High Res vs. Low Res: Why anyone should care.

December 30, 2011

You’ve most likely heard of these two terms before, but never really gave it much thought. Unless you’re getting something printed or talking to a photographer, there probably isn’t much mention on this topic. However, the difference between a “high resolution” image and a “low resolution” image is huge.

First, let’s start with what those terms mean in the first place:

1) High Resolution (A.K.A. 300 dpi or more) means that the image contains more than 300 dots per inch. If you were to take a magnifying glass and look at a picture on a piece of paper, you can sometimes see the actual dots or specs of color information that create the image as a whole. The higher the resolution, the harder they are to see because they are tight and concentrated thus creating a very clear picture.

2) Low Resolution (A.K.A less than 300 dpi) means that there are less than 300 dots per inch. This basically means that if you were to take a magnifying glass to your image, you would see fewer specs of color in it making the picture very grainy looking because the dots are so much more obvious.

Below is the perfect example of what I’m referring to. This is the same portion of a picture enlarged to 600% so you can clearly see the DPI or “dots” of information:

You can clearly see above that the low resolution photo is grainy and pixelated looking. This is definitely not the type of image you would never care to print out or frame. I obviously have it enlarged more than normal, but the final result would be the same at 100% – a noisy, crunchy looking picture that’s not very clear.

On the flip side, the 300dpi photo still looks in tact at 600% because it has more than 3x the digital information in it. These are the types of photos we love!

“So why would anyone even bother creating a low resolution picture to begin with” you might ask? Because internet browsers only display images at low resolution. 72dpi is the normal resolution for everything you see on the internet. If images were at high resolution, it would take 5+ minutes just to download a single image on a webpage because the files sizes would be HUGE because of the extra digital information in the photo. Therefore, information must be removed from all photos in order for them to pop up on your screen in a timely manner. This is also why images on the internet cannot be printed and be expected to look good. They’ve more or less been degraded in order to make them a decent size for the internet.

Additionally, digital cameras are sometimes set to a default setting of low resolution JPG in order to allow the user to fit as many pictures on their memory card as possible. Trust me when I say that just because the image came from a camera doesn’t necessarily mean the image is high res. You must check the settings on your camera in order to make sure you are taking images at high resolution because here’s the crummy part…{drumroll}…you can decrease the resolution of an image anytime but you can’t INCREASE the resolution of an image. This is why it’s so important that your photos from your camera  originate at high resolution. It’s also why you can’t take a low resolution image to a printer and expect them to make it look any better. At that point, it is what it is.

So now your next question might be, “How do I know if something is low or high resolution?” There’s a few different ways to tell. Assuming you’re not a designer or photographer and you can’t take an image into Photoshop and simply check the “Image size” reading and see what it says – the easiest way to tell is simply the file size. If an image is under 1MB, there’s a high probability that it’s low resolution. However if the image is over 1MB, that’s generally an indication that it is high res. Of course this method is not concrete, but it’s been my experience that this is usually the case 90% of the time.

Hopefully this little tidbit will help anyone out that maybe took the low resolution images from their designer or photographer and tried to make prints with them and then wondered why they looked so bad as compared to the high res. proofs they originally saw. Unless it’s going on Facebook or your website, you always want to make sure your images are high resolution – always.

Happy printing!

 

 

 

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3 Comments

  • Katherine
    August 1, 2013 1:24 pm

    I really like the way you broke this down. I work for a commercial printing company, and we get a lot of questions about image resolution from clients as you mentioned. If only more customers did their research and read this blog before calling us!

    • Genesis Moss
      August 1, 2013 2:11 pm

      Why thank you! 🙂

  • ashwin
    December 29, 2014 5:01 am

    What is the dpi range of very high resolution image?

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