What is image resolution and why it matters

“Why can’t I put my screenshot in the yearbook?!”

Resolution, my dear friend, resolution.

Try explaining that to a freshman. HAH! Let me help.

What is image resolution

Resolution refers to how many pixels or dots per inch (PPI/DPI) are actually in your document.

Print resolution

For printed documents, images are made up of a series of dots using 4 ink colors. Dotted layers of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink combine to create colorful vibrant images. Printers have the capability of printing 300 dots per square inch, therefore the resolution should be set to 300.

NOTE: There is a lot more complexity to this concept, and I’m trying to keep it simple. Know that there ARE machines out there with varying degrees of capabilities, but for what we do creating student publications and what we need our students to know, 300 resolution is perfect.

Web resolution

Computers display images in pixels, and can only display 72 pixels per inch, therefore resolution should be set to 72.

NOTE: Again, there is a lot more complexity to this concept, and I’m trying to keep it simple. Know that there are monitors these days, especially Apple’s retina displays, that have much greater resolutions, commonly 227 DPI. Some smartphones even display at up to 500 dpi. But again, for what we’re doing, 72 in perfect.

Changing resolution

To change the resolution of an image in Photoshop, go to Image > Image Size and put in the desired resolution. Then change the dimensions in inches/picas (print) or pixels (web).

NOTE: If you do the dimensions first, it will automatically change the dimensions after you put in the resolution.

TIP: Always downsize your images before placing them into a layout software like Adobe InDesign. Images straight out of the camera have HUGE filesizes and will slow down the software, as well as export into gigantic PDFs. If you’re not sure exactly how the photo will be used yet, a good rule of thumb is to make images 8 in x 10 in, as it’s a standard photo size.

Setting resolution to anything higher than 300 for print or 72 for web will not result in a higher quality image. The nature of the device itself has limitations, so matching the image setting to those specifications will yield the highest quality results.

Why is my image pixelated

When you save an screenshot, an image from Facebook, or try to put an image that was previously edited for web on a printed page, it’s coming in at 72 PPI.

If your image is very small, it may display okay. This is pretty common in student publications for screenshots of tweets or to showcase some aspect of social media. But for large applications like full page backgrounds or cover art, it will display pixelated and should be avoided.

Aside from just looking silly, it also looks unprofessional and now that you’ve read this blog, you know better and have no excuse!

Ask the photographer for the original file if needed and then edit accordingly.


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