How big should you make your art?
I’ve noticed some digital artists out there who just kind of guess when choosing the dimensions of their artwork. Trying to understand ppi, dpi, print dimensions, and resolution can send you down a rabbit hole of complexity likely to break your brain.
If you are creating an image only for the web, it is really up to you how big you want to make it. The only relevant dimensions are the pixels. Print size and pixels per inch are of no consequence. A 1920x1080 300ppi image will be the same as a 1920x1080 600ppi image. Your screen only cares about pixel dimensions.
If you plan to print your image, that is where things can get complicated.
Here is the simple version…
First you need to determine the maximum size that your work may be printed. Here are the most commonly used sizes for poster prints.
Now you need to know the brand of printer that will be used. Typically it will be Epson, HP, or Canon.
For Epson printers…
- Input the width and height.
- Input a resolution of 360 pixels per inch.
For Canon, HP, and most other printers…
- Input the width and height.
- Input a resolution of 300 pixels per inch.
So let’s say you are in photoshop and you want your art to be printed at 11” x 17” on an Epson printer. This is how you should create your document.
If you do not know how your work will be printed, I recommend erring on the side of “too big.” If you end up having to enlarge your work, it could result in some quality loss.
You don’t know how your work will be printed. So you decide to make your art 24” x 36” at 360 pixels per inch. Your image size dialog box looks like this.
You find out that the art will be printed at 11” x 17” on a Canon printer. You need to resize your document for optimal sharpness. You’ll want to change the largest dimension value. In this case, 36” is the largest, so you change that to 17”. Since it will be a Canon printer, you will need to adjust the resolution to 300 pixels per inch. And because you are making the image smaller, you’ll want to use “bicubic sharper” to maintain the best image quality.
Now you have to crop off that .333 from the width. That is done in canvas size.
Hit okay and now you have an 11” x 17” document at 300 pixels per inch ready to print on a Canon printer.
Getting more technical…
The goal is to size your work so that the printer does not resample your image. Meaning the printer driver doesn’t take your image and make it bigger or smaller. Your image editor is always going to do a better job of resampling than your printer, so if you can set up your document to the native resolution of your printer, it will output with the highest possible sharpness.
A lot of people see the dpi of printers and think that is its resolution. The manufacturer will even say that is its resolution. It’s not. That is just how many dots it can cram on the page. Many dots make up just one pixel of your image. And the number of pixels your printer can cram on the page is actually its resolution.
The printer’s resolution is measured in ppi or pixels per inch. You will notice in photoshop it doesn’t actually say dpi. It says pixels per inch. Many, many people use ppi and dpi interchangeably and it is frustrating and confusing for everyone. They aren’t the same thing, but most people say dpi for everything. Even the manufacturers will use dpi incorrectly. To make matters worse, usually printer manuals don’t even list the native pixels per inch. Probably because it is a low number and looks less impressive when marketing.
Some oddball printers may not use the 300 or 360ppi native resolution. If your images still look soft and you want to be absolutely sure of your printer’s native pixels per inch, the best option is to email the manufacturer about your model. Be very specific about what you are asking. If they give you a crazy high number like 6000 x 12000 dpi, you tell them, “NO, YOU FARTNUGGET. I WANT THE NUMBER OF PIXELS PRINTED IN ONE INCH, NOT THE NUMBER OF DOTS!” If they respond back with something like 400 pixels per inch, then that is the resolution you’ll want to use for your document.
Epsons typically are 360ppi or 720ppi. Other manufacturers are usually 300ppi or 600ppi. Wide format printers almost always have the lower ppi. The higher ppi’s are typically only used for fine detail vector printouts and you have to set your driver to use that fine detail mode. The nice thing about vector illustrations is that you can alter their dimensions and ppi without any quality loss. You can certainly make your digital paintings at those higher ppi’s, but I’m told there is little quality difference when printing and the files at that resolution can be a lot for your computer to handle.
Hopefully this was helpful. If you have had problems with images looking soft, I think this might help you get them looking sharp. Take care and make some art.