The Truth About Saving JPEGs in Lightroom

As I’m out on the road teaching I always pick up on areas in Lightroom that people are having a hard time with. One area I realized was saving JPEGs. Why, when, how, and what settings to used are some common questions.

Why?
We need to be able to save a JPEG from Lightroom so we can email, print, post to the web or otherwise send our photo to people. We don’t want to send/post raw files so JPEG is the best format since you can compress it into much smaller files sizes (then say TIFF for example) and still get good quality results.

When?
You’ll save as a JPEG when you get to the point where you’re done editing a photo. That means you’ll probably have gone through the Develop module and done a few things to the photo. Maybe you even jumped into Photoshop and back in which case you’d save a JPEG from your PSD or TIFF file and not the raw file. Basically, its when you’re done editing.

How?
This is a little weird. There is not File > Save as JPEG feature in Lightroom. The “How” question would come up a lot less if there was. Instead, its called Export. Its under the File menu so you go to File > Export and you get a whole new dialog that lets you save your photo out into a different format – one of those being JPEG.

Now, this dialog is actually pretty big and there’s a lot of things you can do in it. But the truth is, most of them time you just want a JPEG version of your photo. In which case there’s a few simple settings to follow. First, why do you want a JPEG?

For Email: If you want to save a JPEG for emailing someone, you can see the screen capture below of the settings (click for larger view) I use. Basically, I resize so the width will not exceed 800 pixels and the resolution is set to 72 ppi. I’ll also knock down the Quality setting since I usually attach more than one photo and I don’t want to choke some one’s incoming mail. Notice we also save in the sRGB format for email and the web.
exportemail

For a web page: For the web, things are pretty much the same. Of course the size can vary but 800 is a good rule to go by for the larger version of a photo on a web page. You want it large enough to appreciate, but not large enough to really print out at a decent quality. exportweb

To Print to an inkjet printer: If you’re saving this as a JPEG to give to somebody to print to an inkjet printer then I go all out. I’m not worried about compression here. In fact, I want as little compression as possible since I want the best print. That’s why there’s no resizing and Quality is set to 100. Also, notice that the Color Space is set to Adobe RGB. That’s generally known as the best format to save for inkjet printers. Some will argue [and I'm sure they will in the comments section ;) ], that you should use ProPhoto RGB but that’s still debatable and if you know that much about it then you’re probably not reading this so use it if you’re comfortable. exportinkjet

To Print via a lab: Pretty much the same as the inkjet settings above. The only difference is that my lab (MPIX.com) prefers you send in the sRGB color space. Your best bet is to call or email your lab and ask them what they prefer. Again, since we’re printing and want the highest quality here I don’t use compression. exportlab

Well folks, I hope that helps to clear up some things around saving JPEGs from Lightroom. As a Lightroom user, do I wish it were actually called “File > Save for Web and Email or Save as JPEG”? Yep. As an instructor, I guess it’s job security because the whole Export thing seems a little counter-intuitive. But luckily, once you do it a couple of times it tends to stick pretty easily. Thanks for reading!

Author: Matt K

Matt is a full time Education Director for the NAPP and Kelby Training. He's a best-selling author of various books on Photoshop and Photography co-hosts the live weekly photography talk show "The Grid" and is co-host of "Photoshop User TV". In his spare time he practices as a 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo and enjoys spending time with his family in Tampa, FL.

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37 Comments

  1. Matt – This may go without saying however once you have a few user presets in place I find Exporting to be rather convenient. Is there a simple rule of thumb to follow for resizing photos? I often save my photos as JPEGs and then put them on a digital photo frame. My current frame is 8 x10 and set as landscape so the portrait photos get cut off since i have not figure out the right pixel size. Thanks

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  2. Hey Matt,

    I see in your screencaps that you have the “Sharpen for:” box checked. Do you normally leave that setting checked? I always thought it was just best to do the sharpening yourself (in LR or PS) during Post and leave that setting unchecked?

    –Rob

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  3. Why is there a difference in output between “Export” and “Print to JPG”? I get a massive red color cast when using “Print to JPG”. The export function gives me a nice picture.

    Maybe I am wrong, but shouldn’t these two options produce the exact same output?

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  4. This is great, Matt…thanks!

    Now, if someone could PLEASSSSSE tell us how to fit something with a 2×3 aspect ratio into an 8×10 without losing most of the picture we took out in the field, that would be FANTASTIC.

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  5. ditto to Herrera and Thomas…

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  6. @Conan- what I have done is read the manual (I know, ugly) and find the pixel dimensions for my photo frame. I then crop my pictures to those dimensions in Photoshop, so that I can control the exact crop of the image, especially on Portrait oriented images. Sometimes this means adding canvas on the sides with Portrait images to get the crop you want (sometimes on the top & bottom for Landscapes if you are going for a pano look). I set up the background color chip to the color I want, then use the Crop tool to select the area I want (preset your Crop dimensions to the pixel dimensions you found earlier) and the canvas will automatically be extended in the correct color.

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  7. I’ve never had issues with getting to a jpg, but would also be interested in the answer regarding “Print to JPG” versus “Export”. I have not encountered that difference yet.

    My bigger question, however, from a workflow standpoint, is what do people do with their jpgs after uploading/emailing/burning? Do you actually keep them on hand taking up disk space, or do you delete them and simply re-export if needed again in the future? I’ve done both, and haven’t decided which I prefer, so I’d be interested in other thoughts!

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  8. Matt, thanks again for posting on your blog. If you don’t get paid by advertisers, or have any revenue stream for this, triple kudos… You provide awesome expert tutelage here and we thank you for it!

    Tim

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  9. So here’s my question about Lightroom JPEG Compression. If I export a JPEG from LR and then export the EXACT same image with the EXACT same size & resolution and the EXACT same quality settings using Photoshop’s Save for Web, I end up with a smaller file size (10-20%) with no visible difference in quality.

    Why doesn’t LR compress as well as Photoshop? To go even further, I’ve used some online tools that compress the JPG another 20-30% with no visible quality difference (and I’m looking really closely and comparing images side by side).

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  10. If Thomas is getting a red color cast when printing out it may be that he has the print settings set to Draft Mode Setting. Scroll down on the right hand side of the Print module, expand the options under Print Job and choose the appropriate resolution etc…making sure that Draft Mode Printing (the default) is unticked. I am very much a novice with all this and love this site. I hope this helps Thomas.

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  11. If you want a quick send to email, you can do this:

    Rightclick on the image and select Export – For Email.

    This will auto-export the image (or multiple images in the library if you have CTRL+selected them) to an explorer window. Then they will be ready to attach to an email. It’s alot faster than using the export dialogue.

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  12. Thanks Jason. Sooo….simple and yet I didn’t realise you could do that.

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  13. The readers who brought up the problems we encounter because of the mismatch between the aspect ratio of the camera and those of the standard print sizes were speaking for me as well. We learn to compose in camera and to fill the frame. Then, when the time comes to print, our careful composition goes right out the window and we have to crop. Should be compose leaving a border of unwanted material at the edges that we can use for cropping? I would love to have Matt address this as it is very frustrating to see you carefully crafted image being truncated in the print module.

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  14. Regarding exporting to digital photo-frames:
    – Check your frames pixel dimensions… mine is 800*600
    – Export and enter 800*600 as resize-sizes. This will make your images 800 wida and/or 600 high, regardless of landscape or portrait orientation.

    Regarding exporting for physical print:
    – Crop the image to the correct proportions. If you have a 3:2 image that you want on an 10:8 paper, you have to crop to 3:2 proportions, or you will end up with white borders on two sides (but the whole image showing), or clipped image on the other two sides (but the whole paper filled)

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  15. It would be useful to have a finer control on the jpeg export engine in LR.
    Like subsampling scheme (YCbCr) or the ability to set up a max kbyte file size for the images.
    It would be nice if someone could create an export plugin that could cover these features.

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  16. Great article, Matt. Here is a question on using MPIX.

    When I export to JPEG from Lightroom, it is a 16 bit JPEG File. MPIX requires an 8 bit JPEG. I can’t figure out how to export as a JPEG and to change from 16 bit to 8 bit in the same export.

    I thought you might have run into this issue and would have a solution.

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  17. Mark, Whay specify 8000 pixels and 72 dpi. If you resize for 800 pixels then you have provided all the information needed. The picture will be 800 dpi and will be displayed at 72 dpi on the screen – or whatever resolution the viewer’s screen is set to. Even when printing it is the the 800 pixels that control. If printed 2 inches wide then the print will be 400 pixels per inch – lots of “small” details. If printed 8 inches wide then the print will be 100 pixels per inch – a bigger print but only because those details are now smeared over a bigger area. (The only information is what is available in those 800 pixels you originally specified.

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  18. Not having a File>Save command make sense to me after you think about it. When you do a File>Save in Photoshop or any other program, you then continue working on that JPG file, you are no longer working on the PSD file. By have a File>Export command, LR is enforcing that you are always working on the original and applying effects/modifications to it that can always be rolled back. The File>Save of LR is automatic as all modifications you make are instantly stored in the LR database.

    I do miss not having the ability to set the file size I would like to create on export. As a workaround, I’ve created several export templates that specify the JPG size I would like to create. For exampleI have a JPG-800px and JPG-3Kpx to specify the pixel dimensions of the long edge I want in the export.

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  19. Mark
    Nice to know I’m not doing anything wrong :) But I agree with George. Why do you state save a jpg at 72ppi? When resizing and stating the number of pixels you want, the ppi info is pretty much useless.

    Pixels Per Inch (ppi) and referred to by many (incorrectly) as dpi, ONLY matters when you actually want to physiclly print the image. Is that not right?

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    • Hi,

      I’m a little confused..

      At 72ppi, wouldn’t a 4×6 size print actually be 432 pixels wide, mathematically?

      At 800 pixels wide, wouldn’t it actually be something like 133ppi?

      I’m just trying to get my head around the numbers..

      Either would be ok, but they are not the same. Correct?

      Thanks for shedding light!

      Post a Reply
  20. In response to Bob Rickerts comments above, JPG files are only 8bit files – you CANNOT export as a 16bit jpg.

    Look at the export dialogue box. You can only export a 16bit tiff or PSD file.

    If you export by editing in Ps, the file exported will be how you have set it to be exported in the preferences (external editing tab). You may have this set up as possibly a 16bit tif or psd file?

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  21. Thought I’d throw in another comment regards cropping and aspect ratio. If you plan to print at a different aspect ratio to that which the camera natively produces, you need to compose differently. Most cameras are 3:2 but some also have a 4:3 ratio.

    Your 10×8 has a 5:4 ratio and therefore when cropping you lose some from the top and/or bottom of your image – there is nothing you can do about this.

    There are a couple of fixes.

    1. If you are shooting in the studio and have a plain one colour backdrop (white/black or any other), you can increase the canvas size and use the colour of the background you have as the colour for the increased canvas size. This should allow you to get a 5:4 ratio.

    If you are shooting pretty much anythig else, you need to compose in-camera and that means leaving space around your subject with the intention to crop. You have no other choice – unless you decide to print at a 3:2 ratio.

    The problem is the shape of the sensor/film in your SLR camera.You could look at a large format camera with a 10×8 plate :-)

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  22. Could someone plllleeeeeaaasssee help me. How do I export a collection of images, each with different presets (or editing done). I am trying to burn a DVD with the edited images and all that will export/burn is the original photo. Help 911!

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  23. In the develop mode, right click on your image thumnail and select “create virtual copy”

    You can now edit different presets and select your appropriate images to export.

    Hope that helps.

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  24. Hello Matt, Would you happen to know how to setup Lightroom to crop and print in Centimeters instead of inches? I know the cropping is ratio but printing always comes out a little wrong. Thanks for the great work on this site!!!

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  25. The big issue I have about JPEG exporting is the way LR changes the colours and the blacks. Naturally there is going to be some sort of loss when running the JPEG algorithm, but the consistent and substantial darkening of the picture is very irritating. One spends a long time getting the levels just right in LR and then when you export it, the picture no longer matches the work you’ve done in LR. Why Adobe, why?

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  26. Hi Matt, what to do with the following. I made some pictures against a Cherry Red backdrop. On screen I managed to get these pics just great and in print they also are OK. Exporting them to JPGs (hi and low res) the red is altered (to an more lunimous and awfull red). Is this a profiling issue?

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  27. I have the same question as William Huan above. Why when exporting from Lightroom and saving from Photoshop using the same exact settings does Lightroom produce a much larger file size?

    When cropping large numbers of images for the web (regardless of whether the original is a raw file or not), I like to use Lightroom, because I can work very quickly and it’s easy to go back and make little changes rather than having to open the original in Photoshop again and start from scratch.

    I thought the problem might come from tags and other metadata in the files, but even checking “minimize embedded data” doesn’t help.

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  28. @William – and what about sharpening? Are you have the same settings choice in LR and PS (don’t have PS, so can’t check it myself)

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  29. From time to time (when I need a bit of advise) I need to export to a web galleri that only allous the maximum file size of 400 Kb. Can I make Lightroom suggest resolution so I get the best possible file at a maximum of 400 Kbit ?

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  30. I have the same problem as Mike and William.
    Images at 300dpi and approx 25cm on longest length compress from 17mg down to 800kb in Photoshop. Try the same thing in Lightroom and you can only compress down to about 1.2 mg. This causes a lot of extra time re-compressing images in Photoshop, anoying because the people I supply to don’t want image files bigger than 1mg (compressed).

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  31. Cyd,
    I found that the best way is to create a folder as an export. Then, I use a CD/DVD burn software and “add data” to the blank disc. There are programs out there that are VERY easy and once your images are edited, you can create multiple cd’s very easily. This is how I do it for my customers. Hope this helps.

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  32. Ugh…I’m so new to LR and I am having issues figuring out what resolution to save at for losing the LEAST amount of resolution when compressing to a jpeg. Example…I start with a RAW file, then I simply want to save it to a jpeg and I’m not worried about keeping a large file and retaining as much quality as possible, I just want to make a jpeg file. I have no clue about how to go about this. I do not want to resize the image, so the “resize to fit” is left unchecked. I have left the quality at 100%, but in the resolution area, it wants a number. How do I know what number to give it?? I’m so lame…but I just can’t figure this out for the life of me. :( Please help!

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  33. does the photolab formula you have here work for any size print you want??…..like an 11×14 or would it need a whole new set of values?

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