Guide to Common File Types Used in Satellite Imagery


In this tutorial we’ll be breaking down the different file types that your order may be delivered as. Each file type has specific uses and compatibilities depending on your project needs.

What you’ll need:
Access to the Arlula API account login page.
A completed imagery order


Tagged Image File Format. A commonly used file format for storing and exchanging raster graphics and image information.  


  • With extensive metadata, these files are great for high-quality imagery. 
  • Geotiff imagery can be used for advanced research and scientific purposes. 
  • Because of the size of data in this file format, it isn’t viewable with many conventional imagery software. Therefore, you may need a secondary program, such as Google Earth Pro or QGIS, to effectively view and work with this file type. For additional information on how to open and view this file type see “Our favourite free satellite imagery viewers “. 

Variations you may see: 

ms.tif– full resolution image file, combination of visual.tif and pansharpened.tif

visual.tif–  reduced resolution version of the image, multispectral image with high spectral resolution

pansharpened.tif– pan-sharpened version, enhances spatial resolution information

image/jpeg or image/png

Two of the most popular formats for storing and sharing images.  


  • Preview data and images, often used for thumbnails 
  • Store and share images easily due to the much smaller file size and its compatibility with a range of softwares and devices. 
  • Files are compressed for convenient storage, however there is a loss in image quality.

JavaScript Object Notation. Commonly used data- interchange format, stored as a human and machine-readable text file. The file format supports object and array data structures.


  • Contains information about the data, such as off nadir angle. 
  • Compatible with many different software languages. 
  • Can be easily input into software to transmit data and configure files, such as APIs.

Plain text format, consisting of readable lines. Simple, lighter weight file than JSON.


  • Licensing details can typically be found here 
  • Stores textual data, which can be edited in basic softwares.

The above are file types used for raster data. The following are commonly used for vector data.


ESRI Shapefile. A popular format of geospatial vector data, including coordinates, which can be visualised using a variety of GIS software. This file type consists of three files: .SHP, .DBF, and .SHX


  • GIS Applications
  • Store and represent geographic features such as points, polygons, and lines

Standardised format of geospatial vector data, that is lightweight and supported by a variety of GIS software and readable by other non-GIS programs.


  • Store and represent geographic features such as points, polygons, and lines.
  • Web based mapping

KML: Keyhole Markup Language. An XML-based file format of geographic data. Data can include placemarks, polygons, overlays, and paths. 


  • GIS Applications that support the file format
  • 3D data visualisation, primarily Google Earth

If you have any questions about this specific tutorial or would like to learn more please feel free to contact the Arlula team at