A Crash Course on Resolution

Ever realize why your images are turning out gross and pixelated? The answer is resolution.

But first off, a small tangent.

Being Canadian is just a bit weird because we pride ourselves in using the metric system for most things, but our print industry continues to use the imperial system. We pretend to be better than the Americans with their weird measurement systems but we use letter size (8.5” x 11”) paper, and we measure paper weight using the basic weight system.

So therefore, we measure resolution using DPI or PPI, but what does that even mean?

First off, while we use the terms interchangeably, they don’t actually mean the same thing. DPI stands for dots per inch, and is typically used for print applications. On the other hand, PPI stands for pixels per inch and is used when talking about screen based graphics.

Why all these dots and pixels? Well basically, everything you see is made of tiny little dots. All printed material is just tiny dots of cyan, magenta, yellow and black that are so small that your brain makes the illusion of seeing a much wider range of colours. On screens, pixels of red, green and blue are used to do the same thing.

DPI is just a measurement of how many of those tiny dots are in an inch. The greater the number, the higher the resolution. However, a higher resolution also results in a larger file size, which means that the printing industry standard of 300 dpi, just isn’t realistic for wide-format printing. For most of our artwork guidelines, we recommend a minimum resolution of 150 dpi.

On screens (ie. Websites, social media), the guideline is typically 72ppi, and sticking to this will make sure that your images are crisp but also a small enough file size to be loaded faster. 

What do we mean when we say your image isn’t high resolution enough? Think about the pixels that make up your image. There’s only so many of them so when you go to make the image bigger, a program has to go in and make the best guess about how to make it bigger. This doesn’t work very well and at this point, it’s probably just a better idea to choose to use a different photo, preferably from a stock photo site and not taken off the internet. Since web images are optimized to load quickly, they often lack the resolution needed to be printed at large sizes.

If the issue is your logo, see if you have a vector version of your logo. Vector files are not limited by resolution problems and can be scaled infinitely.

Key takeaways:

  • The higher the resolution, the more dots/pixels are used to make the image and therefore will look better when scaled up
  • Traditional print will usually use 300dpi files, screen applications uses 72ppi and wide-format print is around 150dpi
  • Avoid stealing images off the internet. Not only does this violate copyright law but the images aren’t high resolution enough for print