Print resolution is far and away one of the most important elements of graphic design, and it’s also an element that trips up many new designers. We’ve all seen the results of a document with poor printing resolution – blurry images, muddy colors, and a generally unattractive product – and yet we continue to see the same mistakes in one document after another.
Why is it that, when it comes to print resolution, so many designers throw up their hands and say, “good enough”? The answer is simple: they don’t have solutions to their problems. Let’s take a look at some of the most common print resolution mistakes and discuss how you can avoid these ugly errors on your company’s printed marketing materials.
The Problem: Pixelated Images
The low-resolution image is one of the tell-tale signs of an amateur graphic designer. This is a photo or graphic that’s jagged, pixelated, and generally fuzzy – and it’s always the result of using a graphic with poor image quality. However, this design flaw is often unintentional, and it always has to do with an image’s ppi (pixels per inch) or dpi (dots per inch).
PPI and DPI refer to the number of pixels per square inch of an image. The higher an image’s ppi, the better the image will look. Unfortunately, most online images have a default setting of 72 ppi, which looks fine on a computer monitor or smartphone screen but looks pixelated on a printed page. If your designer doesn’t know to adjust this setting during the design process, you’ll end up with a poor-looking image.
Obviously, the easy solution to this problem is to use images with a higher resolution – but how high should you go? Most printing professionals agree that the minimum resolution you should use when printing photos is 300 dpi. As the name suggests, this means that there are about 300 pixels (or dots) for every square inch of the images. This will result in a sharper image quality and a more professional finished product.
The Problem: Too-Tiny Images
Let’s say that you have a low-resolution photo that you really want to use in your company’s latest poster. You head into Photoshop, upload the image, and set the resolution to 300 dpi – but as soon as you do, the image size shrinks significantly! Now you have a crystal-clear image, but it hardly takes up enough space on your poster. What do you do?
Use the following formula to make sure that your images are the proper print size and resolution:
300 (or your desired dpi) x size of your image (in inches) = necessary number of pixels
For example, let’s say you want to print a photo on A4 sized page. To determine the number of pixels you’ll need to have a professional-looking print, you would multiply the height and width of an A4 paper by 300 dpi.
300 x 8.27 = 2481
300 × 11.69 = 3507
This formula states that your finished product should have a resolution no lower than 2481 x 3507 pixels. Before sending anything to the printer, check your image size in Photoshop and make sure you’ve met this minimum requirement.
The Problem: The Colours are “Off”
Have you ever received a document that just looked… off? The colors were a little too saturated and dark, and the overall effect was just unsettling? Your graphic designer probably forgot to convert their images into CMYK format. This is a common printing mistake, and it can ruin the look of even the most high-resolution photos.
When a graphic designer works on a computer, they’re likely working with images in an RGB (red, green, blue) format. These images are designed to reflect various wavelengths of the aforementioned colours, as these are the colours used to produce images on televisions, computers, and other electronic screens. However, the RGB color format is not used for printed matter; four-color printers use a CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and key – another term for black) system. Unfortunately, RGB and CMYK don’t always communicate well with one-another, which can result in odd shade mixtures that don’t look as the designer intended.
Luckily, there is an easy way to avoid this design mistake in your documents: simply convert your images to CMYK before you print! You can use convert your images from RGB to CMYK in InDesign or Photoshop by selecting “CMYK” as your colour mode when creating your document. The program will automatically adjust your images to this colour scheme, and you’ll have a beautifully printed document without an “off” colour in sight.
The Problem: Cropped-Out Images
You’ve got an image that you love. You’ve double- and triple-checked that your image resolution is high enough for your page size. You’ve converted the file to CMYK. Everything should be perfect… but when you see the test print, you realize that part of your image has been cut off! What happened? Unfortunately, it appears that you forgot to account for printing bleed.
“Bleed” refers to the portion of an image that extends beyond the edge of a printed page. Printers use a print bleed to create a clean and polished page that doesn’t have a white border. If you’re creating a document with full bleed, make sure all your copy (and the parts of your image you don’t want to be cropped) fall within the printing “safe zone.” This will ensure that your page looks nice and that your image doesn’t get cropped.
The Problem: Poor Design
The mistakes we’ve mentioned here may seem rather minor – a few slip-ups with Photoshop or a small mistake with the layout process. However, these little design flaws can have a massive impact on your business! If your customers, your competitors, or even your colleagues spot poor design work on your business card, posters, or brochures, your credibility and professional reputation can take a big hit. This is why it’s so important to work with professional graphic designers and printers.
There is only one way to improve at graphic design: keep practicing! But if you want to create high-quality images while you’re still honing your skills, the best thing to do is seek out assistance from a professional printer. Work with your colleagues, a friend with Photoshop skills, or a high-quality online printer. Before you know it, you’ll be wowing your company with your incredible designs!