Are you storing your image files as JPEGS? If so, you may inadvertently be losing clarity and detail over time, compromising print quality. It is a surprisingly little know fact that JPEGS are NOT a particularly great way to store your artwork files. For anyone who edits their own artwork images, you may be surprised to learn you could be damaging your files.  

JPEGs lose quality every time they are opened, edited and saved.

JPEGS are a very commonly used file type for digital images – especially photography. They are handy because they allow a lot of visual information to be stored in a small computer file. However, they are also “lossy” – meaning that data is compressed by discarding (losing) some of it. JPEG images lose quality every time they are opened, edited and saved. The most common scenario is that you are doing small tweaks to your image in photoshop, then shutting  down and re-saving the image. As an artist, you want that image to look good, so you may make tweaks multiple times, but this can be a bad idea!

What type of files should you keep for printing and archiving?

Because JPEG images are typically reduced to screen resolution, they do not contain enough pixel data to get a high-quality print. Print quality is determined by the pixel dimensions of the image. If you want to save the most detail possible, a “non-lossy” file type is best. We recommend saving your artwork files as TIFFs.  It takes up more room on your computer, but it gives you the best resolution for printing or archiving artwork.

Should you avoid JPEGs entirely?

Not at all! JPEGs are indispensable for the web. Keep in mind that simply opening or displaying a JPEG image does not harm the image in any way. Saving a JPEG repeatedly during the same editing session (without ever closing the image) will not accumulate a loss in quality. If your desired final file is a JPEG, we recommend you use a non-lossy file type (TIFF, BMP, PNG) for intermediate editing sessions before saving the final version in JPEG format.

How can you get the best files if you are photographing artwork with your digital camera?

If you have a RAW setting on your camera, use that. If your digital camera doesn’t have a RAW (minimally processed) file option you can still take steps to keep as much information as possible in your artwork photos. When taking JPEGs with your digital camera, use your camera’s “higher quality” compression setting to reduce the damage done by JPEG compression. This is the quality setting of your camera, not resolution (which effects pixel dimensions). Check your manual to see if your camera has this option.
Read more about lossy compression and jpegs.

In short, don’t keep your precious master file in a JPEG format, but in a Tiff, and while you are at it, keep a backup of your files. As an artist, your images are a precious resource that deserves to be stored properly. Good images make for more on-line sales, and if you are printing from your stored files, you want to have the very best file available to get a good result.