What are HEIF images?

Where HEIF images originate, and when the format is used.

What is HEIF?

High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF) is a royalty-free container file format for storing multimedia files such as audio, video and timed-text stream. HEIF files are a special case of the ISO Base Media File Format (ISOBMFF) and can store images encoded with multiple coding formats. High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC - H.265) is an image and video encoding format and the default image codec used with HEIF.

The features of HEIF

HEIF files can store the following types of multimedia data:

  • Image items - Storage of individual images, their image properties and thumbnails.
  • Image derivations - Derived images enable non-destructive image editing (rectangular cropping, rotation by one, two or three quarter-turns, timed graphic overlays, etc.). These transformations are executed with instructions stored separately from the HEIF file and do not modify the original image.
  • Image sequences or video - Storage of multiple time-related and/or temporally predicted images, their image properties and thumbnails. To exploit the temporal and spatial similarities between the images various prediction options can be used to reduce the number of stored images in the same HEIF file.
  • Auxiliary image items - Storage of image data, such as an alpha plane or a depth map, which complements another image item. These files are not displayed as such but are used to complement an image stored in another file.
  • Image metadata - Storage of EXIF (Exchangeable Image File Format), XMP ( Extensible Metadata Platform) and similar metadata which accompany the images stored in the HEIF file.

As HEIF is a container format it can contain still images and image sequences that are coded in different formats. The main extension for still images is .heif and for sequences is .heifs, however, there are also others that indicate the specific codec used:

  • MAIF - The Multi-Image Application Format (MIAF) is a restricted subset of HEIF specified as part of MPEG-A.
  • HEIC - Format uses HEVC - H.265 to encode its data in HEIF.
  • AVCI - Format uses AVC - H.264 to encode its data in HEIF.
  • AVIF - Format uses AV1 to encode its data in HEIF.
  • JPEG - HEIF can also encapsulate JPEG format, however, without a specific extension.

HEIF Support

All major desktop and mobile operating systems support HEIF or at least a specific encapsulated codec. As of writing this article (Feb. 2022), no browser supports HEIC format natively. However, most browsers have begun to adopt (with most browsers already supporting the new, royalty-free AVIF format based on AV1).

Image editing software Since version
Adobe Lightroom 1.4
Adobe Photoshop 22.1
Affinity Photo 1.10
GIMP 2.10.2
GraphicConverter 10.13
Krita 5.0
Paint.net September 2019
Pixelmator 3.7.1
Zoner Photo Studio X 48

Did you find this article helpful?

0 out of 0 Bunnies found this article helpful



The act of transferring or saving information into a usable file format.

Prove your Knowledge.
Earn a bunny diploma.

Test your knowledge in our Junior and Master Quizes to see where you stand. Prove your mastery by getting A+ and recieving a diploma.

Start the QuizBunny with a diploma.