Photoshop Basics: Compressing An Image

Are you sick and tired of digital photos and other images taking up thousands of Ks of space on your hard drive? Here are a few ways to make the files smaller without sacrificing too much quality.

Editing pictures and images with PhotoShop is a fast and easy way to turn the mediocre into the amazing.

The main problem, though, is that the better the image's quality, the more space it will use (or "waste," if you prefer). Many people are frustrated by excruciatingly slow upload times as well as the sluggish, dragging persona the computer adopts when trying to open several thousand Ks worth of image.

That and it just isn't easy to share these massive files with other people. Many e-mail servers limit incoming file sizes; some aren't even programmed to courteously let the sender know that his attachment was rejected before it even reached its intended target.

So, compressing your graphics or photos in this program can happen in many different ways. You can do one or more of them together to save space and make your life a little easier overall.

One word of advice, though, is to always save changed files as copies. If you save over the original filename, you won't be able to retrieve it - and that could mean a lot of lost work if you decide that you don't like the changes you've made.


-Compress the layers. This can be accomplished under the "Layers" menu. Be warned, however, that this will flatten out your image, which might A) affect quality, and B) make it virtually impossible to edit later. Be sure that you are quite satisfied with your image - right down to the fine details - before you choose this option. Better yet, save it as a copy so that you can go back and correct any mistakes you notice after you've made the move.

-Change file formats. You can always use the "Save As" command to switch formats, so that you still have the original in case you decide you're unhappy with your experiment. Generally speaking, JPEG, GIF, and TIFF files are relatively smaller than other possibilities. The other advantage: they're very common types, and therefore are easy to share with others or upload to the Internet.

-Save as a medium or small file. When you click the "Save" button, you have the option of changing the image's quality along this numbered scale. By choosing a lower number, you are saving a lot of file space. However, you're taking away from the image quality. This isn't always a bad thing - sometimes the simpler graphics you create look just fine when they're saved as smaller files.

-Use the "Resize image" option to make your graphic smaller. This can save loads of space, especially if you started with a photo from your digital camera that was (literally) twenty inches tall!

Warning: pay attention to the units of measurement when using this tool. There's a huge difference between "pixels" and "inches." You really don't want a 5x7 photo that's been measured in pixels; you'd barely see anything at all!

Another, similar option is to use the "crop" tool (located on the graphical toolbar) to resize the image. If you tell it to crop to a certain size, it will constrain the proportions. If you free-hand the crop, you can decide exactly what stays and what goes. This can make for odd measurements (i.e. not your standard 5x7 photo sizes), but you probably won't lose Aunt Martha's head in the cropping process.

Getting rid of the dead space in your photo or graphic also makes for a nicer, cleaner image. It focuses the viewer on Aunt Martha's face - not the fact that there's half a dog sitting at the edge of the photo.

-Go grayscale. Sometimes this actually creates better effects than full color. You can use the "Image - Mode - Grayscale" menu selections to do this. You can also use PhotoShop's auto-contrast feature to balance out the contrast and grayscale tones; this will create a sharper, better image.

Because each graphic and photo is different, it will take some experimentation to come up with the ideal adjustments and settings for each file you choose to alter. With a little practice, though, you will be able to click a few buttons, make a couple of changes, and produce a decently-sized, striking image with which to "ooh" and "aah" the onlookers.

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