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A quick primer on image resolution, DPI, and professional printers

The details of creating or editing images to conform to specific outputs can be confusing. We commonly encounter people using our apps who are seeking to accomplish three main things with regard to resolution and dpi output:

You want to save images so they’re web-friendly (big > small)

If you have a website or are designing one, you will probably be concerned with making sure your images are optimized so your web pages won’t load slowly. All of our web-based and mobile apps will compress your images and output them at 72 dpi, which is great for web display. Note that Pixlr for Mac and PC will not compress or reduce your image’s resolution.

You have a small image and want to make it much larger (small > big)

If you want to change resolution from very small to very large, this is going to be problematic. If you have a 100×100 pixel image and you want to turn it into a stunning 2560×1440 YouTube banner, the resulting image will become pixellated and blurry. This isn’t a failure of any digital tools; its simply a physical limitation you won’t be able to overcome. If you think about it in terms of volume, you can’t make a gallon of water fit into a swimming pool. The best solution here is to start with the largest image you can. You can always reduce resolution, but you can’t really increase it without suffering a loss in quality.

You need to create something to a very detailed specification (sized to spec)

If you’ve spoken to a printer about making a t-shirt and they want you to deliver a 300dpi file in an uncompressed format, you might be able to use our tools to do it. It depends on the quality of the file you begin with. (Ultimately, it’s really all about the pixels, not about the DPI. Check out this article, The Myth of DPI, if you want to delve into the subject a bit more.) If you’re starting with a very large image, you can edit it in Pixlr Desktop or Pixlr Editor for the web and save it out as an uncompressed TIFF. Be aware, though, that our apps aren’t really designed for professional graphic designers who might need very fine-grained tools to meet very detailed specifications. For example, our apps aren’t designed for CMYK output. That said, Pixlr Editor contains many graphic design tools that will work just fine for you, and Pixlr for Mac and PC can handle large, high resolution files.

The bottom line:

  • As with most things in life, the quality of output depends on the quality of input. Start with the highest resolution or largest images you can to get the best results.
  • Pixlr apps aren’t designed to be an all-in-one solution for graphic designers, but if you have some knowledge about image editing, you will find that they will work for many projects and will help you avoid paying for an expensive professional solution.
  • If you’ve never created anything to give to a professional printer and are overwhelmed by the specifications they require, it’s probably best to give them the highest quality image you can and ask them very nicely to help with the layout of the image for printing.