What Is a PNG File?

How to Open, Edit, & Convert PNG Files

PNG Files
PNG Files.

A file with the PNG file extension is a Portable Network Graphics file. The format uses lossless compression and is generally considered the replacement to the GIF image format.

However, unlike GIF, PNG files do not support animations. The very similar MNG (Multiple-image Network Graphics) format does, however, but has yet to gain the kind of popularity that GIF or PNG files have.

PNG files are often used to store graphics on websites.

Some operating systems like macOS and Ubuntu store screenshots in the PNG format by default.

How to Open a PNG File

The default Windows Photo Viewer program is oftentimes used to open PNG files because it's included as part of a standard Windows installation, but there are many other ways to view one.

All web browsers (like Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, etc.) will automatically view PNG files that you open from the internet, which means you don't have to download every PNG file you want to look at online. You can also use the web browser to open PNG files from your computer, by using the Ctrl+O keyboard combination to browse for the file.

Tip: Most browsers also support drag-and-drop, so you might be able to just drag the PNG file into the browser to open it.

There are also several standalone file openers, graphic tools, and services that open PNG files. A few popular ones include XnView, IrfanView, FastStone Image Viewer, Google Drive, Eye of GNOME, and gThumb.

To edit PNG files, the XnView program I just mentioned can be used, as well as the Microsoft Windows included graphics program called Paint, the popular GIMP utility, and the very popular (and very not free) Adobe Photoshop.

Considering the number of programs that open PNG files, and that you very likely have at least two installed right now, there's a very real chance that the one that's set to open them by default (i.e. when you double-click or double-tap on one) isn't the one you'd like to use.

If you find that to be the case, see my How to Change File Associations in Windows tutorial for detailed instructions on how to change that "default" PNG program.

How to Convert a PNG File

Probably every single image file converter that you run across will be able to convert a PNG file to another format (like JPG, PDF, ICO, GIF, BMP, TIF, etc.). There are several options in my Free Image Converter Software Programs list, including some online PNG converters like FileZigZag and Zamzar.

PicSvg is a website that can be used if you want to convert a PNG to SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics).

Another option for converting a PNG file is to use one of the image viewers I've already mentioned. While they exist mainly as "openers" of various image types, some of them support saving/exporting the open PNG file to a different image format.

When to Use PNG Files

PNG files are a great format to use but not necessarily in every situation. Sometimes a PNG can be way too large in size and not only use up unnecessary disk space or make it harder to email, but can also drastically slow down a web page if you're using one there. So before you convert all of your images to PNG (don't do that), there are some things to keep in mind.

Strictly thinking about PNG file sizes, you'll need to consider if the image quality benefits are good enough to sacrifice that space (or slow web page loading, etc.). Since a PNG file doesn't compress the image like other lossy formats like JPEG do, quality doesn't diminish as much when the image is in the PNG format.

JPEG files are useful when the image is low contrast, but PNGs are better when dealing with sharp contrast like when there are lines or text in the image, as well as large areas of solid color. Screenshots and illustrations, then, are best in PNG format while "real" photos are best as JPEG/JPG.

You might also consider using the PNG format over JPEG when you're dealing with an image that needs to be edited over and over again. For example, since the JPEG format undergoes what's called generation loss, editing and saving the file again and again will result in a lower quality image over time. This isn't true for PNG since it uses lossless compression.

More Help With PNG Files

See Get More Help for information about contacting me on social networks or via email, posting on tech support forums, and more. Let me know what kinds of problems you're having with opening or converting the PNG file, including what tools or services you've already tried, and I'll see what I can do to help.