Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Website images that suck!

I don't know how much longer I can take this. Why can people not learn to use the correct image formats for the type of picture they are displaying on a web site (or any other media for that matter)?
I just visited a web site with a solid coloured logo all covered in strange artifacts because it was saved as a jpeg - it looked terrible and even the uninformed should know that it is wrong. It is then a matter of finding out why and fixing it. I also saw an advert for, amongst other things, a printing company whose graphics were messy and again covered in jpeg artifacts and when I had some business cards printed, they managed to make the small font look messy because obviously they converted the image I sent them to a jpeg and made the nice sharp card look stupid.
Right, here it is, a simple introduction to what image formats you should use and why.
It all comes down to compression or making an image take up less space by cleverly reducing the amount of information stored on your computer. Why? Well, although your computer might have loads of space, an uncompressed image (called a bitmap) can be, lets say of the order of 5 to 10 megabytes in size. While this is not massive, when this is being downloaded onto a web browser, it can be very slow and doesn't need to be this large.
How do we compress? There are two ways. The best way is called lossless compression and involves looking at areas of the same colour and rather than storing every dot (or pixel), we simply save something like '20 dots of black' (obviously not in readable text like that but in 1s and 0s), the reason this is lossless is that when we uncompress the image to print it on the screen, we get back exactly the same image we started with. Sort of like deflating a football and pumping it back up again. Logos with big solid colours will compress really well using lossless compression. Unless you have other reasons not to, use the PNG format. This handles millions of colours and can even store transparency so your image can go over something else and you can see through it!
So what else is there then? If this all sounds too good to be true, unfortunately it is when it comes to photographs. Quite simply there are not enough of the same colour pixels to compress it well using lossless compression e.g. PNG (it will save but won't be very small). For this reason, a Joint Photographic Experts Group worked out how you could compress photographs even though they have millions of dots. The result is the famous jpeg format. This format is lossy. In other words, if I compress using jpeg and then uncompress, I do NOT get the original picture but something that is acceptably close - it is a compromise. In fact, you can set the quality level so that poorer quality makes for a smaller image. This might be used for thumbnails. The main thing to remember here is that jpeg is for photographs NOT solid colour logos. If you save a solid image using jpeg, when it is uncompressed, you get those horrible feathered edges and dotty artifacts in the empty areas - something that wouldn't be noticeable on photos.
You now have no excuses:
photos = jpeg/jpg and solid colour images = png
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