A Brief History of TIFF

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Aldus Manutius

Once Upon A Time …

there was a startup company, in Seattle, called the Aldus Corporation. The President of that company, a man named Paul Brainerd, was excited about the new inexpensive desktop scanners that were just coming on the market. And he wanted Aldus’ new Desktop Publishing program, PageMaker, to have the ability to incorporate images from these scanners into newsletters and other publications.  There were already various manual and electronic systems to do this, of course, but at that time they cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But there was a technical obstacle to be overcome. The desktop scanner vendors all wanted Aldus to write software that could read the vendor’s proprietary formats for storing their scanned images and scanner settings.  But Paul didn’t want his engineers to waste time writing a bunch of import filters for all these formats.  And he didn’t think that other software developers wanted to waste their time, either.

So Paul and his engineers decided to meet with each scanner vendor, to gather requirements and support for developing a new, standard image file format — one that was reasonable to implement, and was a distillation of the requirements from the vendors.

Out of these meetings and architecture discussions, TIFF (The Image File Format) was born — the first standard file format for storing scanned images.  (This was before Photoshop file format, before ‘JPEG’ files, before ‘GIF’ files, and before ‘PNG’ files.)

TIFF is still used today, usually in its ‘uncompressed’/’lossless’ form, as a Photoshop ‘official/supported’ image import/export format, in graphic arts (the Printing industry), and in numerous scientific applications.

Stephen Carlsen
TIFF chief author/editor/architect


The TIFF6 specification, with comments.

The signup page for libtiff, a widely used TIFF library: http://lists.maptools.org/mailman/listinfo/tiff.

The TIFF Wikipedia article:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TIFF