Whether you are printing holiday shots for your personal album or high quality portraits for a gallery or exhibition, knowing your images will print in great quality at the size you require is critical for every photographer. Most professionals will be well versed in the details and technicalities around sending images to print but for the beginner or ambitious amateur, the topic may seem like a bit of a minefield. We have spent weeks researching, debating and developing our solution and believe us when we say that we got a little confused at times too, so don’t worry, you are not alone!
Below we will focus on the most important areas needed for achieving great quality prints and give as concise an explanation of each as possible.
In the same way that a piece of paper is measured in millimetres or inches, images are measured in pixels along their width and height. They are the single most important factor when it comes to determining how your image will look when printed. If you know how many pixels wide and high your image is, you can work out how good it will look at any given printed size.
You can find out the pixel dimensions of your image very easily. On most modern cameras, tablets or smartphones, you can bring up the image details on screen while appreciating the shots you have taken. This will usually be under ‘show info’, ‘show image details’ or something very similar in your devices menu options. If you are viewing your images on an iPhone or iPad, you may have to use a 3rd party app like iPhoto to get this information or transfer your images to a laptop and follow the steps below.
If you have transferred your images to a computer, you can get the same image details by looking at the file properties. You can do this quickly without having to actually open the image: if you’re using a PC, just right click the image and select ‘properties’ and then look at the details tab. On an Apple Mac, hold click the image whilst holding down the control key and select ‘Get Info’. You can also play around with the various window view settings on either operating system to display this information in the window automatically when selecting the image, making life even easier.
Resolution and viewing distance
Resolution is the level of detail in an image and is measured in pixels per inch or PPI for short. It is very common to see PPI referred to as DPI, but they are two different things entirely. DPI is short for dots per inch and refers to how many dots the actual printer lays down on paper and so is not an attribute of the original image itself.
It is important to try and understand that, until you actually print an image, it doesn’t really have a physical size or a pixels per inch value, despite what your device may tell you. It is only when you select a physical output size that you can calculate how many pixels per inch there will be on your final printed piece and to get an idea of how good it will look. Some devices will display a PPI value by default but this is effectively just ‘filling in a gap’ of information. Your device has no idea what size you intend to print your image and therefore can’t tell you how many pixels per inch it will have.
Just to confuse things even more, this is all affected by how far away you are likely to be viewing your print from. Larger prints intended to be viewed from far away do not need to be as highly detailed as a standard photo print that you would view at arm’s length.
Industry standards generally accept that, for larger prints which will be viewed from a distance, 150ppi is acceptable. For smaller prints which will be scrutinised in more detail, 300ppi is required for ‘true’ photographic quality. This is heavily debated in many online forums with differing opinions. The 300ppi recommendation is sometimes considered to be slightly out of date when it comes to photography because camera lenses and sensors have come such a long way and can produce much more detailed images. With a well taken shot on a good camera, it’s almost impossible nowadays to see the difference between a 200ppi and 300ppi image with the human eye.
Because we’ve already set how high we require the resolution to be to get the best prints, you don’t need to worry. When you upload your image, we will report back to you with the quality you will achieve at your chosen size. We have also created a calculator tool too if you wanted to get a snappy answer before ordering. Our resolution calculator will tell you the maximum size you can achieve with your image and also give a quality rating against a selection of our sizes so you can chose for yourself if you want to sacrifice image quality for size or vice versa.
The resoultion calcuator can be found on the photography product pages
Most of all, let’s not forget that if the original photo is out of focus or not taken with a steady hand, all of the above factors become completely irrelevant.
Hopefully these tips will help you navigate the photographic minefield and you can now start ordering with peace of mind!