gray channel to a PMS spot channel removes the knock-out white so the image is “ghostly.” How do I set up such an image to knock-out the white areas of the image, while retaining the transparent areas around the image?

  18. Jon, you can colorize a grayscale image by selecting it with the Direct Selection tool and choosing a color in the Swatches palette. But this doesn’t appear to work if the grayscale image has transparency (whether it’s TIFF or PSD). Dang.

    So: You can get the effect you want by opening the grayscale image in Photoshop and switching from Grayscale mode to Duotone mode. Set the mode to “Monotone” (since you want to colorize the whole image), and click the color swatch to choose which PMS color you want to use. You can save this as a PSD and import it, transparency, spot color, and all, in to InDesign.

  19. “You can save this as a PSD and import it, transparency, spot color, and all, in to InDesign.”

    Or, you save it as a Photoshop .PDF and get the same result.

  20. I’m having the same problem Claudia described: My image in InDesign CS2 has the checkerboard background from Photoshop. But my image is saved as a PSD not a TIFF. Any suggestions? (It’s a screen capture–if that makes a difference.)

    By the way, I’m a newbie to Adobe, so…if you have an explanation…use the little words. :-)

    Thanks.

  21. The monotone thing works great for InDesign (didn’t realize that), but for some reason this doesn’t work in Illustrator. Illustrator tells me it’s in a format that “cannot be placed.” Doing the PDF thing allows me to place it, but not with transparency. Now I’m way off-topic since this is an ID site ;)

  22. @Rhonda: you are importing a SCREENSHOT of a Photoshop project into InDesign?! Of course it will have the checkered background. It’s a screen…shot. A capture of the screen. How could it NOT have the checkered background? Screencaps are not suitable for printing (except maybe at very small sizes). I suggest reading some basic 101 Photoshop tutorials on file handling. This is not the forum for questions of that level.

  23. This is a great conversation. I was actually struggling with this exact issue over the weekend and settled on PSD, but was concerned it might cause me problems when going to the printer. Good to know it won’t.

    The biggest reason I like using a PSD is a lazy one. I only have half the files. I don’t have to keep the original PSD and a tiff. If I need to make a correction, I adjust the original file and update the link. Just a way to save a couple of steps for me.

  24. This conversation is not only great but an essential melding of ideas. I am in a creative IT position and from a “Studio” and “Back up” standpoint keeping 1 file (.psd) makes for good business sense…no more “finalFile1”, finalfinalFile1…catch my drift right?

  25. Sean I agree, I?m an IT guy at a big agency and when the creative started to make layered tif files it was a pain to find their working files on the backup server. With the .psd you know that its the working file and the tif is the final file.

  26. I am relatively new to Photoshop so this question may seem stupid. But here goes… what is or how do you save a layered “native” photoshop file vs. layered TIFF? Thanks!

  27. Perhaps I wasn’t clear in my first posting. Of course, I would expect a screen capture of a Photoshop project to have the checkerboard. But my screen capture is not of a Photoshop project. It is of an MS WORD window–a screen that doesn’t have a checkerboard background. I captured it, pasted it into Photoshop to work with it some, saved it as a .psd and have placed it in my InDesign document. However, when I print the page from the InDesign document, the checkerboard pattern from photoshop is in the background–even though I can’t see the checkerboard when viewing the capture in Photoshop or in InDesign. Since the problem only appears when printing from InDesign–doesn’t happen any other time or from any other app–I thought perhaps this was the place to ask this question. I’ll take your suggestion and check out some photoshop info, but if anyone here can shed some light on this, I would appreciate it. I’m having a difficult time finding anything referencing this problem, and I don’t have the option of using another program.

  28. Something I have noticed is that when I place a linked PSD file in Illustrator CS2, save the file as a .ai and close it, when I reopen the same .ai file the PSD is still linked however the placed PSD is broken into strips and is no longer a single image.

    Any insights or work arounds?

  29. I have always wanted to know. Besides jobs that are for billboards. Why do people place Photos into Illustrator? Illustrator is for Illustrations not Page Layout.

    Brian Cupp

  30. Brian – to answer your question, packaging design, for one, but there are several other applications where you’d use placed images in Illustrator. John, check your transparency settings when you save. You must be opting to flatten transparency.

  31. This is related to a problem I am having. I am making dutone photos in Photoshop and then saving them, and then placing them in InDesign. But I am having problems. If I save as an EPS, then when it is placed in InDesign, it is spotty and doesn’t look like a photo. When I save it as a PSD then it looks fine when placed in InDesign.

    So, thinking that the PSD was the way to go, I sent it to the printer to see if it was ok to use PSD in the InDesign file and if it would print ok. He told me to save it as an EPS in future. This makes no sense to me.

    What am I missing?

  32. Somazza,

    Your printer shouldn’t object to duotone PSDs (should image fine), but clearly he’s superstitious :-)

    Primitive beliefs aside, check the options when you save an EPS: make sure that the preview is set to “TIFF 8 bits,” and I bet you’ll like what you see in InDesign, even without turning on High Resolution Preview.

  33. Great conversation! I have a related question. I want part of an image that is cmyk to blend into a spot color version of the same image. The following looks like it works, but I want to make sure there won’t be production problems w/ the printer. My cmyk image has a layer mask applied and the image goes to transparent. I then bring it into InDesign and postition it on top of a grayscale version of the same image (the grayscale image has my spot color applied in InDesign). It appears to blend seamlessly.

  34. Donald,

    Export to PDF/X-1a, then view in Acrobat. View Separations in Acrobat. If it looks okey-dokey, your content is healthy. If your printer is reasonably up to date, there should be no problem. Have a conversation with the printer if you’re concerned that they’ll munge your job, and insist on contract proofs.

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  36. I am trying to place photoshop files into Illustrator that have transparent bknds/are silhouetted. Traditionally have saved files as .tif but as said above, they import as white backgrounds. I am an illustrator & when I save photoshop files as .psd- they place in a little rough almost bitmapped slightly, not as smooth and soft as original file in photoshop. Any ideas?

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