What Is a PCX File?

How to open, edit, and convert PCX files

PCX Files
PCX Files.

A file with the PCX file extension is a Paintbrush Bitmap Image file that stands for "Picture Exchange." Multi-page PCX files are saved with the .DCX file extension.

PCX was one of the first bitmap image formats used in the Windows operating system, but newer image formats like PNG have basically replaced the format altogether.

How to Open a PCX File

The PCX file is the native format used by the MS-DOS program PC Paintbrush from ZSoft, but other software support the format too, like GIMP, ImageMagick, IrfanView, Adobe Photoshop, PaintShop Pro, and XnView.

The default image viewer in Windows may be able to open PCX files too.

Don't confuse the PXC format with this PCX bitmap image format. PXC files are Photodex Cache files that are created by and opened with Photodex ProShow. Another file extension that's spelled like PCX is PCK, but those are either Perfect World Data files used with the Perfect World video game, or Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager files used with that MS program.

If you find that an application on your PC does try to open the PCX file but it's the wrong application or if you would rather have another installed program open PCX files, see our How to Change the Default Program for a Specific File Extension guide for making that change in Windows.

How to Convert a PCX File

One of the easiest ways to convert a PCX file to a newer image format like JPG, BMP, GIF, PNG, PDF, ICO, TGA, TIF, or DPX, is to use a free file converter. Two examples include Zamzar and FileZigZag, both of which are online PCX converters that don't make you download the converter in order to use it.

Other online and downloadable image converters that support PCX files can be found in this list of Free Image Converter Software Programs. Most of the PCX converters that you have to download to your computer are beneficial in that you can do batch PCX conversions, like when converting PCX to JPG, so that you can convert lots of PCX files at once.

Another option is to open the PCX file in one of the image viewers or editors above; some of them support the conversion of PCX to other formats.

The command-line tool Ztools Zimaglit is a PCX converter that can be used if you want to send a PCX file directly to a Zebra printer.

More Information on PCX Files

PCX files are sometimes called ZSoft Paintbrush files since they were first used in a paintbrush program created by a company called ZSoft.

Structurally, after the 128-byte header information is the image data followed by the optional 256-color palette.

  • The header of a PCX file holds information such as a version number, image dimensions, identifier byte, compression value (which is always set to 1), 16 palette colors, number color planes, and the bit depth of each plane.
  • The image data is stored in rows in a top-down fashion, with red data at the top and then the green and blue data. If there are multiple planes in the PCX file, the same format is used within each plane, with the first plane located at the top.

There is no such thing as an uncompressed PCX file because all of them use the same lossless compression scheme (run-length encoding, or RLE).