Some recent methods for lossy signal and image compression store only a few selected pixels and fill in the missing structures by inpainting with a partial differential equation (PDE). Suitable operators include the Laplacian, the biharmonic operator, and edge-enhancing anisotropic diffusion (EED). The quality of such approaches depends substantially on the selection of the data that is kept. Optimising this data in the domain and codomain gives rise to challenging mathematical problems that shall be addressed in our work. In the 1D case, we prove results that provide insights into the difficulty of this problem, and we give evidence that a splitting into spatial and tonal (i.e. function value) optimisation does hardly deteriorate the results. In the 2D setting, we present generic algorithms that achieve a high reconstruction quality even if the specified data is very sparse. To optimise the spatial data, we use a probabilistic sparsification, followed by a nonlocal pixel exchange that avoids getting trapped in bad local optima. After this spatial optimisation we perform a tonal optimisation that modifies the function values in order to reduce the global reconstruction error. For homogeneous diffusion inpainting, this comes down to a least squares problem for which we prove that it has a unique solution. We demonstrate that it can be found efficiently with a gradient descent approach that is accelerated with fast explicit diffusion (FED) cycles. Our framework allows to specify the desired density of the inpainting mask a priori. Moreover, is more generic than other data optimisation approaches for the sparse inpainting problem, since it can also be extended to nonlinear inpainting operators such as EED. This is exploited to achieve reconstructions with state-of-the-art quality.