An issue we quite commonly face is the inability to use images and photos provided by clients for print jobs due the issue that the resolution or size of the image is insufficient for print. Much of the population believes that if an image looks good on screen, it will print just as well. This is not true. Image resolution for on-screen viewing is drastically different than print. Sometimes clients are under the impression that they can provide an image downloaded from their website for a print project and it will look just as good in print as it does on their screen. You may have witnessed the result of this, printing low resolution images. The appearance is bitmapped, blocky, blurry... printing image files that are too small and too low a resolution for print, not the best quality at all.

These are two of the most common issues that determine the best quality of an image for print, image dimensions and resolution. Our general rule of thumb is 300 dpi (dots per inch) at actual print size. There are more technical explanations about the relationships between file size, resolution, and image dimensions, but for the purposes of this article, we’d like to keep it simple.

The best way to check if an image is the proper resolution is to use an image size calculator. You can find several of these online. First determine the files pixel dimensions. On a PC right click on the image file and go to properties>details. On a Mac select the image file and hit control “I” (info). These pixel dimensions can be punched into the image size calculator and, if you select the 300 dpi option, the maximum size (in inches) that the image can be used for print will show in result.

Other issues that determine best print quality are image sharpness (focus), color, composition, exposure... These are somewhat photography related issues but they do effect image quality. There is a great deal a designer can do in Photoshop to correct or enhance a photo, but it is always better to have a better quality start point.

With a digital camera, the quality or file size setting for photos should be as high as possible. This will ensure that there is sufficient resolution for print. The highest quality or file size setting ensures that the most information related to the photograph is captured, thus resulting in the best quality for print. These files can always be reduced in size for online viewing or email transmission by removing file information through compression; but you cannot add information back into a low resolution file. These larger file sizes will eat up memory on your card but will result in the best quality images for print.

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