If file formats were people: Who’s allowed in your digital asset management nightclub?

Most DAM managers I’ve spoken with are very protective about what goes into their collection of digital assets. Managing a rich media hoard is like being a bouncer at a popular nightclub and deciding who gets in and who gets told to take a hike. Just like a doorman at a hip ultralounge only letting in the ultra-hip, users following best practices only ingest the highest resolution file format available and don’t bother letting in a low-res JPEG (that grubby guy in line wearing jeans and a tank top).

For bouncers the reasoning is a little different, but for digital asset managers the idea is simple: save the best version of the file available now and download derivative formats from the DAM later when they’re needed. This strategy avoids wasting time and precious dance floor space (disk storage) on formats that may never be used.

Another advantage of storing high quality master files is providing a digital asset management system that adapts to users needs by quickly and easily providing files in the exact format required. If and when someone needs some media files in a particular format, the DAM can automatically convert the assets to provide the desired format. Your DAM has a reputation you need to build and protect. Providing users with a system that quickly gives them what they need to get their job done encourages user adoption and trust which is essential for a successful DAM project.

Five File Formats to Let In

When you’re lifting the red rope and using that “Save As” command, which file formats are best for uploading to your DAM? Check out the following profiles on five multimedia personalities to consider letting into Club DAM:

DNG (Adobe Digital Negative)

This trust fund kid is well known and well liked, and tends to play well with the other patrons (graphic applications). He likes to dress in layers—take off his stylish DNG overcoat, and his camera raw outfit is underneath.



Although proprietary, Mr. DNG is well documented and supported by his Adobe parents. This means he’s more likely to work with other graphic applications and also more likely to work in the future as an industry-accepted standard. DNG files are usually created from a DSLR camera’s raw files. When converting camera raw images from a DLSR’s camera raw file into DNG, you can optionally embed the original raw file within the DNG (at the cost of double the storage space).

PDF (Portable Document Format)

This talented lady is the life of any party. Not only does she get along with everyone, but she can tango, bar tend  and do karaoke (all at the same time!)



The ubiquitous PDF format can be used in almost any graphics application and supports both raster and vector graphics, which means it can hold both high-res images along with scalable graphics and fonts that look good at any size. It’s usually print ready, and can often be re-edited in applications like Adobe Illustrator. PDF is a safe format because it works on virtually all modern computer operating systems and works well for WYSIWYG between on-screen display and print output.

TIFF (Tagged Image File Format)

Yes, good ole Tiff. One of the older hipsters you’ll find at the club that is still hanging onto the scene, but it still respected by his younger peers.



Standardized and widely supported, the TIFF format supports both compressed and uncompressed images which means it’s flexible in terms of file size versus quality. Although the format doesn’t support proper vector graphics (besides clipping paths), it’s a great format for photos and high-res images because it’s likely that you or anyone else will be able to open, view, and print it.

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)

She’s the superstar that gets into any club and goes straight to the VIP room. She’s doesn’t really do anything interesting nowadays besides be famous, but her popularity won’t be waning anytime soon.



JPEG is a graphic format that has what many people want: fame, a high quality image, millions of colors, and industry connections with almost everything and everyone. Almost all graphics devices and programs can open or save to JPEG format, often by default. JPEGs are usually compressed, which means reasonable file sizes depending on the quality options used when saving the file. The compression is “lossy”, which means if you repeatedly edit and save the file its image quality will suffer and undesirable, blocky “artifact” blotches may distort the image. Like her famous uncle Tiff, JPEG doesn’t support vector graphics which means a fixed resolution and print size based on the number of pixels in the image.

H.264/MPEG-4 AVC

The up-and-coming Mr. Popular with the video crowd. Although still a little young, he’s a very dynamic socialite that seems to know almost everyone.



H.264/MPEG-4 AVC is the unofficial video format of the web, mobile devices, and Blu-ray discs. He’s well supported by video players, editors, and encoding applications and features a good tradeoff between quality and file size of the audio and video streams. Unless you’re doing high-end video production, H.264 is a safe bet. The trick is getting your existing video files from other formats like MPEG-2 and Flash into the H.264 format. Your DAM can help transcode (convert) your existing video files into H.264, but it takes time because of the amount of data being processed.


Now we’ve seen five formats with great personalities on the red carpet that can make the most of your DAM club space. You can save both time and storage, and keep your reputation as a high-end DAM club, by letting these high-res folks in and converting them to other derivative formats later. Stay tuned for part two of this article where I’ll talk about the troublemaker file formats to avoid (enter your email address in the “Subscribe to DLC” box to the right to receive article updates.)

Did I miss anything or anyone? Would you have included someone else on your top five VIP list? Let me know in the comments section below.

Thanks to Pete and Jacob over at Pizza Gun Comics for the awesome illustrations!

About Edward Smith

Edward Smith has a background as a Mac OS X and Windows system engineer, technical trainer, and DAM consultant. In his current position at Extensis, Smith is the in-house expert for all things digital asset management related and contributor to the DAM Learning Center. Edward often conducts customer training sessions, including product implementation tutorials and presentations at relevant conferences including Macworld Expo and the Extensis DAM conferences. You can contact Edward via Twitter or his Google+ profile.