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Digital Raster Graphic as TIFF

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Format Description Properties Explanation of format description terms

Identification and description Explanation of format description terms

Full name Digital Raster Graphic as TIFF

A Digital Raster Graphic (DRG) as TIFF is a georeferenced raster image of a published printed map. Files distributed in this format by USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) were scanned images of USGS topographic maps. The scanning was mainly done in 1995-98. The series of historical topographic maps distributed in DRG format on compact disc was retired starting in 2010.

USGS DRG images are stored in TIFF version 6.0 using PackBits compression (run-length encoding). DRGs are georeferenced to the plane ground coordinates of the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) coordinate system. The DRG product contains georeferencing information in three places for convenience of end users with different software tools: in the TIFF file following the GeoTIFF version 1.0 standard; in a separate metadata file; and in an optional ESRI_world file (*.tfw) which contains partial georeferencing information for the TIFF file. The USGS DRG product consisted of two mandatory physical files: the TIFF image and a text file of metadata, compliant with Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) guidelines at the time. A third file, an ESRI_world file, as used by ArcGIS, was included, though this is not required by the product standard. The associated DRG image (.tif), world (.tfw), and metadata (.fgd) files incorporate an intelligent data set name (DSN) consisting of descriptive metadata wrapped around a standardized kernel that describes the spatial location of the file. The intent of this file naming protocol was to positively identify the spatial identity of the file and describe its categoric identity.

DRGs can be easily combined with other digital cartographic products such as digital elevation models (DEM) and digital orthophoto quadrangles (DOQ). DRGs were made by scanning published paper maps on high-resolution scanners. Colors are standardized to remove scanner limitations and artifacts.

Production phase A final-state format when considered as a replacement for the printed maps scanned. A middle-state format, in that its normalized characteristics make it suitable for combining with other cartographic information to produce specialized maps.
Relationship to other formats
    Subtype of GeoTIFF, GeoTIFF. Georeferencing information is embedded following GeoTIFF standard, version 1.0.
    Subtype of TIFF_6, TIFF, Revision 6.0
    Requires Companion metadata file with extension .fgd, not described separately on this website.
    May contain An optional "world file" (*.tfw) containing partial georeferencing information.

Local use Explanation of format description terms

LC experience or existing holdings  
LC preference  

Sustainability factors Explanation of format description terms

Disclosure Standard developed and published by the U.S. Geological Survey.
    Documentation USGS Standards for Digital Raster Graphics, version 2.0, 2001 (Digital Raster Graphic Standards, link via Internet Archive).

This format was designed specifically for the USGS DRG product, based on USGS maps scanned from paper. This product produced a uniform set of the most recent published version of the USGS standard quadrangle maps for the 7.5 minute, 30x60-minute, and 1x2-degree series. USGS DRGs were sold by the USGS on Compact Disc-Recordable (CD-R) media and also through USGS business partners and data partners. A new specification (and package of formats) is being used for scanned historical maps (from all series) as of September 2011. See Notes below.

As of July 2011, USGS web pages for the DRG product and associated technical information bore the following note: "Note: The information on this page is being retained for technical and historical reference only. The site is not under active maintenance and may include expired information and outdated links." USGS was in the process of retiring the DRGs as a series. The Historical Topographic Map Collection was to incorporate a replacement set of digital maps. See Notes below for more detail.

Some other entities have produced DRG files, with or without the GeoTIFF encoding. For example, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) distributes digitized maps as regular TIFF_6 images, but with associated .tfw and metadata files that support ingest into GIS systems.

Since georeferencing information was provided in alternative ways, DRG images could be used by a wide variety of GIS systems and tools for displaying, printing, and manipulating images.

    Licensing and patents None
Transparency Good. Uses TIFF format with simple compression. Accompanying metadata file is in ASCII text.
Self-documentation Mandatory accompanying metadata file provides georeferencing information and information about the source map.
External dependencies None.
Technical protection considerations None.

Quality and functionality factors Explanation of format description terms

Still Image
Normal rendering See TIFF_6.
Clarity (high image resolution) The format itself is capable of high spatial resolution and bit-depth. In practice, DRGs were produced with clarity constrained by equipment capabilities.
Color maintenance DRGs were produced with a limited color palette appropriate to the characteristics of the printed originals. No special steps were taken in relation to color management.
Support for vector graphics, including graphic effects and typography No support for vector graphics or typographic effects.
Support for multispectral bands Not applicable. DRGs were designed for printing and screen display.
Functionality beyond normal rendering Georeferencing metadata is embedded in the GeoTIFF file.
GIS images and datasets
Normal functionality Since georeferencing information is provided in alternative ways, these DRG images can be used by a wide variety of GIS systems and tools for displaying, printing, and manipulating images.
Support for GIS metadata The specification for the accompanying .fgd file is compliant with the 1994 Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata.
Support for grids Not applicable to digitized paper maps.
Beyond normal functionality None.

File type signifiers and format identifiers Explanation of format description terms

Tag Value Note
Filename extension tif
Part 1 of the specification indicates the DRG files distributed by USGS used .tif as the extension for the GeoTIFF images
Filename extension fgd
Part 1 of the specification indicates that DRG files distributed by USGS used .fgd as the extension for the FGDC-compliant metadata.
Filename extension tfw
For optional world file associated with the .tif file, usually part of the USGS distribution on CD, although not mentioned in the specification.
Internet Media Type image/tiff
From IETF RFC 3302.
Magic numbers Hex: 4D 4D 00 2A
Indicates big endian byte order for TIFF file. Found in files in archive at Comments welcome.

Notes Explanation of format description terms

General As from October 2006, USGS DRGs have been available for download from the Internet Archive at

DRG files were produced under the original product standard from 1995 to 2001. A complete revision to the standard was proposed in 2000, completed in May 2001, and implemented starting in October 2001. The version 2.0 2001 revised standard, which raised the scanning resolution to 500 dpi, is backwardly compatible with the original standard. All existing DRGs remain compliant with both standard versions. The original set of DRGs were produced from 1995 to 1998, with about 1,000 DRGs for replacement maps published during the next several years.

In May 2010, USGS announced its New Generation of Maps. USGS was now scanning the historic maps at a higher resolution and distributing freely online digitized historic maps in the GeoPDF format for convenient use, a revised version of TIFF specification as master image, and metadata in XML. See Historical Topographic Maps - Preserving the Past and Standards for Scanned U.S. Geological Survey Historical Topographic Quadrangle Collection.

Format specifications Explanation of format description terms

Useful references


Last Updated: 06/17/2021