Coding new visual elements into an image file begins with a basic understanding of how image files are normally displayed. When an image file is loaded for display on any of our devices, software from that device must first decode the file and store the result of that decoding in a temporary block of memory called a buffer. Buffers become responsible for communicating the color information stored by each individual pixel within an image (in each instance, the file is opened), and from there, that color information can be rendered by our device’s lighting (usually LCD or LED) display.

When we want to layer new text or shapes which display on top of an image, we need to access the file in memory and create our own temporary image buffer to work within. This new buffer will give us control over an entirely new layer of pixels in our image, allowing us to temporarily influence — and eventually save changes to — our image’s final display. How our image subsequently implements our new buffer depends on the original file format. If we begin with a PNG file, for example, we’ll leverage built-in transparency features to layer new content on top of the original file. If we begin with a JPG file, which doesn’t offer transparency features, we’ll end up with a single, blended image layer that effectively mixed the new and original content together. In either case, the result of the operation will retain the encoding of the original file, allowing us to easily write our resulting (slightly larger sized) file encoding to a new file entirely.

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