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Inappropriate Image Formats for Print

Some image formats are intended primarily for onscreen and Web use. Portable Network Graphics (PNG) images can contain RGB and indexed color as well as transparency. While PNG can be high resolution, it has no support for the CMYK color space.

The Windows format BMP (an abbreviation for bitmap) supports color depths from one-bit (black and white, with no shades of gray) to 32-bit (millions of colors) but lacks support for CMYK. BMP is not appropriate in projects intended for print.

Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) is appropriate only for Web use because of its inherently low resolution and an indexed color palette limited to a maximum of 256 colors. Don’t use GIF for print.

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group), named after the committee that created it, has an unsavory reputation in graphic arts. Just whisper “jay-peg” and watch prepress operators cringe. It is a lossy compression scheme, meaning that it discards information to make a smaller digital file. But some of the fear of JPEGs is out of proportion to the amount of damage that takes place when a JPEG is created. Assuming an image has adequate resolution, a very slight amount of initial JPEG compression doesn’t noticeably impair image quality, but aggressive compression introduces ugly rectangular artifacts, especially in detailed areas (Figure 4.12).

Figure 4.12

Figure 4.12 There’s good JPEG, and there’s bad JPEG:

A. Original PSD

B. JPEG saved with Maximum Quality setting

C. JPEG saved with lowest quality setting

Each time you open an image, make a change, then resave the image as a JPEG, you recompress it. Prepress paranoids will shriek that you’re ruining your image, and there’s a little bit of truth to that. While it’s true that repeatedly resaving an image with low-quality compression settings would eventually visibly erode detail, the mere fact that an image has been saved as a JPEG does not render it unusable, especially if you use a minimal level of compression. Despite the reputation, JPEGs aren’t inherently evil. They can be decent graphic citizens, even capable of containing high-resolution CMYK image data.

That said, when you acquire a JPEG image from your digital camera or a stock photo service, it’s still advisable to immediately resave the image as a TIFF or PSD file to prevent further compression. However, JPEGs intended for Web use are low-resolution RGB files, inappropriate for print. If your client provides a low-resolution or aggressively compressed JPEG, there’s not much you can do to improve it. Even with the refined Intelligent Upsampling in Photoshop CC, you can only go so far. They’ll find that hard to believe, though, because they know there’s a tool in Photoshop called the Magic Wand. Good luck explaining it to them.

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