Why Image Resolution and Size Matters

“It’s our party we can do what we want” – Miley Cyrus, We Can’t Stop

Hey, it’s me. You know I’m right on board the Miley train with that quote. For a few minutes, I’m going to have to exit the party and talk about image resolution and DPI. In this case we can’t do what we want, but it’s okay as long as we’re all at the same party. That just means learning some new moves.

Like you, most of our print clients are not trained in graphic design. That’s not to say they don’t come up with some pretty great images, but when it comes to the technical side they get a little lost. So when we start asking to get artwork at 300 dpi, they get stumped.

We even created a guideline for sending us artwork, but it’s really written more for designers than laypeople.

Still stumped. So I thought a little course on image resolution and image creation would be helpful. We’ll start from the basics. It’s not really complicated, it just might be a new language to you. Thankfully there’s no verb conjugation, so let’s jump in!

Image Size and Resolution

The first one is pretty easy. Size is the dimensions of your image, by height and width. Let’s use a letter-size example. In inches your design is 8 1/2″ x 11.” In pixels, which is the unit of measurement that we use on a monitor, it would be 612 x 792. Same size, just different words we use to measure.

Resolution is very different from size. Resolution is the number of pixels per inch that make up your image. The more pixels per inch, the clearer the image. That’s a simplified explanation, but it’s really all you need to know at this point.

Related to resolution is DPI, or Dots Per Inch. When we talk about printing, dots per inch is the number of halftone dots (ink) that will print per square inch. If you guessed that an image saved at 300 dpi will print more clearly than an image at 72 dpi, you got it!

Here’s a visual example of differences in resolution. The two pickle images below are the exact same size. The only difference is that the resolution on the left is 300 dpi and the right is 72 dpi.

Pickle wink image resolution

Click to enlarge. If that’s your thing.

See? Nobody likes a fuzzy pickle.

It might make logical sense that if we get an image at 72 dpi, we should just change it to 300 dpi. If only it were that simple, I wouldn’t even be writing this. Unfortunately, we can’t add pixels to a low resolution image to make it clearer. It only makes it big and fuzzy. Go ahead, try it. I’ll wait.

To paraphrase Miley, this is why it’s not our party. It’s the computer that owns the night. It don’t take nothin’ from nobody.

Inkjets, Websites, and Screen Printing… oh my.

On your website, it’s fine to have images at 72 dpi at the size you want them to appear. In fact, it’s great because the file size is lower, which means your pages load faster. Most of the time, your viewers don’t need to enlarge the images anyway.

Image resolution matters most when we take a digital image into the print world.

Just as our image on screen gets fuzzy when we save it at a low resolution (72 dpi), it will be fuzzy, or pixelated, when we print it using an inkjet printer. Inkjet printers are dumb robots and they’ll just print whatever we tell them to. They won’t ask you to bump up the resolution.

Screen printing is similar, just a different method. We’re creating a stencil of your design and pushing ink through it. So if your design is a low resolution, the stencil will be fuzzy, too. When we prepare your screen, we need the design to be as crisp and clear as it can be.

I hope this is helpful to you as you get your designs together. It’s totally fine to create your art in whatever program you have available to you. You don’t need the Adobe Design Suite or a mega-Apple desktop. The most important thing is the size and resolution at which you export your images.

Back to the party.

Questions? Relatable Miley Cyrus lyrics? Discuss in the comments below or hit me up: sparky@sparkyfirepants.com

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(818) 835-2585 Woodland Hills, California | sparky@sparkyfirepants.com

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