In order to improve page load performance, I propose that the default image compression setting be changed from 90 to 82 in WordPress. Let’s get into why.
The default quality setting for resized images in WordPress has been 90 since the
image_resize() function was shipped in version 2.5. This setting creates images with much larger file sizes than recommended by modern web best practices.
Over the past several years, the importance of performance has been highlighted as users access the web globally on slower connections, and performance has even started being used by search engines to influence search results.
Tools like Google PageSpeed Insights and WebPagetest will warn site owners if images aren’t sufficiently compressed. For example, the glossary at the bottom of the WebPagetest performance optimization page states:
Within 10% of a photoshop quality 50 will pass, up to 50% larger will warn and anything larger than that will fail. The overall score is the percentage of image bytes that can be saved by re-compressing the images.
With this in mind, web developer and performance advocate Dave Newton published recommendations for ImageMagick compression settings based on his research comparing various ImageMagick settings against Photoshop’s ‘high quality’ (60) setting for JPEGs. He found that an Imagick compression setting of 82 was closest to this using an objective measurement named DSSIM to compare the visual similarity between two images.
We experimented with Dave’s settings in the RICG Responsive Images plugin during the 4.3 cycle and found that not all Dave’s suggestions can be easily applied by default in WordPress due to the memory required to process large images on shared hosts. However, changing the default image quality setting is a relatively small change that makes a big impact on file size without sacrificing much in the way of perceived image quality.
Example of an image compressed using the current default quality of 90.
Example image compressed with a quality setting of 82.
In research released in 2014, compressed images with a DSSIM score of 0.015 were deemed acceptable to most people. In tests of several different images, I found that changing the default compression setting in
WP_Image_Editor from 90 to 82 reduced image sizes by an average of ~25% with DSSIM scores ranging from 0.0014 to 0.0019 for ImageMagick and 0.0019 to 0.0023 for GD — both of which are drastically under the 0.015 threshold cited above.
Given these results, I suggest making the change to 82 for the default image compression setting. You can follow the discussion on the related ticket (33642) and give feedback in the comments or in the #core-images channel on Slack.
As a reminder, this setting only applies to the intermediate sizes that WordPress creates, and not the original files uploaded by users. For any users who need to maintain a higher image quality for intermediate sizes, the default quality can still be changed with the