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Just a quick question on Magento file structure.

I have a site where images are coming out too small and being scaled up. I've changed the resize to the correct size but the images are still not looking great with compression turned completely off.

I want to double check what size the product images were before the resize was done. Where are these base images located so I can check their size?

Are they the images in media/catalog/product/[firstletter]/[secondletter]/ ?

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Yep...the full size images are located in media/catalog/product/[firstletter]/[secondletter]/.
but if you manually change an image from that folder you have to clear the image cache.
You can do it via admin from System->Cache Management (see a button at the bottom of the page) or simply clear the contents of the media/catalog/product/cache folder.

This is needed because once an image is resized, the next resize action will look for the resized image on the disk. If it's there, it does nothing. Just returns the image url.
So if you change the main image and the cached image is still there you will see no effect on frontend.

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