That’s a question we hear often for a variety of reasons. And while the answer isn’t an easy “Yes” or “No”, maybe we can offer some insights to help you answer that question yourself.
For all the talk about high-definition TVs and retina-display monitors, your screen is relatively “low-def” compared to real life. For instance, the images you see on this website have been saved with a resolution of anywhere between 72 and 150 dots per inch (dpi). If we wanted to print them, we’d need a resolution 2-4 times greater than that, or more. Why? Because our printing methods produce visuals at 300dpi or higher. And while there are plenty of technical explanations we can provide regarding that particular standard, we’ll save that for another time (ie. it’s boring!).
So how does this help you determine whether we can use your image? It all comes down to pixels (dots) and a little bit of math. Let’s say you wanted to provide us with an image that’s 600 pixels wide by 900 pixels tall. To determine how large that will print, just take those 2 numbers and divide them by our printing resolution of 300dpi:
600 pixels ÷ 300 dpi = 2 inches
900 pixels ÷ 300 dpi = 3 inches
With some simple math, your image will print 2 inches wide by 3 inches tall. Hopefully you weren’t planning to use that as a full-page background!
As before, it all comes down to pixels. A 600×900 pixel image has a total of 540,000 pixels. Because we’re already set on a resolution of 300dpi, the size of the pixels can’t change, so the only way to print larger is to add more pixels. But, where do those pixels come from? We can try asking Photoshop to guess what information to put inside those added pixels, and it might do an OK job to a certain point, but eventually all that guesswork is going to begin distorting the image and create blurriness or “pixelation”, where you can actually see the little pixels that make up the photograph.
The only true way to print larger is to start off with a higher resolution image with enough pixels to satisfy the print requirement. So, if we wanted an image that printed 8 inches x 10 inches, we can do the reverse math process:
8 inches X 300 dpi = 2400 pixels
10 inches X 300 dpi = 3000 pixels
Again, with some simple math, your image will need to be 2400 pixels wide x 3000 pixels tall to print 8×10.
As we said previously, website images are usually saved at smaller sizes because your screen resolution is lower than print quality. Additionally, websites often compress graphics so they download quicker, decreasing page load times. That compression is often undetectable to the human eye on screen but printing standards have a way of drawing out those imperfections. While it still may be possible to use some photographs found on websites, especially if they don’t need to be printed too large, logos and graphics including text will be most problematic.
And, of course, any image found online is subject to copyright. Google’s image search can be a great resource, but using those photographs in your own materials can carry some significant copyright penalties. It’s always best to stick with a reputable company that offers stock images for sale.
Sharpness, focus, color, composition and exposure can all affect how a photograph can be used. While designers have amazing tools at their fingertips, there are often limits to the magic. For instance, it’s nearly impossible to fix a blurry image. And even a small amount of blurriness around the edges can prevent persons or objects from being cut out of the photograph. And if text needs to be put on top of the image, the photo’s composition needs to be considered.
Hopefully this has helped to provide some insight about image requirements for high-resolution printing. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions!