The JPEG compression algorithm is at its best on photographs and paintings of realistic scenes with smooth variations of tone and color. For web usage, where reducing the amount of data used for an image is important for responsive presentation, JPEG’s compression benefits make JPEG popular. JPEG/Exif is also the most common format saved by digital cameras.

However, JPEG is not well suited for line drawings and other textual or iconic graphics, where the sharp contrasts between adjacent pixels can cause noticeable artifacts. Such images are better saved in a lossless graphics format such as TIFF, GIF, PNG, or a raw image format. The JPEG standard includes a lossless coding mode, but that mode is not supported in most products.

As the typical use of JPEG is a lossy compression method, which reduces the image fidelity, it is inappropriate for exact reproduction of imaging data (such as some scientific and medical imaging applications and certain technical image processing work).