Phoro File Degradation. Saving & Destructive Edits Tested

JPEG, TIFF, PSD, Successive Save, Save As, and more.

by Gavin Seim. Updated 11/11. There’s often confusion about what makes a JPEG and other files degrade, so I thought I would so a few a real world test. First let me say that simply copying, or viewing a file does NOT cause any degradation as people sometimes believe. If you copy and paste a file it’s simply a bit for bit cop. There’s no loss because nothing has been altered.

When you open, and then re-save a file is when things usually change. Even if you save at the highest quality JPEG settings you have still re-compressed that file when you save again. Unless or course your using an uncompressed file format to start with (TIFF for example). But even then there can be some quality loss version after version.

So how bad is a file damaged each time you successively save it. Well lets just say you should keep your originals. I’m not saying we can’t make revision copies (or file generations as I refer to them). But we should be aware. Below we’re going to look at the same image submitted to various torturous conditions and you can then judge for yourself.

These image are 700px. Click any image to see it at that resolution, or download all the images to compare them. Images that were opened and saved with “Save As” rather than “Save” commands are noted as such. If you want to join the discussion beyond comments here is the forum topic on this.

Original File

Original File.


JPEG / Open / Save / Close / 100x -- Here I simply opened the file and saved it again 100 times. No pixel edits were done to the image, I just made a type layer and then deleted it so that PS would allow me to save. Apparently PS could tell that no pixels were edited and did not overwrite the unchanged pixels. Minimal or no degradation here.


JPEG / Open / Edit / Save / Close /100x -- To get results for actual pixel modifying edits, I opened the file, added 5 brightness, saved, & closed. Then opened again, reduced 5 brightness, saved, & closed. Total of 100 saves. We can see notable pixel degradation with this test.


Brightness +5 / Brightness- 5 / 100x -- This is the same as above except that no save was made in between brighten 5, then darken 5. No loss in quality here. Just the brightness tool 100 times didn't hurt the image. It's seems saving really commits a lot of the degradation. But that's not to say that heavy edits gone too far can't effect image quality.


Resize / Revert 100x -- Now admittedly most of us don't do this. But the test proved interesting. The 700px wide image was resized to 701, and then reverted to 700 . I did this 100 times. No save was done in between resizes. The huge quality loss is just from the resize and revert. Needless to say it's hard on an image to resize it much. On the other hand we may have discovered a new artistic effect ;)


JPEG / Open / Save As / Close / 100x -- No edit done here. I just did a "Save As" 100 times at the highest JPEG quality. Results are pretty scary. 100 saves and the image is shot to pixels. Not we don't generally save that many times, but we can see that each save reduces quality a bit more on JPEG.


JPEG / Open / Save As / Close / 25x -- No edit done here either. I just did the "Save As" same as above, but only 25 times. Even at 25 saves, the image is really bad.


PSD /Open / Save As / Close / 100x -- So it's clear that editing and re saving a JPEG is destructive. What about a PSD which is supposed to be lossless. I saved our orig JPEG as a PSD, then did the open, Save As, close, 100 times. Little file degradation here. Obviously PSD is makes a larger file, but because it does not compress like JPEG you maintain a lot more quality. If not all.


Tiff / LZW / Save As / Close / 100x -- The TIFF fared well just like the PSD. I did the "Save As" command 100 times using Tiff LZW compression. Degradation was barley noticeable.

It’s clear that saving in JPEG is destructive. Saving successive file generations is especially hard on image quality. Granted one or two saves won’t trash your image, but degradation increases with each save sequence. When working I try to get as few file version from the original RAW as possible. Then use layers as I edit to maintain original infomation as much as possiible.

First because the moment we leave the RAW we throw away information. It may not be file degradation, but a TIFF, PSD file is not the same as RAW and it has to convert the data. Second because the more generations and edits of a file we make the more potential for information loss. Though the lossless formats seem to have little loss from the saves themselves, they can still be effected by compounded edits.

The bottom line is that we should always keep the original file. If you have an image you expect to be working on and re-saving a lot of times, then make it a PSD or a Tiff and save your final edit from the that if you need a JPEG for web or print. Don’t do serious edits on JPEGs.

Just some things to consider. Have fun… Gav