I am relatively new to the concept of layers in image editing software. If I understand correctly, some image/file formats such as Paint.NET's .pdn or Photoshop's .psd support layers, but others such as .bmp or .jpeg don't.

I was wondering if anybody knows of an image file format that supports layers and that is relatively "open", in the sense that can be opened in different image editors (preferably lightweight and non-proprietary software) and for which read & write code libraries (e.g. in Python, C, C++, MATLAB) exist.


TIFF can contain layers. This format should be supported by almost all image viewers.

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    Layers are not included in baseline TIFF. – Mike Simpson May 12 '11 at 22:38

If you don't need raster support in the representation, but only in the resulting files, try SVG format with rendering down to whatever raster format when needed.


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In a practical sense, .psd (photoshop) is going to be the most portable format with the widest reach and most implementations, despite it not being "open".

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    As someone who's sometimes called on to edit media (but has no way to access photoshop), I would disagree. – isaaclw Oct 4 '13 at 20:48
  • As said by @Joey, .psd files are documented, are supported by open software (such as GIMP), and there are libraries/tools to read/write psd files, export layers etc., which are well loved in gamedev workflows for example (open source: github, closed source slicy). – isync Jan 5 '18 at 13:39
  • @isync: "Documented" is not the same as "Open". For example, Adobe's DNG and PDF formats are open and standardized. Adobe could decide to radically alter the PSD format with the next CC release and drag their feet "documenting" it for several years, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. – afrazier Jan 5 '18 at 15:08

I know it's old question, but it's still relevant after all those years.

Try OpenEXR it's production proven standard in VFX industry, fully open sourced. Widely supported by many applications (Adobe After Effects, Nuke, Krita, Blender...), just Adobe Photoshop support is not very good.

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You can try OpenRaster, which has some support by applications and is 100% open. For opening it, there is libora. Note that I never really tried it, I just know about it for some time. It's not so famous, but it's the only format I know which does not seem to be very specific to one application.

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