So I was going through some Facebook Memories, and this image I drew in 2015 of the X-Men character, Shadowcat, popped up.
Look at all those little pixel jitters all over. They’re most noticeable in the light blue tights on her legs, but they’re everywhere. Want to know something fun? I didn’t put those there. Facebook did.
Here’s my original:
See how much smoother and cleaner the colors are in my original version? The hair is even a different shade of brown.
Why is that?
Well, it’s because Facebook has a billion users, and all of that data needs to be stored on servers. And those servers cost money. So in order to reduce costs, Facebook has systems in place to automatically reduce the file size of your images. And those systems do that by deleting bits of data from the image, and then replacing it with an approximation of what used to be there.
Here they are, side-by-side, so you can do a direct comparison:
My original is a 229 kilobyte file. That’s not very big! You can fit four and a half of these in one old floppy disk. Your computer harddrive is probably about 1 terrabyte. A terrabyte is 1024 gigabytes, which is 1024 megabytes, which is 1024 kilobytes. So you could fit 4 billion copies of this computer on your hard drive and have space left over. I don’t know why you’d want 4 billion copies of the same image, but you could it. If your eyes glazed over while reading this paragraph, all you need to know is this: it’s not a large file.
By comparison, while my original file is 229 kilobytes, the compressed Facebook version is 74 kilobytes. That’s approximately one-third the size, which means Facebook deleted TWO THIRDS of the data in this image.
So if Facebook is compressing very small files that only have about 30 colors, imagine what it’s doing to actual photographs that have thousands or millions of colors? AND, Facebook is absolutely not the only social media site that does this; They ALL do. Twitter, Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), Tumblr, etc., etc.
Social media sites provide a lot of benefits for a lot of people, and it’s great that you can have a huge image gallery of photos that’s provided to you for “free” (in exchange a lot of advertising). But you should absolutely never use social media sites as the only place to display your images, because they’re drastically compressed, and actually altered from your artistic intent.
And for the love of god, NEVER use a social media image for something to get printed. Use the original version of the image. The social media version will just look awful.