Embedded quantization is a mechanism employed by lossy image coding systems to successively refine the distortion of an image. Commonly, it is conducted through a uniform scalar dead zone quantizer (USDQ) together with a bitplane coding strategy (BPC). Although this scheme is convenient for current hardware architectures and achieves competitive coding performance, it establishes the embedded quantizer without allowing major variations. This paper studies the design of non-restricted embedded quantizers with the aim to determine a quantization scheme that provides (near-)optimal performance for the lossy compression of images at low rates. Results suggest that optimally designed quantization schemes can achieve slightly better performance than that of USDQ+BPC by employing a non-uniform quantizer that requires fewer quantization stages.