So why can’t I use that web photo on my staffing company’s brochure?

We hear a lot about image resolution when it comes to digital cameras and HDTVs.  Image resolution is also important to consider for the artwork used in your marketing materials.  Different media require different resolutions for best results.  That great looking photo on your staffing company’s homepage just might turn all fuzzy when printed in a brochure…why?

For starters, we need to know what digital images are made of.  The most common is the .jpg – digital cameras, web images and clip art usually deal with the .jpg format.  Other similar formats are .bmp, .gif, .tif and .png.  They are all known as bitmap or raster images. Quite literally, it’s a map of bits – each bit or pixel is mapped onto a grid.  These images are based on pixels – the little blocks of data that stack up to make the picture.  The word “pixel” was coined as a composite of “picture” and “element.” And the more pixels you have in the image, the higher the quality.  Think of it as a tile mosaic.  Up close, the individual tiles don’t look like much, but from a distance they coalesce into a picture.  The more tiles used to make the image, the better it will look.  This relates to a digital image’s resolution.  

Resolution determines an image’s quality and size.  The more pixels an image has, the greater its detail and clarity will be. With digital cameras, an 8 megapixel camera takes higher quality images than a 4 megapixel camera. But more pixels also equals larger files.  

Also, digital cameras format images at 72 pixels per inch (ppi).  This is similar to the dot resolution of laser and inkjet printers.  They use dots per inch (dpi) to determine their image output resolution.  A higher dpi rating equals higher resolution printouts.  While dots per inch and pixels per inch are used interchangeably, they really aren’t the same things.  A dot on paper and a pixel of data are not the same “size.”  But this is a minor technical difference, and you’ll hear the two terms used together.  Don’t sweat it – the real issue for image resolution deals with how much pixel data the image contains.  

Back to our digital camera comparisons – the 4 and 8 megapixel devices.  A megapixel is a unit of data equal to 1 million pixels.  A typical 4 megapixel camera takes images which are 2,464 pixels wide by 1,632 pixels high.  This bitmap – the overall pixel area – is equal to 4,021,248 pixels, so 4 megapixels.  The 8 megapixel camera records images of 3,266 by 2,450 pixels, or 8,001,700 total pixels.  At 72ppi these translate to images which are 34.22” x 27.67” for the 4 megapixel camera and 45.36” x 34.03” for the 8 megapixel camera.  These seem ridiculously large – why would a digital camera need to take poster-sized images?  Well, the reason is output devices like printers operate at higher resolutions.  A photo-quality printout requires bitmapped images to be 300ppi – roughly 4 times the resolution of 72ppi.  So when you convert the 4 megapixel image to 300ppi it ends up 4 times smaller – 8.21” x 5.44” instead of 34.22” x 27.67.”  A good rule of thumb to determine the largest size you can print a digital image is to divide its pixel dimensions by 300.  

Monitors and websites operate at 72ppi, which looks good and keeps the file sizes down – which makes it easier and faster for viewers to download image data when they visit your site.  But when you ask your graphic designer or marketing professional to use the image on your website for your printed materials, you’re asking for trouble.  The image quality suffers tremendously and your marketing piece loses impact when the artwork looks substandard.  For instance, here’s the Haley Marketing logo as it appears on our website.

Normal Haley web logo.

It’s 157 x 82 pixels – nice and small so it downloads quickly in a browser window.  Its physical dimensions at 72ppi are 2.18” wide by 1.14” high.  Not real big, but it looks good on a monitor.  Converting that to 300ppi, though, it ends up at .52” x .27” – smaller than a postage stamp.

Haley web logo at print size.

That’s not going to have much of a visual impact on a brochure, especially if it’s too small to read.  When we try to upsize the image, so it’s back at 2.18” wide by 1.14” high at 300ppi, this is what you get.  A fuzzy, jaggy image that looks lousy in print.  

Haley logo upsized.

What sort of impression will that make on people?  Would you want to represent your business like this?

Now when you hear a design professional or print vendor say they can’t repurpose artwork on your website for a postcard or booth display, this is why.  Digital images require different resolutions depending on how they’ll be published.  To get the most out of your marketing materials, make sure you’re using artwork suited to your media.

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