Photo by Scott Bourne

Photo by Scott Bourne

If you’re making photographic prints, you may believe that you have to print at 300 DPI in order to get photographic quality. While that MAY in some cases give you the BEST quality, it’s not required to get good or acceptable quality.

Large poster size prints at 150 DPI often look great (viewed from the proper viewing distance as opposed to gawked by a pixel peeper using an electron microscope.)

Many printers will do a good to great job at resolutions between 180 and 240 DPI.

I suggest you test your printer. Print at resolutions ranging from 150 to 300 DPI then ask a group of your peers to select their favorite. All other things being equal, I’ll bet you often find that the lower resolution prints score as well as the high resolution prints.

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Join the conversation! 0 Comments

  1. What printer would you recomend as a solid, day to day family photos?

  2. Excellent recommendation. I would take it one step further. Playing around with our printer and printing in all sorts of ways can give us some very helpful information.

  3. Is there any benefit to printing at lower resolution though? I suppose there is an ink and print speed savings but is it significant enough to matter?

  4. If I’m sending a file to Mpix or other company to print say an 8×10, is there any specific reason I shouldn’t export it to a 300 dpi jpg.

  5. I guess that you can make larger prints with less Megapixels. But thats about all i know about printing:-)

  6. I was just struggling with this issue – thanks for posting. On a similar note, I’ve started to print some of my images, and wonder about the best frames and mattes? I don’t really want to spend the money to get custom frames, so I found a nice frame from Neilsen Bainbridge that’s 12×16 with an 8×12 matte. I’d be curious to know what other use, and to hear about other’s approaches. Thanks!

  7. Mpix says the optimum ppi for their C prints is 250 ppi. I’ve made a few prints just shy of 20″x30″ from 8mp 20D. I used Adobe bicubic smoother to create a 250 ppi file, but the original resolution at that size would be about 125 ppi. I’m amazed at how good they look.

  8. Wow Scott forget DPI! Where did you make this photo? It’s utterly spectacular!!!

  9. Scott said “Large poster size prints at 150 DPI often look great (viewed from the proper viewing distance as opposed to gawked by a pixel peeper using an electron microscope.)”

    “Many printers will do a good to great job at resolutions between 180 and 240 DPI.”

    Actually, I’d pick different numbers depending on the printer brand. The correct term for the image is “pixels per inch” (ppi), while the printer uses “dots per inch” (dpi). You want to watch out for pixel/dot boundries. Otherwise you get digital artifacts. I used to do 3D modeling and rendering for large format printing. We could get any resolution we wanted (not limited by a camera) and found a 4:1 dot-to-pixel ratio to generally be the best resolution for the highest quality print.

    Sorry, but I have to get a bit technical here. Skip to the bottom if you don’t want to know how this stuff works.

    When you send an 300 ppi image to a 1200 dpi printer, the printer driver will do some very simple math – it will repeat that pixel 4 times high and 4 times wide to achieve a 1200 dpi. (1200 / 300 = 4). So that is a 4:1 ratio – a good thing. If you send a 400 ppi image, it works ok as well (1200 / 4 = 3). Notice the ratio is a whole number – not a fraction.

    But if you send a 350 ppi image, funny things start to happen. 1200 dip devided by 350 ppi = 3.428. That is a problem, because the first 3 pixels are the proper color, but you can’t print 1/2 of a pixel. So the printer driver has to average the neighboring pixels to come up with a color for that dot. Sometimes this is not noticeable, but sometimes it created ugly digital artifacts.

    If you have a black pixel next to a white pixel, the averaged dot will be a shade of gray. That should look OK. But if you have a blue pixel next to a yellow pixel, the averaged dot will be a shade of green. This may or may not be noticeable.

    So to avoid this, first you need to know the base resolution of the printer. HP and Canon are 1200 dpi and Epson is 1440 dpi. Now divide this value by whole numbers to achieve a list of PPI values. In the case of HP/Canon, it’s 1200, 600, 400, 300, 240, 150, 120, 100, and 75. For Epson it’s 1440, 720, 480, 360, 288, 240, 180, 160, 144, 120, 96, 90 and 80.

    Take the width and height of your image in pixels and divide it be the desired print size (image area only) to get your ppi. Compare to this list and either crop or resample in Photoshop to achieve the exact ppi.

    You’ll notice that 300 ppi is not a good value for Epson. Either use 360 or 288 ppi. And 180 ppi is not a good value for HP/Canon. But 240 ppi works for either.

    You’ll notice Scott suggested you experiment. That’s a good suggestion. If you can’t tell a difference, then you can ignore this advice. But some images will show a difference and to me that’s important.

    Photoshop users have it easy. In the image size dialog box, you can enter the image size (with “resample” unchecked) and it will tell you the PPI you need for that size. Then you crop or resample the image. Photoshop does a much smarter job of averaging pixels than your printer driver does, and the results show. Users of Qimage have it even easier – this work is all done automatically. That is one of the reasons Qimage is so popular – it just works.

    BTW, for offset printing use 266ppi, not the 300 ppi the editor always asks for. The rule is 2 X the screen size (133 x 2 = 266). But that’s another story.

    Scott, thanks for the great job you do, and I hope you don’t mind a injection of technical data.

  10. @Ken I don’t mind at all. If the audience wants that data you’re free to provide your opinion and folks can decide what to do with it.

    I don’t often have time to be so pedantic as to discuss the differences like PPI, DPI, LPI even though I have written on them. The printer manufacturers use the term DPI when in fact you are correct, it should be PPI. So I don’t often find value in using the correct term, knowing the inexperienced users will be thrown off because the manufacturers use DPI.

    My only concern about your comment is that at the end you seem to suggest that people use 266 PPI for offset printing. Not all offset printers use the same output resolution.

    Just to be a bit more detailed, each printer model, and each manufacturer of that model (whether it be inkjet, offset or other) make printers that are optimized for certain final print resolutions. Unfortunately, often they are not similar.

    Thanks for your comments.

  11. […] found this post on one of my favorite photography blogs, This Week in Photography (TWiP). Even though they’re specifically talking about photo […]

  12. @ Scott,

    You make a very good point about the possibility of confusing people on the PPI vs. DPI issue. As a technical guy, I tend to try to get the details and terms exact. But as you point out, this could be the wrong direction for beginners. I think you have the right approach.

    And my comment on offset printing wasn’t well worded. I always ask what LPI (lines per inch) the screen (an offset printing term, not computer monitor) will be, double that value and set my image PPI for that. For me, that tends to be 266 PPI. But Scott has had his work printed more than me, so I defer to his greater experience in the matter.

    Keep up the good work.


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