Product Image File Format – JPEG vs PNG for Product Photography

A professional product photographer who shoots mostly products for clients will be asked to supply the final images in a wide range of different image file formats.

Some clients will ask for JPEG/JPG but the majority tend to request the final images in the PNG file format.

Product Image File Format - JPEG vs PNG - white background
Example of a product image with a white background.
Product Image File Format - JPEG vs PNG - grey background
Example of a product image with a grey background.
Product Image File Format - JPEG vs PNG - sky background
Example of a product image with a sky background.

JPEG vs PNG – What’s Best For Product Photography?

PNG is a better image format than JPEG/JPG for product photography because PNG can have a transparent background which makes it much easier to change the background digitally within Photoshop.

JPEG files are usually smaller in size, but the fact that the jpeg format does not support transparency makes it more difficult for designers to work with. A designer can still make a jpeg file transparent, but it’s an extra step for them to complete.

Let’s look at the differences between JPEG and PNG and see examples for when choosing one format over the other makes sense.

JPEG

In 1992, the Joint Photographics Export Group created the standard for the JPG file format. The JPEG format name was formed from the initials of the founding group.

In the 1990s, computers were limited to just 3 characters for the file extension name so this is where the .JPG extension came from. Operating systems improved with time and this 3 character limitation no longer exists So, “.JPEG” and “.JPG” are essentially the same format, and it comes down to personal preference as to which one you use. I use “.JPG” myself purely out of habit because I’m using computers since the early 90s.

How to pronounce JPEG? It’s pronounced “jay peg”.

The JPEG file format was introduced to make image files much smaller so they could be sent via email to graphic designers. This was back in the days of dial-up internet, so speed was supercritical.

The original format from a digital camera is RAW file. The RAW format is very large when saved to disk because it saves every bit of information captured by every pixel.

The JPEG format compresses this information and discards a lot of data to save space. There are millions of colors and JPEG “rounds” colors together that are very similar to the human eye. It removes other details too that most people don’t notice. This is why JPEG is known as a lossy format.

When a small size is important, a JPEG format should be used. The JPG file type is smaller than PNG because of lossy compression.

PNG

Four years later, in 1996, the Portable Network Graphics format was launched. “.PNG” was adopted as the file extension.

PNG is a lossless format that was designed to replace the GIF format files.

It’s offically prounced “PING” but most people pronounce it by just saying the letters P,N,G. Sometimes, PNG files are confused with SVG files. They are very different, SVG files are known as scalable vector graphics files, they are not raster images.

PNG files can contain a transparency layer known as an alpha channel. This is why product photographers like to use this format. It’s easier to work with PNG in product photography because the image backgrounds are easier to manipulate. GIF files also have transparency, but a GIF file cannot store as many colors as the PNG format.

Product phtographers always have to keep in mind that the product images will be used in a variety of different settings such as white backgrounds, black or other backgrounds.

The product images might also be placed into different scenes like a beach, forest or any other digital background.

PNG files use lossless compression. The compression format used is known as LZW compression. The copmression is efficient and it can maintain good quality while reducing the file size.

Due to a smaller file size, a PNG file tends to be easier to work with compared with a Tiff file.

The big difference between JPEG vs PNG is that each time a JPEG file is opened, altered and saved, it looses some quality. However, a PNG image file is a lossless format and the quality is preserved with each subsequent save.

JPEG vs PNG – Which Is Better and Which Format Should You Choose?

Most people won’t be able to tell the difference between the different image formats. You could give someone two files, a JPG vs PNG file and they would have to be an expert to tell the difference. This is assuming that the image file types have a comparable compression quality. It is possible to set the image compression level to high for a jpeg image.

If the jpeg file is saved with quality in mind, the compression artifacts will hardly be noticeable but you’ll still see a saving in the image size on disk.

So, why bother using the PNG image type then? Well, the reason most product photographers prefer PNG for working with photos of products is because the compression of PNG is much better than JPG compression.

It’s important to find the right balance between compression technique and quality of the image.

The biggest difference though is the ability to work with transparency and to be able to change opacity. If working with JPEG, you’re limited to the background in the jpg image file. Sure, you can change it using Photoshop, but you’re going to lose some image data quality by doing that.

Stick with PNG for manipulating product images in Photoshop (or another image editor) and you’ll be able to easily change the background to anything you want.

Here’s a video example of how easy it is to change the background in Photoshop.

Final Thoughts on the JPEG vs PNG Debate For Product Photography

Even a standard point and shoot digital camera can take RAW photos that you can use to create a transparency layer within Photoshop. We recommend that you shoot in RAW to maintain as high as quality as possible.

Shooting in JPEG will lower the quality. Product photographers should aim to use RAW because they’ll need higher quality when manipulating the images later in post.

PNG is preferred because of the transparency layer.

If you’re printing high quality, PNG will be better.

JPEG will have smaller file sizes.

PNG has higher quality compression.

The JPG format is better for digital art, Instagram, Facebook and the web.