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Photo resolution too low

Your photo image is composed of a fixed number of dots called pixels.  Low resolution means the photo doesn't have many pixels; high resolution means the photo has a lot of pixels.  But what is a lot?  Actually, the better question is, "What is enough?".

Once you decide how big a print you want (e.g. 5x7), the question is:  Do you have enough pixels to make a sharp print at that size?

What's the deal with 300 dpi?

300 dpi is considered to be a high pixel density that will deliver a sharp printed image.  That means squeezing the pixels together so that 300 of them side-by-side, measures one inch.  300 dots per inch.  So another way to ask the question is: When my photo's pixels are squeezed to 300 dpi, how big will the print be?

Sometimes our photos simply don't have enough pixels to achieve a high pixel density at the desired print size, so trying to print at that size means spreading out the pixels to cover more area.  Gaps start to appear between the pixels.  Programs fill in these gaps with interpolated pixels.  The color of the interpolated pixels is based on the nearby colors, so while a red apple will still be red, the more you add interpolated pixels, the blurrier and muddier the apple will appear.  When people say, "I resized my photo bigger so it is now 300 dpi.", what they really have done is added interpolated pixels.  Unsurprisingly, the resulting print is blurry.

original pixels vs interpolated pixels:


3

 

 

The more original pixels in an image...
... the more likely you have enough pixels to print a bigger picture with an acceptable pixel density, like 300. 

It's simple arithmetic.

Check your image file's properties to see its pixel dimensions.

1

Take the pixel dimensions and divide by 300.

2592/300=8.6

1456/300=4.9

Therefore I can print my cat photo up to 8.6 inches wide by 4.9 inches tall.  If I print it bigger than that, the dpi falls under 300.  That's OK to some extent.  I can print a little bigger and there will be a little blur; a lot bigger, a lot more blur.

2

This photo's pixel dimensions are smaller because I cropped the photo.  How big can I print it if I want 300 dpi?  The answer is: 4.8 x 3 inches.

What matters is pixel quantity.  Don't get hung up on "300 dpi".  300 dpi refers to pixel density, not pixel quantity.  You need enough pixels to achieve a high enough pixel density at the size you want to print.

Notes:

  1. A photo can have a very high resolution and still print blurry for such reasons as camera shake, lens out-of-focus, and low quality camera lens (not unusual on camera phones).
  2. Some programs create interpolated pixels with better results than other programs.  However, a quality camera that takes a high resolution picture will always be better than a lower resolution picture that is artificially turned into a high resolution picture by using interpolation.
  3. Remember "Don't get hung up on 300 dpi."?  I have known people who made the mistake of reducing the resolution of their file because it would print too big at 300 dpi.  They should have simply printed it at the smaller size and so what if the resulting dpi is then higher than 300? 300 is good; 400 is better; 600 is excellent.

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