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I'm halfway through a project where I'm doing some destructive editing and:

  1. I want to keep the original Raw (CR2) image.

  2. I haven't finished, so I want to come back later and pick up where I left off.

What is the best "interim" format? Once finished, I'll flatten all the layers and save a a JPG, but I'm not ready for that yet.

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    Welcome to Graphic Design SE. Can you please edit your question to specify: 1) What software are you using? 2) Why doesn’t that software’s native format not satisfy you? 3) What are your criteria on portability? – Wrzlprmft Mar 18 '18 at 9:00
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Identifying the program in use would be valuable. Paint Shop Pro has a native format to maintain previous work. I suspect the editor you are using would support something similar.

If you want to keep the original RAW image, don't overwrite it, regardless of the editor you are using. When you open an image of any format in an editor, the program will "adapt" to that image, but any changes made are going to be program specific and will most certainly change the original if it is overwritten.

Some programs do not store previous work when saving. You'll want to check that aspect before you overwrite the original image. I suspect that you won't be overwriting the RAW image, just that you want to maintain a workflow for the current iteration.

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Some general rules:

1. Make a backup of your original files.

2. Simply use the application's file format.

  • Use the internal file format of your application, so you simply know when you have one of this files, it is a work in progress. PSD, CPT, XCF... This will preserve the internal tools, like masks, or vector masks, guidelines, rulers, etc.

3. Try to use a nondestructive workflow.

  • When using a RAW file, most likely a correction editing, like adjusting contrast, curves, color grading and sharpness are nondestructive on programs like Lightroom, AfterShoot, DarkTable, etc. What is saved is a recipe to be applied.

  • On programs like Photoshop, depending on the nature of the editing try to use layers for the adjustments.

  • Again, depending on the nature of the editing one option could be keeping the file as 16 bits per channel.

4. If you are doing simpler things

  • Like removing someone's red eyes, you can use a generic lossless compression format, like PNG, or TIF (avoid using JPG compression) for CMYK files.
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