Plug-ins give Photoshop support for Google's WebP image format

Web developers and graphic artists who want to try the data-saving graphics format now have two choices of open-source plug-ins for Photoshop.

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Stephen Konig, a Google product manager, discusses the WebP image format at Google I/O 2013.
Stephen Konig, a Google product manager, discusses the WebP image format at Google I/O 2013. Stephen Shankland/CNET

One of the knocks against WebP, an image format Google and some allies hope will speed up graphics on the Web, is that the world's premier image-editing software can't read or write WebP files.

Adobe Systems isn't interested in supporting the format within Photoshop, at least not yet. But now there are two active open-source projects under way to build Photoshop plug-ins that handle the format.

The first WebP plug-in, by Toby Thain of Telegraphics, has been around since 2010 and has been updated with new features this month: ICC color profile support and lossless compression support.

And now a second plug-in is under development, by Brendan Bolles. Bolles knew of Thain's work but said on a mailing list, "I wanted to experiment with the latest lossless and alpha channel features, so I built my own." Alpha channels let graphics include transparent regions, which can be very handy for things like icons and logos, but JPEG doesn't support it and PNG doesn't support "lossy" compression that can significantly reduce file sizes.

Thain said in an e-mail on Wednesday he's planning on that feature, too.

"Alpha channel support for lossy images is the next one on the list," he said. "Given the apparent increasing interest in WebP, I'll probably turn that around soon."

WebP is designed to outdo the JPEG, PNG, and GIF formats on the Web when it comes to image types ranging from photos to company logos to short animations. Google wants to foster a file format that offers smaller file sizes for faster downloads, and it's won over WebP allies including Facebook.

So far, though, support for WebP is limited to the Chrome and Opera browsers, and novices who might want to download and e-mail WebP images are stuck with a file format that operating systems and most graphics viewers can't handle.

Most novices won't have Photoshop installed either, of course, but a plug-in still is useful for graphics experts and Web developers trying to test the file format.

For its part, Adobe said there isn't enough interest yet.

"Adobe is regularly evaluating which file format our customers need us to support across our entire ecosystem," the company said in a statement. "While WebP is an interesting image format, we have not had significant demand from our customers to support it at this point."

Updated at 10:43 p.m. PT with comment from Thain about his future plans.