To .PNG or not to .PNG?

Robert N. Phillips
CEO, Lasotell Pty Ltd.

Here is a wonderful tip for those who wrestle with importing graphics into MSWord. What is the single biggest headache? Monster file sizes. If you do not know about PNG (pronounced: ping), then you are in for great day, because you are going to save time and money. How would you like to have an MSWord file containing 150—repeat, 150—screen captures that is only 1.9MB in size?

Typically, when tasked with preparing screen captures, our staff used to jig around with the screen resolutions and use either Print Scrn or Corel Capture or one of the other screen capture programs. The output was typically .bmp, .jpeg, or .tiff, all of which were suitable enough but would seldom look good when transferred to PDF. The printout was acceptable, but unless the PDF was screen optimised, they tended to look a bit second rate on screen, to say the least. But all that aside, import a handful of such screen captures, and the file size would blow out.

Similarly, we have lost count of how many times we have received files containing PowerPoint graphics that have been copied and pasted into MSWord. Another sure-fire way to blow out the file size. We used to reduce these file sizes either by obtaining the original PowerPoint file and using Save As and setting the type to .wmf (it lets you choose to export the current slide or all slides), or by cutting the pictures from MSWord, pasting them into PowerPoint, and then saving them as .wmf. In the worst-case situations, we would make a screen capture from the MSWord Print Preview screen because that was still smaller than the PowerPoint pastes. But not any more.

And what about Corel pictures that look beautiful in Corel, but if they are very detailed, look a bit ordinary when saved as .wmf or often very shabby when saved as .jpeg for the Web? Not any more.

The solution to all past annoyances has been to use .png format files. In almost all cases, the results are very satisfactory and the picture sizes are tiny because .png is a highly compressed format. Just occasionally we get Corel .png exports that do not compress very well, and we have not quite figured out the rules for the exceptions, but they are few and far between.

Our best practice for the last 12 months has been to use .png files for all graphics, including graphics for the Web. (If any of you saved the Information Architecture and/or Project Management diagrams from our Lasotell Web site, compare the difference with the current diagrams, uploaded in August, and you will be impressed.)

If your application cannot export a .png file directly, take a standard screen capture and paste it into a program such as CompuPic. It is excellent for this task—paste on the open program, and it will display the picture for you to crop and manipulate and then save in .png. The added extra that makes .png so nice is that you can also set the resolution of the .png format. Hence, logos created in, say, Corel, can be exported as .png files at 96, 100, 200 or 600 dpi, according to need, and saved in a few kilobytes. So, inserted pictures can tolerate some re-sizing in MSWord without losing clarity.

Why do .png files save time and money? Some examples are the best answer. Our staff worked daily with the file containing 150 screen captures mentioned at the beginning of this article in Windows ME, and we had no stability incidents in eight work weeks. Similarly, we regularly receive 10- and 15-MB files that have been giving people no end of problems; we cut the pictures, paste them into CompuPic, save as .png, and reinsert them in the original file. The file size drops to less than one tenth of the original size, and we have no more wasted time with crashes, reboots, and the like.

So what does PNG stand for—in our office it means Pretty Nice Graphic!

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