Resolution, and not just for the new year…

When a member of my family asked me earlier this week what my ‘new year resolution’ was, I was tempted to answer “300 dpi”. I would have laughed but I’m afraid that the rest of the family would have just given me that old-fashioned look that says “Neil is laughing at his stupid jokes again”. For the record I want to get fitter, lose some weight, shoot better pictures and love everyone.

To photographers, designers and anyone else who handles photographs resolution is an important concept. Get a few photographers together and someone will complain about a client whose comprehension of the concept of resolution is so poor that they have rejected huge files just because they hadn’t been saved at 300 dpi. What is 300 dpi anyway? Does it have any relevance in todays’ digital world?

Put simply, DPI is an output term. It describes the number of dots per inch that the printing system will place onto the paper and, generally speaking, the more dots you have the better the quality. Of course if you have cheap paper that soaks up ink too many dots just produces a mulchy mess. Newspaper quality is a case in point: try to stick more than the right amount of ink down and the paper will get soggy and rip whilst going through the presses. Your inkjet printer at home might be capable of 2,880 dots per inch but that doesn’t mean that you have to save your pictures at that size. So much software these days has the ability to re-size and re-interpret images to make them work.

Don’t get me wrong, it is always best to send pictures to commercial printers or reproduction houses at the right size at the correct resolution and properly sharpened but some of the nonsense talked by people who don’t understand is very frustrating.

Photographs are actually measured in pixels per inch or pixels per centimetre but even that misses the point. What actually matters is the number of pixels that make up the image. You can have a picture that measures 3,000 pixels along one side and 2,000 pixels along the other (6 million pixels in all) and that is really the important fact. At 72 pixels per inch (the normal internet resolution) that would appear as a huge picture. If the same 3k x 2k pixel image was saved at 150 pixels per inch (about normal for newsprint) it would still be 50cm wide whereas at 300 ppi it would be 25cm wide. Actually switching between resolutions is easy and it makes no difference to the image quality (unless you repeatedly re-save in a lossy format such as Jpeg). All that really matters is the number of pixels.

Even going back to the days of scanning negatives on the venerable Kodak RFS machines into Photoshop version 2.5 where an original 35mm image measured 24mm x 36mm (that’s 864 sq mm) meant that every picture was still 24mm x 36mm but had a resolution measuring up 2500 ppi it was a few clicks of the mouse to change the picture to the required resolution at the required size with no damage done – with the possible exception that the low power of the computers meant that it took more than a few seconds.

Exactly who trained these people who don’t get this concept is beyond me. It is as simple as it is logical. My new year resolution is, therefore NOT 300dpi. I’m going for 254 ppi or 100 ppcm along with a bookmarked link to this blog piece so that I can refer people to it as, and when, required.

6 comments

  1. Good post Neil, all photographers will understand but the problem indeed is the preproduction, hope they will read this pos toot. I shot some pictures with my Fuji x100 I forgot to change the 72 dpi into 300, and got a comment that the images are to small LOL
    With my 3ds mk3 it will go automatically to 300. I still do 300 dpi i do not want to argue again and again. Its a continueing story it started with my Canon d2000 (same as yours 1998) and they still
    don’t know nothing about digitalcameras even with 21 mp. I did gave it up..
    Regards

    Hans

    Like

  2. So recognizable! How many times have I just made a small change in PS and resent the image back tp the client…! Funny enough, when I accidentally sent some images in lo-res to a client and got complaints I was already in “explaining dpi”-mode before realizing they were right for once. Teaches a lesson too…

    Like

  3. I really appreciate the work you put into these articles. I’ve been following you for many years and always find inspiration in your images and words. I rarely post on your blog (well never, actually, til now, but I just wanted you to know, I read it all. Best luck, wealth and health in the new year… t

    Like

    1. Thanks Tom. The old blog had no comment facility because it was put together by an amateur (me). It’s good to know that all of that work was worthwhile.

      Like

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