How does everyone deal with work flow and xcf files - like if you need to make 3 versions of same image i.e. :

save image for web

save image for print

save image as original scan

Do you touch up the original and save as an xcf and than save it again as scaled down appropriately for jpegs and save it again as print? So 3 xcf files that are exported to jpeg?

Like if I scale an xcf version down for web and then reopen that same xcf version and scale it back up for print will I be losing quality? I am just unsure what the XCF files saves for reworking in GIMP. Like if I brighten the image can I never get it back to where I started?

I would like to use layers in this way so that I can adjust an xcf file later for different uses but I am unsure which edits are important to keep as layers.


  • 1
    I don't use gimp.. not sure what xcf is.. (don't think gimp supports CMYK). Anyway... In general, one saves a print version. You can always regenerate a web content from print content. You can't generate print files from web images. If you aren't familiar with image resolutions and PPI requirements of both web and print, you need to do some crash course learning.
    – Scott
    Oct 12, 2021 at 8:57
  • @Scott - XCF is GIMP's native file format, the equivalent of PSD.
    – Billy Kerr
    Oct 12, 2021 at 17:33
  • Tanks @BillyKerr - was kind of guessing that.
    – Scott
    Oct 12, 2021 at 18:03

3 Answers 3


There's usually no need to keep several versions of an XCF file, i.e. different sizes/resolution etc. Obviously, it really depends what you need to save. There may be occasions when you might want to keep different versions, for example if you need different layouts or designs for different sizes/aspect ratios.

This is some general advice (not set in stone).

  1. Make your design at the highest resolution you think you will need. It easy to rescale images down, but not the other way.

  2. Once you have made your design, save the XCF file. Treat this as your original artwork. It's GIMP's native file format. It retains all editable layers, editable text layers, and is an uncompressed format. It's very similar to PSD which is Photoshop's native file format.

  3. When you need to output for the web or whatever, open the XCF, then resize/rescale as necessary, and export as jpeg/png etc.

  4. Don't overwrite the original XCF with the changes you made before outputting (or exporting). Just close without saving. You may even want to make your XCF files read-only, so you don't accidentally overwrite them.

As far as print is concerned, GIMP doesn't support CMYK images yet. I believe the developers are working on this. In the meanstime, if you want CMYK support, Krita (which is also free and Open Source) does support it. You can open an RGB image exported from GIMP, and change the image mode to CMYK in Krita. Krita also supports ICC colour profiles which can be downloaded for free from the ICC website.


Ignoring any actual software specifics....

In any workflow which involves both print and web projects, it's important to realize that the PPI requirements for print are much higher than PPI requirements for web content.

It is not possible to enlarge or upsample web images to good quality print images. As with any raster image, upsampling merely interpolates the pixel data and often results in a degradation of image quality (.i.e. broken pixels). However, it is practically always possible downsample print quality images to meet web content requirements.

Over the years, it's become apparent to me that the optimum workflow for me is to create print quality images most of the time. Because print quality demands more, I want to start with the best possible settings, so 300ppi minimum.

With any print quality image, you can downsample and reduce to create web content. The same loss of image quality doesn't occur when downsampling. There's some loss, most often in minute image details, but "broken pixels" don't happen when downsampling.

So, create and save print quality images. Most often you will want to save to a format that retains editing capabilities as much as possible, whether that's .psd or .xcf doesn't really matter. Just use high PPI and retain layers/editing as much as possible. It's these files that you want to back up and treat as "gold". You can then open these high-quality images and export/save for the web as needed.

Sidebar... I don't think Gimp supports CMYK, at least not natively. With digital printing today, CMYK is not always mandatory, but one should have the ability to save CMYK images for print if they are needed. I think there's a plug in or something for Gimp to add CMYK support.

  • I know you know that "PPI requirements for web content." are irrelevant. Probably you want to edit that for something like "Pixel dimensions for web content". Just saying.
    – Rafael
    Mar 14 at 19:08
  • @Rafael exactly :) If one needs a 500x500px image, just create it at 300ppi.. it'll be good for print. You can then export it for web and the PPI won't matter - it'll still be 500x500px. - Far cry from creating a 500x500px image at 72ppi and then needing print quality at 500x500px, which isn't going to happen.
    – Scott
    Mar 14 at 19:55

I just want to add some ideas for a "proper" mindset.

There are, let's say, 3 kinds of files. The original files, the "work" files, and the "delivery" files.

Depending on the workflow, an original file could be a RAW photo from the camera, perhaps you only have a JPG. You normally want to backup those and never overwrite them.

The case for scanned files could be saved on the highest real resolution of the scanner, for example, the maximum optical resolution, and saved on a non lossy format, for example, TIF with LZW or Zip compression.

A working file could be your XCF or PSD file, or the "recipe" applied to your RAW image. If you plan to do further modifications, save this file too.

The delivery file is not "saved" it is "exported". Remember not to override your working file. An export can change the resolution, dimensions, color mode, or compression method. You flatten all layers and embed all necessary information like color profiles.

You also can backup these files with a proper name convention so you can clearly see what was delivered to a client. A client can accidentally send a compressed file to another provider via some social media app badly compressed, and complain later that that is the same file you delivered.

Saving these files with a date and the naming convention and sending them via email will save you some future possible problems.

I am unsure which edits are important to keep as layers.

Mainly the ones that need some masking. Masking is the most problematic thing to reproduce.

Some others could be the one that has a visible impact, like a color gradient or blending mode.

But it is up to you, how much you need to go back and adjust something on an image.

File storage is so cheap nowadays, that you can save a working file.

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