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Using Photoshop’s UI is sort of like wandering through a cavernous walkway. There are so many twists and turns that you don’t know where to start, or what you’re walking towards. That is, until a project calls for a specific capability.
That doesn’t apply to saving images though, right? How difficult can saving an image be? Turns out, it’s not so intuitive. Photoshop allows for a slew of file formats and parameters, each with their own benefits. At times, saving images in specific file formats may lower the quality of your work. Here’s a guide to ensure that you’re saving images at the highest quality possible.
The Matter Of Compression
Two key factors determine image quality: resolution, and compression. We’ve covered resolution in detail, so let’s focus on compression.
Compression shrinks the file size of an image. Some file formats, deemed lossy file formats, lower image quality while shrinking file size. Others, called lossless file formats, do not. JPG, for example, is a lossy file format. Saving and exporting a JPG file continually will reduce the quality of the image. The same will not occur with a PNG file.
Compression also occurs on behalf of image repositories like Instagram or Facebook. Uploading a profile picture to Facebook will compress image files. This works to reduce the total storage space required for images, of which there are a stupendous amount
My aim is then to provide you with a list of the best, lossless formats in Photoshop. This includes listing the best formats for either web or print usage, since Photoshop is used to create media for internet and paper alike.
Different Methods Of Saving In Photoshop
There are a variety of methods in Photoshop to save images, depending on their size and quality. The most popular method of saving in Photoshop is the Save As function under File.
The Save As function will provide users with most file types they would need. These include the most popular file types, like JPEG, and otherwise unknown file types such as Scitex CT (.SCT). Save As is best suited for saving editable works and preserving layers.
Export, on the other hand, exports layers into final, single-layer images. You can access Export under the drop-down File menu. The main Export function to look out for is Save for Web (Legacy), denoted as SFW. SFW largely provides the same function as the Export As function, but with added, editable settings.
Save for Web (Legacy)
SFW is the main feature Photoshop users should use to save images for online use. Keep in mind, saving high-quality images only preserves the quality of the image you already have. A 200×200 image, for example, will not look good scaled to 1920×1080 resolution unless it is a vector image. To view SFW’s format selection, click on the drop down menu beside Preset.
SFW presents different versions of the same file type. These refer to the differing quality levels, dictated by color palette, amount of dithering, file size, and so on. Strictly speaking, there is no best format for saving images. Yet, two particular file formats fulfill all the qualities one would want from their images: PNG 24 and JPEG High. If you’d like to know more about saving in GIF formats, we’ve got that covered as well.
There are several reasons to choose PNG 24 as an image format, the two main reasons being that PNG is a lossless format and supports a wider range of colors. Other reasons include transparency support and widespread compatibility. The 24 (along with the 8) refers to its 24-bit color support. Both PNG 24 and JPEG High support a large color palette, meaning colors will blend seamlessly in the image. Below is an example of the difference between PNG 8 and PNG 24, both compared alongside the original image.
As you may note, there is also a considerable difference between file sizes. The original is 34.2 M (megabytes), the PNG 8 image is 1.87 M and the PNG 24 is 11.13 M. This reflects the wavering quality between the PNG 8 and PNG 24 images.
Below is an example of the various, default quality settings for JPEG: Low, Medium, and High. JPEG is lossy, and does not support transparency. It does, however, support a wide range of color choices and it the most widespread image format found online.
The images above all look similar, despite being several quality levels apart. Yet, there is a notable decrease in individual file sizes. What happens if we increase image zoom from 25% to 200%?
Whereas low-quality JPEG images possess more blocks of the same color in an image, high-quality JPEG images attempt to maintain the same color complexity or the original image.
Saving To Print
A common mistake with Photoshop users is manipulating an image for print without taking into both the color mode and PPI into account. These setting tweaks, although small, will make a big impact on your next print job.
Photoshop uses a variety of color modes, which you can see under Image > Mode. The default color mode is RGB (Red, Green, Blue), and is the main color mode used in Photoshop.
The switch from RGB to CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key) is not immediately noticeable. The difference stems in their use. RGB is an additive color mode, while CMYK is a subtractive color mode.
Subtractive colors begin with a white surface. Colors in the form of ink subtract from the brightness of the surface through discrete layers. The more colors that overlap, the darker the image section. Additive colors appear in the form of projected light. The more additive colors on an image section, the brighter (and thereby whiter) the section.
Another great help when designing for printed media is changing your image’s PPI. PPI stands for pixels per inch, and defines the pixel density of your image. Most image editing occurs at 72 PPI, the default Photoshop PPI. While increasing PPI will not affect perceived image quality through a monitor, printed images benefit greatly from the shift.
For proper print quality, increase your images’ PPI to 200-250. Although 300 is the usual standard for professional print quality, it’s overkill for most print jobs. To change your PPI, head to Image > Image Size and change the Resolution parameter.
Ensure that your width and height measurements are set to Pixels. Then, change the resolution to your liking. You’ll notice changing the resolution also increases the image’s width, height, and dimensions. Change your width and height back to the original image size. The dimension parameter will remain changed, as this is a byproduct of the modified pixel density of your image.
There are two key formats in Photoshop for print work: Photoshop PDF and TIFF. Both appear in your Save As function under File.
Photoshop PDF is a PDF file type which you can use to save graphics and text for print. These are usually best for smaller prints like photos and book pages. They are also editable, meaning clients can change things like text without much hassle. Photoshop PDF files also support vector images, meaning these images do not lose image quality when scaled up.
TIFF files are lossless, high-quality image format similar to PNG. Unfortunately, their quality does come at a price. TIFF images are usually much larger than JPGs and PNGs, and some websites may not support them. Nevertheless, they are an excellent format for printing.
Save The Right Way
Saving your image in particular formats won’t turn an average image amazing. It will, however, preserve the quality of your image, and ease the process of sharing your image with the world. Don’t settle for saving all your images in JPG anymore!
What file format do you save your ‘shopped images in? Let us know in the comments below!