One of the key factors to whether your digital picture looks good when it is printed is its resolution. Resolution simply means how many pixels (dots) are in your digital image. If the resolution is very high (i.e., there are many dots), the picture will look crisp and sharp. If the resolution is low, it will look jagged and rough, especially at large print sizes.

All things being equal, a digital camera with more pixels will produce pictures with better resolution than a camera with less pixels. A 1 mega pixel camera means that the camera records 1 million pixels or dots per picture on its highest quality setting.

The better the resolution, the larger the file size generally is. Larger files can clog email boxes and take a longer time to download from a web site. As a result, many pictures you see in emails or on non photo-related web sites are often scaled down to a low resolution that is not suitable for high quality prints.

Image Size

Persnickety Prints

Image Size is the size of your original digital photo file, measured in pixels and DPI (Dots Per Inch, sometimes referred to as PPI, Pixels Per Inch).

What is a pixel? A pixel is a small square dot. DPI refers to the number of dots (pixels) per inch. Why is this important? If an image is too small, you might not be able to order a large size print or other photo product. A general rule of thumb for image size versus print size is: the image size should be at least the size of the print you want multiplied by 300, at 300 DPI. For example, if you want to order a 4×6 print, the image size should be 1200 pixels (4 x 300) by 1800 pixels (6 x 300) at 300 DPI. If the image size was half of that (600 by 900), then the 4×6 print would likely come out distorted or pixilated if you were to order a print.

Persnickety Prints

Camera Settings Decide in advance what is more important: image quality or room on your memory card. You can set your camera to take photos that are larger or smaller in size. If you know you will only be printing 4×6 photos, then you can reduce the image quality, which allows you to store more photos on your memory card. If you will be printing enlargements or other photo products like photo books, then keep the setting on “high” for higher quality images. The image sizes will be larger and you will not be able to store as many on your memory card at one time. Also, set the file type as “jpeg” if your camera allows you to control that detail. You might have a “tiff” option, but it is not necessary to save the photos as “tiff” files, and it will only take up more room on your memory card.

Persnickety Prints

If you have a point and shoot camera, open your main menu, and find the setting for “image quality” (or something similar). Usually, the options are “low,” “medium,” and “high.” Choose “high” for higher quality (larger) photos. If you have a dSLR camera, you probably have additional options. Just stick to high quality jpeg images, unless you know you will be doing extensive image editing and post-production. In that case, you might want to shoot RAW files.

The resolution of your photo is directly impacted by the image size. The more pixels your photos have, the higher the resolution (see skittle analogy).

Mobile Photography

Mobile cameras have made huge strides in digital imaging quality. iPhone 5 and newer offers 8 mega pixels on the front facing lens. Android based devices vary with even higher output. Instagram, Facebook, and other mobile social applications compress images for fast loading which restricts printing to small sizes. For best results, avoid using these platforms for editing and design when intending to print.

Additional Tips

Now that you understand image size and resolution a bit more, and understand why they are important when working in your online photo account, here are a few more extra tips about image size and resolution:

  • Computer screens display photos at 72 DPI. That means the printed photo will look different than how it appears on your computer screen.
  • If you crop a photo too much (zoom in too much), it will look pixilated and distorted, no matter how large the image size is.
  • Once you take the photo, you cannot increase the size or resolution by increasing the number of pixels in any photo editing program. If you wish to increase the resolution or file size, you must do so by adjusting your camera settings before you take any more photos.

When using our online photo ordering system, we will “warn” you if a picture does not meet our suggested resolution standards.