The most popular file formats on the web are JPEGs. Unfortunately, the dominance and expansion of the internet has caused this format to become the most used file format outside of web applications as well. Now, JPEGs have their use and place due to their easy compression and small file size. They're easy to transport and serve up on webpages without causing much slow down.
However, if you're trying to use a JPEG image for printing purposes, more often than not, it's not going to look very good when printed.
What even is a JPEG?
JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group which is the group that created the standard for the file format. It is a lossy file format that defines how an image is compressed and decompressed.
In short, the JPEG is a file format that is designed to transport photographic images in a small file size. It has been ubiquitously adapted by the web due to the focus in web development on light page weight and fast page load times.
So why are JPEGs bad for print?
There are quite a few reasons JPEGs are bad for print. There are also some cases when they do work okay. We'll offer insight into how to maximize your print value if you are intent on using JPEG for your custom label printing.
1. JPEGs are designed for small file size - not quality
On the web, small file size is awesome, especially if the quality loss is not necessarily visible to the naked eye. Small file sizes mean that pages load faster, images load faster and web surfers are happier.
When it comes to print, however, loss of file quality causes noticeably blurry, pixelated results.
Typical JPEGs are saved at 72 or 96 PPI (pixels per inch). For crisp printing 600 PPI is recommended, while 300 PPI is the minimum.
2. JPEGs can't be resized without dramatic quality ramifications
One common misstep we encounter with custom artwork is a customer attempting to add resolution to their low-res JPEG files. Typically, the process works like this:
We receive low-res JPEG artwork and notify the customer that it won't print well unless it's at least 300 PPI
Customer opens up file and sets the resolution to 300 PPI and sends it back to us
File is even worse than before
Everybody's upset :'(
JPEGs do not resize well. They have a very specific set of defined pixels that will only stretch and get jagged when resizing. This goes for both making an image smaller and larger! A common misconception is that JPEGs can be made smaller with no issues. While small shrinking of size may work, shrinking too much will cause a dramatic loss of detail.
3. The more you save and the more you change, the more the JPEG loses
Based on the way JPEGs save and compress, each time you alter or save a JPEG it becomes a less usable format for print. If you have an original, native JPEG file - e.g. it came directly from your camera - don't try to alter or save it multiple times before print. Get your print provider the original file.
4. JPEG doesn't allow for much color control
Whereas vector file formats (.ai, .indd, .pdf) allow for color control on an design element by design element basis, JPEGs do not allow for much color control. This means that edits or ensuring color accuracy with your other branded materials is difficult or even impossible with a JPEG.
5. Embedding JPEGs into a vector file doesn't make the JPEG print better
Unfortunately, there is no way to add resolution to a file. So if you simply save the JPEG as an .ai file or .pdf, nothing about the quality of the file itself will change.
So what if JPEG is all I have? Or what else should I use?
If JPEG is the only file format you have for your artwork, it doesn't mean it won't print, it just means you need to be extra careful with how you handle, store and share the JPEG.
Ultimately, you want the original, native file for printing. This means that if it's a photograph, you want to deliver to the print provider the original image that came off the camera, without being opened or saved in other programs.
Ideally, however, you will set your photographs to output RAW or TIFF files, which allow for much greater control.
If your artwork is not a photograph, then you should never, ever save as a JPEG. If your artwork is line art, that means there is an original file format that exists somewhere that created the artwork. The ideal file for print is the original working file that created the artwork.
For example, if you (or a designer) created your logo in Adobe Illustrator, and you have opened it in another program and saved it as a JPEG, the JPEG flattens all of the intricacies of the file and causes the problems listed above. Instead of sending that JPEG, find the original .ai file and use that for print instead.
Vector file formats are scalable to infinity and allow for complex color control and editing.
In conclusion, these are the things to check before sending a file for print
- Use the original files always
- Use vector file formats like .ai, .indd, .pdf if your artwork contains line art
- If you have photography for print, save the file at the original resolution that it came off the camera with
- Ideally use PSD, RAW or TIFF files for photography printing
- If you have to use JPEG or PNG, make sure that...
- They haven't been resized
- They are at least 300 PPI
- They don't have too many strange effects
So there you have it! That's why JPEG images almost never print well. They can, but you have to be very careful with how you save, store and handle the files.
Have you had poor experiences using JPEGs for print? Have you figured out how to use them for print? Let us know your story at firstname.lastname@example.org!