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September 12, 2023

Do I Look Like I Know What a JPEG Is?

If you’re swapping photos with friends and family via email or text, browsing pixel-packed websites, or spiffing up your social media pics, chances are you’ve used JPEG images a lot. Whether you know it or not, this file format - named for the group that developed it in 1992 – is the backbone of many image-heavy applications and services.

JPEGs are a bit like a chameleon, shifting between different skin tones. They can look bright and colorful, or they can be a muted gray or black-and-white. It’s all in how they’re compressed, though. JPEGs use lossy compression, meaning they discard some original data to get a smaller file size. This is different from other image formats, such as TIFF and PNG, which use lossless compression to preserve all of the original data.

Think of it like packing for a vacation – you could take that giant fluffy down feather pillow, but it would take up too much space in your suitcase. Instead, you’d pack a much smaller inflatable camping pillow that offers the same support but takes up less room. That’s the essence of how JPEG works – it shrinks an image’s file size without significantly degrading visual quality. That’s what makes it such a popular choice for images on the web, especially when you need to squeeze your digital photos into small spaces. Most image programs (such as Adobe Photoshop, IrfanView, and GIMP) support JPEGs. And most mobile devices can open them, too.