What Is a PBM File?

How to open, edit, & convert PBM Files

A file with the PBM file extension is most likely a Portable Bitmap Image file.

These files are text-based, black and white image files that contain either a 1 for a black pixel or a 0 for a white pixel.

PBM isn't nearly as common a format as PNG, JPG, GIF, and other image formats you've probably heard of.

PBM files in Windows 10

PBM is also an abbreviation for other tech-related terms but none of them are related to the file formats mentioned on this page. Some examples include partition boot manager, portable bit map, and public bookmark.

How to Open a PBM File

PBM files can be opened with Inkscape, XnView, Adobe Photoshop, Netpbm, ACD Systems Canvas X, Corel PaintShop Pro, and probably some other popular photo and graphics tools as well.

Given that PBM files are text-based and contain mainly just ones and zeros, you can also use any text editor, like Notepad++, Notepad in Windows, or a text editor from this list, to open a PBM file. We have an example of a very basic PBM file at the bottom of this page.

If you find that an application on your computer opens PBM files by default but you'd rather have a different installed program open them, you can always change the default program for a specific file extension.

How to Convert a PBM File

The simplest way to convert a PBM file to PNG, JPG, BMP, or some other image format is to use a free file converter. Two of our favorites are the online converters FileZigZag and Convertio.

Another way to convert a PBM file is to open it in one of the PBM viewers/editors we mentioned a few paragraphs above, like Inkscape, and then save it to PDF, SVG, or some other similar format.

Example of a PBM File

When you open a PBM file in a text editor, it looks to be nothing but text—maybe a few codes and some notes, but certainly lots of 1s and 0s.

Here's a very simple example of a PBM image that would, when viewed as an image, look like the letter J:

P1
# The letter "J"
6 10
0 0 0 0 1 0
0 0 0 0 1 0
0 0 0 0 1 0
0 0 0 0 1 0
0 0 0 0 1 0
0 0 0 0 1 0
1 0 0 0 1 0
0 1 1 1 0 0
0 0 0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0 0 0

If you look closely, assuming the page you're reading right now isn't breaking up the numbers you see above, you can actually see the 'J' represented as 1s.

Most image files don't work anywhere near this way, but PBM files do and are certainly an interesting way to create images.

More Information on the PBM File Format

PBM files are used by the Netpbm project and are similar to the Portable Pixmap Format (PPM) and the Portable Graymap Format (.PGM) format. Collectively, these file formats are sometimes called the Portable Anymap Format (.PNM).

Portable Arbitrary Map (.PAM) is an extension of these formats.

You can read more about the Netpbm format on Netbpm and Wikipedia.

Still Can't Open the File?

Some file formats use a file extension that looks similar to .PBM but that doesn't mean that they have anything in common. If your file doesn't open with the programs mentioned above, it probably means you're not dealing with a PBM file, meaning that you'll need to look elsewhere for a way to open the file.

A few good examples of how easy it can be to mix up file extensions can be seen when you consider these: PBP (PSP Firmware Update), PBN (Portable Bridge Notation), PDB, and PBD (EaseUS Todo Backup). Each extension belongs to a separate format, so each of those files need a different program to open/edit/convert it.