JPEG vs. PNG – Understanding the Differences


Choosing the right image format can greatly influence the look and feel of your content. No matter whether it’s a website, presentation, or digital artwork. Two of the most popular and frequently used image formats are JPEG and PNG. But what sets them apart?

In this guide, we’ll dive deep into the fundamental differences between JPEG and PNG, shedding light on when and why you might choose one over the other. Let’s unravel the intricacies of these formats and help you make an informed decision for your next project.

1. History and Origin- JPEG vs PNG

Understanding the background of image formats offers insight into their development. Also, it highlights the reasons for their creation and their intended purposes.

History and Origin- JPEG vs PNG

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)

In the early 1980s, with the rise of digital photography and the increasing need to store and transmit images more efficiently, the Joint Photographic Experts Group was formed. This committee, consisting of industry experts, was tasked with creating a standard for image compression.

By 1992, they introduced the JPEG format to the world. Its primary goal was to reduce file sizes for photographic images. It makes them more manageable for storage and transmission, especially over the budding internet. Thus, JPEG format quickly became a favorite for digital photography and web images.

PNG (Portable Network Graphics)

The journey of PNG began in the mid-1990s, largely as a response to the patent issues surrounding the GIF format. PNG was developed as an open-source alternative, free from licensing constraints. Introduced in 1996, PNG was designed to be an improvement over GIF in almost every way.

Those are better compression, support for a wider range of colors, and the essential ability to support transparency without the constraints of a color palette. Aimed mainly at graphics used on the internet, PNG found its niche in logos, icons, and other web graphics where sharp edges and transparency were crucial.

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2. Differences in Compression Techniques

As the digital age progressed, the importance of compressing images to manageable sizes became evident. This need brought about the development of different compression techniques. Understanding these methods can be crucial in deciding which format to use based on the intended application.

JPEG and Lossy Compression

Lossy compression, as the name suggests, involves losing some data during the compression process. When an image is saved in the JPEG format, it undergoes a process where unnecessary or less important information is discarded to reduce the file size.


  • Reduced File Size: This is the most significant advantage of lossy compression. JPEG images can be much smaller than their lossless counterparts, making them ideal for web use where speed and storage are paramount.
  • Flexibility in Quality: Users can often choose the level of compression (and thus quality) they want for their image. This is useful when balancing image quality and file size.


  • Irreversible Data Loss: Once the data is lost during compression, it cannot be recovered. Repeatedly saving an image in JPEG can degrade its quality over time.
  • Artifacts: High levels of compression can introduce visible distortions in the image, known as artifacts. These can appear as blocky patterns or blurriness, especially around areas of high contrast.

PNG and Lossless Compression

Lossless compression, unlike lossy compression, retains all the original data, even after opening and saving the file multiple times. PNG employs this technique, allowing images to maintain their original quality no matter how often you edit or save them.


  • Preserved Quality: Since no data is discarded, the image remains exactly as it was before compression.
  • No Artifacts: Unlike JPEG, there’s no risk of introducing unwanted visual distortions or artifacts due to compression.


  • Larger File Sizes: Lossless compression doesn’t reduce file sizes as drastically as lossy methods. PNG images can be considerably larger than JPEGs, especially for very detailed images.
  • Slower Web Loading Times: Due to the bigger file sizes, PNG images might take longer to load on websites compared to JPEGs, affecting user experience.

3. Transparency

Transparency plays a pivotal role, especially when overlaying images on varied backgrounds or creating intricate designs. Understanding how different image formats handle transparency can significantly influence your choice.


PNG and Transparency (Alpha Channel)

PNG robustly supports transparency through the “alpha channel.” This channel lets images display varying degrees of transparency. This is particularly useful for creating graphics with soft edges, shadows, or varying translucence.

For instance, a logo with a soft drop shadow can be saved as a PNG, preserving its transparency, and can then be placed over any background without a telltale white box around it. The alpha channel ensures that the image blends seamlessly with its background.

JPEG and Transparency

JPEG, on the other hand, does not support transparency. Saving an image with transparency as a JPEG typically fills any transparent areas with white or a background color. Because JPEG lacks transparency, it’s unsuitable for graphics you need to overlay on different backgrounds, reducing its versatility.

4. Color Depth and Support- JPEG vs PNG

Color depth, often referred to as bit depth, denotes the number of bits used to represent the color of a single pixel in an image. This directly translates to the number of possible colors an image can display. Let’s delve into how JPEG and PNG handle color depth.


24-bit Color: JPEG images typically use 24-bit color. It means each pixel’s color is represented using 8 bits for red, 8 bits for green, and 8 bits for blue. This results in a possible 256 shades for each color.

Over 16 Million Possible Colors: With 24-bit color, JPEG images can display up to 256x256x256=16,777,216 colors. This vast range is more than sufficient for most photographs. It ensures they appear vibrant and true to life.


Palette-Based Images: PNGs can be saved using a specific set of colors called a palette. This can be especially useful for images with a limited color range. Palettes can be of 24-bit RGB (without transparency) or 32-bit RGBA (with transparency) colors. The ‘A’ in RGBA stands for the alpha channel, representing transparency.

Grayscale Images: PNG supports grayscale images, which means they only contain shades of gray. These can be with or without an alpha channel, allowing for transparent grayscale images.

48-bit and Truecolor Support: PNG offers support for 48-bit color (16 bits per channel for RGB). This results in a potential of over a trillion possible colors. This depth is particularly useful for professional-grade tasks, like digital art, where the nuances of color can make a marked difference.

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5. File Size Considerations

File size plays a critical role in website loading speeds. Choosing between JPEG and PNG significantly influences your image file sizes, affecting their storage, sharing, and display.


Typically Smaller File Sizes: Due to its lossy compression technique, JPEG files can be considerably smaller than PNGs. This reduction in size makes JPEGs more storage-friendly and quicker to load on web pages.

Better for Photographs: The nature of lossy compression, which discards less noticeable data, makes JPEGs particularly suitable for photographs. In most photos, small discrepancies introduced by compression go unnoticed by the human eye.


Can Be Larger: PNG images, owing to their lossless compression technique, tend to be larger in size. Every detail is preserved, which, while great for quality, increases file size.

Full Transparency and Higher Color Depth Impact: Features that enhance the versatility and quality of PNGs, like full transparency (via the alpha channel) and a higher color depth, add to the file size. For instance, a PNG saved with 48-bit color depth will be considerably larger than its 24-bit counterpart.

6. JPEG vs PNG: When to Use Which Format?

Both JPEG and PNG formats excel in different scenarios. Understanding the strengths and limitations of each can help users make an informed decision. Let’s explore typical use cases for each format to provide a clear perspective.


Photographs: Given its ability to handle over 16 million colors and its efficient compression for realistic images, JPEG is the preferred choice for photos. Whether it’s a portrait, landscape, or candid shot, JPEG maintains a balance between quality and file size.

Websites with Limited Bandwidth: JPEG’s smaller file sizes can reduce website loading times. It ensures a smooth user experience.

Print Media: Magazines, newspapers, and brochures often use JPEG for photographic content due to its excellent color handling and compression. It’s good for clear and vibrant prints.


Images Requiring Transparency: Logos, icons, and other graphics benefit from PNG’s alpha channel transparency. This allows for seamless integration of the image with different designs and colors.

Digital Art and Graphics: For illustrations, digital art, and graphics with flat colors, PNG is ideal. Its lossless compression ensures sharp edges, distinct color boundaries, and high fidelity.

Screenshots: When capturing screenshots, especially of software interfaces or websites, PNG preserves the clarity of text and interface elements. It makes the content easily readable.

Animations: With APNG (Animated PNG), users can create simple animations with transparency. A good choice for specific web animations or graphical representations.

Scanned Documents: For scanned texts or line drawings where clarity is paramount, PNG’s lossless compression ensures that details aren’t lost. It helps preserve the integrity of the original document.

7. Quality and Artifacts

Quality is a cornerstone of digital imagery. A high-quality image can convey its message effectively. Both JPEG and PNG have their unique strengths and challenges when it comes to image quality.


Blocky Areas: One of the most noticeable artifacts in highly compressed JPEGs is the appearance of block-like patterns. This happens because JPEG breaks images down into 8×8 pixel blocks for compression. When the compression is high, these blocks can become evident to the naked eye.

“Ringing” or “Haloing”: Another artifact is the “ringing” effect, appears as ghostly edges or halos around sharp contrasts or defined boundaries in an image. It’s especially noticeable around text or other sharp objects against a contrasting background.

Loss of Fine Details: Subtle details, like textures or slight color variations, can get lost or muddled due to compression. It makes the image look slightly blurred or smudged in those areas.


Preservation of Text and Sharp Contrasts: PNG shines when it comes to preserving sharpness. It ensures that edges remain crisp and clear, devoid of the artifacts commonly seen with lossy compression.

No Compression Artifacts: PNG images do not suffer from the blockiness, ringing, or loss of detail that can plague JPEGs. Every pixel is preserved as in the original image. It ensures that what you see during editing is precisely what you get in the saved file.

8. Animation- JPEG vs PNG

Animation has carved its niche, making content more engaging and interactive. When it comes to image formats, not all are equipped to handle animated content. Let’s explore how JPEG and PNG fare in this domain.

APNG (Animated PNG):

Extension of PNG: APNG stands for Animated PNG and is an extension of the PNG format. It allows for the creation of animated images, harnessing the benefits of PNG, like lossless compression and support for transparency.

Advantages: Just as with static PNGs, APNGs preserve high-quality visuals with the added capability of animating them. This means animations can have the clarity, sharpness, and transparency inherent to PNGs.

JPEG and Animation:

The standard JPEG format is designed solely for static images. It doesn’t natively support animation, making it unsuitable for animated content. Users would need to look beyond JPEG to formats like GIF, WebP, or the aforementioned APNG.

Future Trends and Evolution

The world of digital imaging is dynamic, with innovations frequently pushing the envelope to offer better quality, smaller file sizes, and more features. Let’s explore some emerging trends and how they fit into the lineage of JPEG and PNG.


A Fusion of Strengths: Developed by Google, WebP is an image format designed to combine the best of both JPEG and PNG. It offers lossy and lossless compression modes.

Transparency and Animation: WebP supports transparency akin to PNG’s alpha channel. Furthermore, it can handle animations.

Web Performance: One of the primary motivations behind WebP’s creation was to enhance web performance. WebP is becoming a popular choice for websites looking to optimize load times without compromising visual quality.

JPEG 2000:

The Next Step for JPEG: JPEG 2000 is an updated version of the classic JPEG format. It introduces a new wavelet-based compression method. And, it differs from the original’s discrete cosine transform technique.

Better Compression and Features: JPEG 2000 offers superior compression efficiency. Additionally, it brings features like support for transparency and improved color accuracy.

Adoption and Use: While JPEG 2000 boasts several advantages, its adoption has been slower than anticipated. One reason is the entrenched popularity of the original JPEG format. However, digital cinema and medical imaging have embraced JPEG 2000 for its advanced capabilities.

Final Thoughts

The world of digital imaging is vast and nuanced. Both JPEG and PNG, stalwarts in their own right, have offered immense value in various applications. Each format has unique strengths that make it stand out.

In wrapping up, choosing the right format is less about superiority and more about suitability. It’s about understanding the needs of the moment – whether it’s a breathtaking photo, a logo overlay, or a web animation – and selecting the format that aligns best.

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