RAW File (What It Is & How to Open One)

Several file formats use the RAW file extension, and they all open differently

What to Know

  • RAW files that are Photoshop Raw files are usable only by command-line image processing software.
  • Other RAW files could be unprocessed images taken from digital cameras. Open one with a graphics editor.
  • If it's not in those formats, you might have a video game save file or an audio file.

This article explains what a RAW file is (there are several kinds), how to open one, and how to convert a RAW file to a different file format.

What Is a RAW File?

There are several file formats that use this file extension.

Photoshop Raw File

A file with the RAW file extension could be a Photoshop Raw file. It's used in very specific circumstances, like when transferring image data between different applications.

This format describes an image's color information in pixel by pixel binary text and has absolutely nothing to do with camera raw image formats that you might see created on digital cameras.

Photoshop Help and Adobe Communities have some additional information on Photoshop Raw files.

Raw Image Files

Raw image files are captured by digital cameras. These formats provide the best picture quality from a camera because all the data that the camera sensor can capture is saved in an unprocessed and uncompressed format.

Several RAW files in Windows 10

Some examples of raw image formats include Canon's CR2 and CRW, Adobe's DNG, Nikon's NEF, Olympus' ORF, Sony's ARW, Panasonic's RW2, and Fuji's RAF file formats. There are many others.

Camera raw files allow an editor to make all the changes to the photo because there haven't been any modifications already made to it. Processed photos generally end up with a TIFF or JPG file extension.

Other RAW Files

A RAW file may instead be a raw audio data format file, in which case the same uncompressed, unprocessed concept applies.

Other files using this extension might be Wii or GameCube emulator game save format files.

Fedora Linux operating system disk images are also called RAW files. It contains a binary copy of the OS.

How to Open a RAW File

Photoshop Raw files seem to only be directly usable through certain command-line image processing software tools.

Several image tools support camera raw formats, many of which also advertise support for files that end in the RAW extension. Some of these programs include Photopea (online), Windows Photos, Able RAWer, GIMP (with UFRaw plug-in), and RawTherapee—all free.

Although not free, Adobe Photoshop also supports several raw formats. A 30-day Photoshop trial is an option if you think that's enough to accomplish what you need with that program.

Raw audio data files are much more clear-cut and will open with the free and very popular Audacity program through File > Import > Raw Data. NCH Switch, NCH WavePad, and Awave Audio can also play RAW audio files.

Before you download and use Audacity, be sure to review its privacy policy to ensure you’re comfortable with its terms.

Although not as common as RAW image/audio files, Dolphin Emulator uses the RAW format for emulator files. This is a portable tool (you don't need to install it to use it) for playing GameCube and Wii games on a computer.

We assume most RAW files are either uncompressed photos or audio data, but it's possible that you have an unrelated file that's using the .RAW file extension. If you're not sure what program is used to open your specific RAW file, try using a free text editor to open the file. They let you view it as a text file, which may help you figure out what type of file it is and what program is needed to view it normally.

How to Convert a RAW File

Given the supposed rarity of true Photoshop Raw files and the lack of programs that seem to open them, we're not aware of any file converters or other utilities that convert one to any other format.

Zamzar is one free file converter that claims to convert RAW files, but we were unable to get it to work.

Many image editors and viewers save an open image to a new format, and the same may also be true for RAW files. If you're using Photoshop, for example, you may be able to open a RAW file there and then use the File > Save As menu to convert the file to JPG, PNG, TIFF, or other image formats.

If you have an audio file, Audacity can save it as a WAV, MP3, FLAC, OGG, or M4A audio file, among several other formats. Use that program's File > Export Audio menu to see your options.

Still Can't Open the File?

Lots of files use three file extension letters, so it's easy to mix up one for another. When this happens, you'll get an error if you try to use an incompatible program to view/edit a file.

For example, RAV files are just one letter off RAW, but those are project files created by Rave Reports. They, therefore, have nothing to do with any of the formats described above. Attempting to open one in Photoshop, for example, will most likely result in an error.

Was this page helpful?