Images for print – the Resolution Solution


A common problem we find when designing anything for print – ads, flyers, magazines, etc – is the size of the digital images supplied by customers. It’s confusing because a picture that looks great when printed on your desktop printer – or when viewed online – may not be good enough for professional printing. Here’s why.

Broadly speaking, the bigger your original images, the bigger they can be printed. So put your digital camera or phone on its highest/finest setting and you’re off to a good start. Generally, an 8 megapixel camera is going to be better, size-wise, than a 4 megapixel one because the more pixels, the more information there’ll be in your images – and that’s important.

Think of it this way. Put 22 players on a football pitch and there’s a fair amount of space between them. Put 100 times that number on and there’s barely room for the ball. If your image only has 22 pixels, it won’t be as sharp or have as much detail as one that’s got 2,200.

The other factor that comes into play is the resolution. Most cameras take pictures at 72 dpi, or dots per inch (most web pictures are at this resolution too) – professional printing requires images of at least 300dpi. So if we’re given a 72dpi image to use for print, it has to be made smaller so that the dots get closer together.

We resize images in Photoshop, generally by a factor of 4 or so – for a 72dpi picture that’s 10cm square, the software divides that 10cm by 4 to end up with a picture of 300dpi – but it will only be around 2.5cm square on the printed page. If you want a 10cm picture on your print, it would have to be around 35-40cm at 72dpi.

why 72 dpi images won't work in print
Hopefully this image gives some idea of the difference. See why a picture that looks A4 sized on your computer probably won’t be able to be printed that size? There just ain’t enough dots. And it gets worse if you want to make the picture bigger.

Imagine spreading those 22 footballers across four football pitches….
It’s hard to make small pictures much bigger, We can tweak them with imaging software, but the quality will suffer.

So to get better images for print:

• Supply a big picture
• Don’t expect a picture pulled off the net to fill an A4 page
• if you’re scanning an image, scan it at 300dpi
• Oh, and supply it as is – don’t fiddle with it on the camera or on the computer. Leave that to us.

If in doubt, ask – that’s what we’re here for!

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David Bridle

Head honcho and teaboy at The Press Gang
Journalist, designer, print buyer and web designer – David started The Press Gang in 1991. Besides communing with Macs, he likes sailing, travelling, singing shanties, Spotify and keeping the customer satisfied.
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