Do You Know The 5 Critical Differences Between a JPG and a PNG?

Have you ever found yourself looking at that “Export as…” or “Save as…” box where you’re forced to choose between saving your graphics files in a number of different formats? As a designer, I know that there are a lot of little “if this then that” rules where certain file types are better to use than others.

I get asked questions about this often and the fact is that not all graphics file types are created equal!

Did you know that there’s actually 5 critical differences between a JPG and a PNG? No worries if you didn’t, read on to get some clarity on this graphics mystery and maybe learn a thing or two that will stump your friends at your next shindig (wait, that’s only me that does that?).

Do You Know The 5 Critical Differences Between a JPG and a PNG

If you’ve know me or followed me for any length of time, you probably know by now that I’m quite the little graphics nerd (okay, maybe not so little, LOL!). However, I put together this post to be something super easy to follow along with, so I’m going to skip the graphics jargon and break it down in plain English for you so it makes perfect sense!

1 | Transparency

The transparency of a graphic refers to whether or not there’s a “background” behind the primary elements in the image. You would need a file to be transparent if you were placing it over a photo or colored background, otherwise a crude box will appear in the shape of the file dimensions.

I’ve created this example to demonstrate:

On the left you’re seeing a JPG file of my logo, which does NOT support transparency, placed over the background photograph. What this means is that while the background won’t always be white, it will never be transparent so you can see the entire image or background behind it.

On the right I’m showing you a PNG file of my logo, which always supports transparency, also placed over the background photo. As you can see, the entire background image behind the logo is clearly visible without any obstruction.

In a nutshell, a PNG supports transparency and a JPG does not.

2 | Compression

The main difference in compression between a JPG and a PNG is the algorithms that they use. JPG files use a lossy compression algorithm, which basically means that it discards some of the image information in order to reduce the size of the file.

In comparison, PNG files use a lossless algorithm that keeps all the information. With a PNG file, the quality of the image will not change, but the size of the file will usually be larger. On the other hand, JPG images can be made very small, but the quality can degrade very quickly from the original file. I’m going to break down file size and quality a bit further down below.

To sum up compression, think of a JPG as a tightly crumpled ball of foil and a PNG as a loosely crumpled wad of paper.

3 | File Size

JPG’s are traditionally used primarily for photographs and realistic images. PNG’s are best for when you’re saving line art, text-heavy images, and images with few colors. So you would think that a JPG would then create a larger file size than a PNG, right? Actually, that’s false.

I created a quick test to back up my point on this critical difference. Starting with an original high resolution stock photo that was 1.75 MB, I simply re-saved it using our two favorite file types. I know you’re just dying to know the results, so here they are:

  • Original Photo = 1.75 MB

  • JPG (max resolution setting) = 481 kb

  • PNG (png-24 true color) = 1.01 MB

You can tap on both photos to enlarge them and I think you’ll agree that there’s no significant visible difference in quality between the two new versions! However, the PNG is more than double the file size of the JPG!

The moral of this story is that a JPG is typically a much smaller file size than a PNG.

4 | Quality When Files Are Re-Saved

While JPG graphics are one of the most common formats used, they are not exactly the ideal file format to use if you’re going to be making multiple changes that require saving your file over and over again. However, in contrast, PNG graphics can be considered more durable and better equipped to take the pressure without losing their cool.

I touched on lossy compression and lossless compression above, and I could go on and on about all of the technical differences between them, but I made a promise to keep this jargon-free!

The gist of this is that JPG files lose quality each time they are re-saved and PNG files do not.

5 | Usability

And last but not least, I’m calling this one usability. Basically, depending on the program, app, website, service, platform, etc that you are using, some accept multiple different graphics file types and some have limitations. I really doubt it’s because they’re biased, it’s typically because they know what works better for the way they’ve got their shit setup!

So as an example, I use the same headshot photo of myself on my websites and across social media. Given that it’s a photo, I prefer to use the JPG format for this purpose. But I was setting up a new account the other day and when personalizing my profile, I hit ‘Edit Profile Photo’ then the ‘Open’ dialog box and when it popped up, my photo wasn’t showing! Nope, I wasn’t in the wrong folder, they simply did not accept JPG files! Luckily I’ve got a back up PNG for these scenarios, which is helpful.

At the end of the day, make sure you are aware of the file type requirements so that you have the correct files available for what you’re trying to do!

Ready to make understanding file types a breeze?

Now that I’ve armed you with some knowledge about the differences between a JPG and a PNG, would you like to know more? My super easy cheat sheet provides a quick explanation of all 7 of the most common graphics file types, plus it’s got a handy reference chart so you know exactly when to use each one!

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Download My FREE Easy Cheat Sheet!

    Got Questions?

    If you haven’t already guessed, I’m a pretty big graphics nerd (and I may or may not have my nerd glasses on!).

    I would love to hear from you if you have any other questions about graphics file types that I haven’t already covered above or in my cheat sheet! Please don't hesitate to contact me with an email or DM on social media!


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