PGM File: The Ultimate Guide to PGM Files

If you are an artist, graphic designer, or coding student, chances are you have seen PGM files while working on art projects. PGM applications are numerous but primarily used for storing beautiful photographs and art. Arguably, they are the best file formats for creating low-fi, grainy, and abstract effects. Here is a guide to help you understand more about PGM files.

What is a PGM file?

PGM stands for Portable Gray Map, denoting the file type belonging to the broader PNM (Portable aNy Map) series of rudimentary graphical formats. A PGM file can either be plaintext or a binary file. These files contain one or two bytes of information for a grayscale bitmap image.

The information they contain can be thousands of shades, ranging from pure black to white. The plain text and binary file will include details about the image's height, width, white spaces, and gray value. It has rows dividing width and height, where each space is assigned a grayscale value, helping to create a larger image.

Typically, PGM files are standard for portable graphics but have small storage and color limitations. Such features dinged their reputation over the years, resulting in alternative preferences. However, they still have many uses due to the following features:

  • Flexibility: The files are so small, making them effortless to store. You can copy and paste them into a Word doc without worrying about the size of the end file. The small size also loads fast on websites and can easily convert to other image formats.
  • Simplicity: PGM files are simple to edit, store, and use as layers within other photos.
  • Compatibility: It is straightforward to open these file types with any image viewer, photo editing apps, text programs, and advanced graphics programs. Sometimes, music and audio editing programs can open them.

Equally important, you only have one image limit when working with PGM files. When you require more images, you will have to stack them in larger files.

Are PGM files dangerous?

PGM files are not dangerous. They contain information about a particular image. Therefore, someone may intentionally include malicious codes that can be harmful. Fortunately, this will corrupt the files, and they will not open.

Whenever a PGM file is challenging to open using your preferred programs, it would be best to scan it first to detect any virus or malware. The scanner you use will detect anomalies and instruct you on possible corrective ways.

Remove infected files from your system. If you got it from a sender, you could check if the files they sent are reputable. Otherwise, you can only download files from reputable sites that you trust.

How to open a PGM file

You can open PGM files using any text or image editing programs you have. To learn how to open a PGM file in Windows, follow these steps:

  1. Download the file and save it to your computer
  2. Navigate to the saved file
  3. Right-click on the file name
  4. Click on Open With
  5. Choose the default program to open the file, click on Browse to choose the various programs available
  6. Launch the file using the program you select
  7. The PGM file will open in a new window

If it doesn't open with these steps, the file is likely to be corrupt, and you need to get a new one. Most photo-editing programs have replaced PGM files with JPEG files. Therefore, you may need to develop them using a dedicated software application via ASCII code.


Using PGM files is easy, and its flexibility will allow you to complete your projects seamlessly. Using PaintShop Pro, you can adjust sizes, dimensions, and quality to match your work. This dedicated software has numerous features to make your digital world brighter.

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