Image quality has different standards for digital format than it does for print. To turn a digital image into a printed photo with the most sharpness and definition possible, you need to understand how quality parameters translate from one format to the other.
While this can all sound too technical and complicated for the average, non-photography expert, in reality, it’s a lot simpler than it sounds. And you don’t have to be a professional printer or photo editing genius to be able to print photos in high resolution.
Here we explain what you need to look out for in terms of image resolution, to make sure the resolution of your image is ideal for printing!
In photography, image resolution equals image quality: the higher resolution is, the better quality of the image –in terms of details and definition– will be.
In digital format (photos taken with a digital camera), image resolution is linked to the number of pixels the photo has. Pixels –a short for “picture element”– are the smallest unit of information for digital, visual content. In layman's terms, they are very tiny “tiles” containing visual details, that put together form the picture. The more tiles you have, the more detailed the picture will be. Simple, right?
However, pixel dimensions don’t translate properly onto physical paper –or any other printing material–, mainly because prints are often in a different size or proportion than digital screens.
In printing format, image resolution is defined by DPI, which stands for “dots per inch” and means exactly what it says: the number of ink dots a printer can add in one inch of paper. The higher the dot density is, the higher the print quality will be. Not too complicated.
Then comes the translation part: Pixels aren’t proportional to DPI, because the printed dots are closer together on paper than pixels are on screen.
So, in order to print a photo without losing image quality, you need the pixel count in the digital image to convert into a decent DPI count for your desired print size.
Ah, that did sound a bit complex, we admit. But don’t despair, you’re about to see how to make it easier!
That’s it in a nutshell: if you don’t want to bother with the technicalities of it all, just know that a high quality print needs a minimum resolution of 300DPI.
The little issue is that you cannot judge print quality by a glance. As we mentioned before, digital screens at their max translate into a smaller DPI. For example, computer monitors have 72 DPI on average –the final number will vary depending on if it's a Mac or Windows running device. If you open a high-resolution image on your computer, it’ll look sharp on display, but if you send it to print as it is, it’ll be grainy and low-quality.
When it’s time to print, you must always set the image to 300 DPI. But wait! Because the pixel count in the image will determine the maximum image size you can print it at high quality.
Too technical again? Keep reading, trust us!
There is a very simple cheat trick to find out how big a photo can print to in the best resolution possible: divide the pixel count by 300 to get the maximum inch size.
For example, if you have a 1,600 x 1,200px image, you can print it up to 5.3” x 4” size at the highest quality. Anything bigger than that, sharpness will be affected.
This little trick works in reverse, to figure out what digital resolution you need for your print to be optimal quality in your desired size.
Say that you are needing to have a photo printed in 20” by 13” size. Do those measurements times 300 to find what your image file size has to be (6,000 x 4,000, roughly).
As you can see, large prints require larger file sizes.
A way to both avoid having to do too much math and make sure you can print your photos in any size you wish, is to get your digital images in the highest resolution possible.
Why? Because printing an image at a size smaller than the maximum available is effortless, and also digitally downsizing or cropping a large image is relatively easy. However, upscaling a low resolution image in order to get a good quality print is a bit trickier and results aren’t always guaranteed.
When buying stock photos make sure they are as high resolution as you can afford. If you work with custom-shot pictures, make sure they are taken with a professional, high-res camera.
Most of the top stock photo sites have high resolution photos that are perfect for all kinds of print sizes, even for large-format prints such as billboards or car wraps. And the best: some of them don’t charge extra for high quality photos!
Another little perk: many of these sites display all available resolutions and DPI –sometimes even add maximum print sizes– in the image page, so you can make a very informed decision before downloading them.
Here are our recommended agencies:
Photocase – German agency Photocase offers you artsy images in up to XL format. Price is tied to size, but they’re affordable considering their high artistic value.
You’re all set, but before you go, here’s a little parting gift:
Do you have a digital photo that is a lower resolution than ideal for your intended print size? Don’t worry! Try this very cool AI Image Upscaler, that increases the resolution of your image in seconds, giving you a larger photo in a higher definition! It also has bonus features to resize images for social media use, and more.
Standard Photo Sizes for Marketing Materials
You’re ready to print your pictures, but you’re not sure what size you need? Make sure to check our full guide to standard photo sizes and aspect ratios for popular marketing uses, including print materials!
Free Image Editing Tools
If you want to further modify your images, have a look at the best free design software! Our updated list has for every need.