Once upon a pixel . . .(tech 1)


This week a client of mine emailed  “sorry due to my lack of technical know-how!, I’m unable to”

This got me thinking about a few things over my design years, where lack of client understanding has been quite disappointing, and caused delays and issues with production in jobs.

The biggest one over the years has been resolution, dots-per-inch, pixel count. Call it what you like but it it represents the image quality required to print a photographic image so it looks as fantastic on a flyer as it does on a website.

It all really started with the advent of t’ internet, (Peter Kay reference here) and the web, and digital photography.

Back in the olden days, when we all used film cameras and before the internet was invented, these issues were not a problem because the technicalities were left to the technical people with the technical know-how.

Now with everyone owning a digital camera and uploading and printing out their own pictures,  . . . . . .  and then (here is where the potential problem starts) sending them into their graphic designer and printer, then it is beneficial to have some understanding of the technicalities.

So here it is, a little bit of know-how on resolution, dots-per-inch, pixel count. . . .

All photographic images are made up of a grid of square dots (called pixels), and if you zoom in really close on a monitor you can see them on your photographs, and when you zoom back out they all blur and blend together to make a beautiful sharp image.

On our monitor screens which we look at with our eyes, the amount of square dots we need in every (horizontal and vertical) inch is 72.

So your company logo for example sized dimensionally at 1 inch square at the top of the company website would need to be 72 square dots wide by 72 square dots high. And at that resolution it looks fantastic on your screen ( and your website).

So for a standard 7 x 5 inch photograph to display perfectly sharp at those dimensions on screen (and website) it would need to be 504 square dots (72 x 7″)  by 360 square dots (72 x 5″).

The problem starts to occur when you what to print out that same standard 5 x 7 inch photograph to display perfectly sharp on a sheet of paper, or more particularly, when you send it to a professional printer for their printing press.

While home desktop printers are a lot more forgiving, particularly because they are not as detailed in their print quality, so they can do a pretty good job with your 72 dots-per-inch, blurring them and the picture looks OK.

But you would all agree that those beautiful Royal photographs of Will, Kate and George printed on those magazine covers with professional printing presses look really sharp and detailed . . . . .
Q1: So how many dots-per-inch does that take?

Well, its a lot more than measly 72 for your inch, I can tell you . . . . . , and that my friends is generally the issue.

But not many people know that – its a technical thing . . . .

Over my 20 years in graphic design, (mainly for print), there were many occasions when I had to request images from a client.

They may have been asked to supply a photograph of their logo, or their building, or themselves, to print on their brochure, business card or corporate literature, and so what did they do?

They got out their digital cameras and took their own, or they supplied the one off their website.
And of course they thought that was it job done, why wouldn’t they? what do they know, it looks fine on screen, hey it even prints OK on their desktop printer.

BUT, I needed it to put on their calendar, and print it on the professional presses at the printers where I worked, so my heart would sink, and the journey of trying to get a better quality image would begin.

So in answer to Q1 (above)

those beautiful Royal photographs of Will, Kate and George printed on those magazine covers by professional presses look really sharp and detailed . . . .

And it takes a whole 300 square dots for every inch to make it do so.

So if I go back to my standard 7 x 5 inch photograph that displays perfectly sharp on screen.( it was 504 square dots (72 x 7″)  by 360 square dots (72 x 5″).}

But now I want it to print on the cover of my A4 corporate literature folder to impress potential clients,  Oh and by the way I need it a bit bigger at 8″ by 6″ to have a bit more impact.
So I send it to my graphic designer and she works it out . . .

If I have 504 square dots (horizontally) and I need 300 of them for every inch to print, then that makes my image . . one and three quarter inches wide.

If I have 360 square dots (vertically) and I need 300 of them for every inch to print, then that makes my image . . one and a fifth inches high.

So not quite the impressive impact picture for the corporate brochure (and no chance of getting it a bit bigger).

Here’s a challenge . . .
take a look around on free advertising literature (where un-informed business owners have provided their own artwork)

These are usually the places you can sometimes spot photographs that have been printed at too low a resolution, and all those pixels start looking like big square dots and the image is not as clear as it should be – (looks terrible – doesn’t it?)

FYI: your 8 x 6 inch image to print would need to be 2400 pixels (8 x 300) by 1800 pixels (300 x 6).
It is a lot easier now, as camera technology has improved and even phone cameras have very high resolution (dots per inch, pixel count).

It seems to me now,  that it has gone rather the other way, whereby most of our personal snapshots that will only ever be on a screen,  may be printable at A3 should we choose . . .

but whatever the event . . . .in this current era where technology just keeps growing, its really beneficial for all of us to grasp an understanding of some of it.

More next week

ps . . you can throw pixels away to make your image smaller, but your software can only go so far in adding pixels to make an image bigger. Add too many and you will still be printing those big square dots!


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