How do I choose images for web and print?

3 min read |  Posted Nov 5, 2013

“I’m designing a brochure that will include photographs of products from several manufacturers. Can I copy the photos from their website to use in my brochure? The photos look great on my computer…”

You are right about photos looking great on a web page.

The phosphors on the computer screen lend a brightness to the color that is visually appealing.

However, color created by light shining through the red, green, and blue phosphors of a computer screen cannot be exactly reproduced with the cyan, magenta, and yellow colors of ink and toner.

Even more important than color…
is the resolution of photos on the web.

Photo files are optimized for fast loading on a web page by reducing the file size through compression.

This means that the original high resolution photo had pixels permanently removed to make the file smaller.

Remove too many, and there won’t be enough left to render the image smoothly.

Instead the image will have a case of the “jaggies” called pixilation—with square pixels visible.

“Should I Use a TIFF or JPEG for my image files?”

Although JPEG files are much smaller, you’ll probably be happier with your printed photos as TIFF files.

Uncompressed TIFF files for photo images are often very large, meaning the image contains much detail—lots of bytes per pixel.

A TIFF file compressed with lossless compression means no pixels are thrown out in the compression algorithm; therefore, you can always recover each bit of data without corruption.

The JPEG file format is intentionally designed as lossy (“with losses”) to make the file compression efficient and produce relatively small files.

To do this, JPEG modifies the color values of the pixel.

Tiny detail such as minor color details are not retained—in other words, details are lost.

This produces substantial file size reduction but also means that when you re-open the file, it no longer contains the same data as before.

Moreover, every time the JPEG file is compressed and saved again, pixels (and therefore quality) are lost.

Before you exchange file size for quality, be sure the tradeoff is worth it.

Purchasing a Graphic Image

When purchasing a graphic image, it is generally best to get it in the form in which it was created.
For stock photography, this will mean a bitmap file such as JPEG or TIFF; for clip art, a vector format such as EPS of metafile.

TIP: Always archive the graphic image in the native format of the graphics software program you are using. That way, if you later must edit the file—resize, resample, save in other formats—you can revert back to the native format to make the modifications.

If you are creating images for the web using JPEG format, it is also a good idea first to save a high resolution archival copy of the file.

JPEG uses a lossy compression algorithm.

Lossy means “with losses” to image quality, because pixels are thrown out every time the file is opened, edited, and re-saved.

The best practice is to edit the original file in its native format, then export as a JPEG.

There is a misconception that images available on websites (or even Google) are in the public domain.
Usually they are not!

Images scanned from sources such as magazines, books, greeting cards, coloring books, etc. are copyrighted and should not be used without written permission.

Most cartoon characters (Disney characters, for example) are copyrighted.

  • Printed images will look different than on a web page.
  • Ensure you are using the correct image resolution.
  • Be sure the image you use is not COPYRIGHTED!

Can’t decide? Ask us!
We’ll help you choose your images for web and print.