This paper highlights the differences among the most common file formats used for storing digital radiological images. It promotes the proper use of these formats to guarantee easy manipulation in handling the most typical practical applications in daily radiological practice. The authors provide a simple yet exhaustive introduction to the concept of "file format" and describe the algorithms and main features of the most common formats (BMP, JPEG, GIF, DICOM, TIF, PNG) and Portable Network Graphics (PNG).The different formats are compared in terms of dimension, quality, portability and with reference to the following specific needs: electronic communications, publication on the World Wide Web, presentation of electronic posters, video presentations for teaching and manuscript publishing. We also illustrate how to handle the various formats with the programmes supplied with standard software installations.The large number of digital applications of image file formats calls for a simplification in daily radiological practice. We recommend the use of JPEG and PNG for electronic communications; PNG and GIF for publication on the worldwide web; JPEG and PNG for electronic poster presentations; DICOM, PNG and JPEG for teaching presentations; TIF and PNG for printing on paper.
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