This post is about getting good prints of your pictures. Read this to help you determine if your photo will look good in print as-is, or if some rework will be needed first. Remember, all pictures aren’t all-purpose.

First, we’ll describe the problem.

Situation 1: You’ve shown that picture of your new puppy on your cell phone to all of your friends. It’s so good, it should be in print, hanging on your living room wall. But when you print it on your 8×10 photo printer, it doesn’t look so great. The white areas look like the printer quit working there. His cute little ears look like stairs…

 
Situation 2: You work hard designing a sales sheet for your business. Everything is just the way you want it. You email a proof and everyone loves it. But when you get the finished product (not from us!) the pictures look like part of a bad photocopy. People are blurry and jaggy. You know your boss will really love her picture…

Why does this happen? Everything looked good on-screen, so why not in print? Aside from color balance and exposure, RESOLUTION is the determining factor between jaggy-looking printed pictures and sharp, clean printing. Most of us don’t even consider resolution – we just know it looks good on-screen. We often see this problem when we’re getting your files ready to print – many photos we see are really too low in resolution as-is for printing and we’re sure you might not realize that. (And yes, there are some ways to improve resolution, as you’ll see in this post.)

Here’s a low resolution picture of Mr. Kitty; on-screen:

PeteNormal
Same picture, but printed enlarged to a 10 x 14 print:

Pete25asfull

You see the problem.

Here is a simple explanation of Resolution. Pictures are made of pixels, and the number of pixels per inch is resolution, described as “ppi”. Imagine a square-tiled mosaic of a circle and each square tile used to make it equals one pixel. When you look at it far away it looks like a circle, but the closer you get the bigger the tiles appear and the more the “circle” starts looking like circular stairs. That’s what happens when low resolution images are enlarged to too much – to print bigger than the picture really should.

Where do these low resolution images come from, anyway? A lot of them come from smart phones or the web. Typically images on the web are about 72 ppi which matches the resolution of many monitors and helps web pages load fast. They look fine on-screen. Flickr® shows that most of the photos on that internet service are taken with iPhones. Some smart phones can take surprisingly high quality pictures but are often automatically lowered in quality when sharing, so the picture sent in a message or email or downloaded from social media is low resolution. This can happen on a traditional digital camera, too, if it’s set so that the most pictures possible on the SIM card – that will result in a lot of pictures but they’ll be low resolution – low ppi – images. A word of advice, set your camera for high quality images and get another SIM card; no regrets.

What can be done if all you have is a low resolution picture? Either print it small, or use software to intelligently enlarge it for better quality. A few possibilities are Adobe Photoshop® that can improve the resolution based on the type of image to be enlarged. PerfectResize® by onOne Software® gives great results. Another possibility is the free online service PicMonkey® – http://www.picmonkey.com – use the “resize” option. Do you already have a favorite photo resizing software or technique? We’d love to hear what you recommend.

A quick check to find the maximum print size when printing pictures is to check the file size. Here is a list of file sizes for .jpg files that can be useful when judging if a picture can be printed at a standard size. Most cameras can save images as .JPG (jpeg) files. In general, files should be at least this size in kilobytes to reproduce acceptably:

5 x 7 inches – 1500 x 2100 pixels, about 668 kb

8 x 10 inches – 2000 x 2500 pixels, about 791 kb

11 x 14 inches – 2200 x 2800 pixels, about 860 kb

11 x 17 inches – 2200 x 3400 pixels, about 946 kb

(JPG file sizes increase when opened/decompressed.)

If you are ever in doubt about the quality of a picture you want printed, please let us know. You can upload the file and we’ll get back to you.