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You were asked for a high-resolution image. Do you know what that means?

It’s okay if you don’t. In my graphic design/photography world, the most popular unasked question I answer is, “What is a high-resolution image”.

I say the most “unasked” question because no one wants to admit they don’t have the 411. My clients regurgitate the question to me from a request made to them, but they never say, “What does that mean”.

My guess is that my older clients think not knowing this information dates them and the younger ones think it makes them look inexperienced. Let me clear the air, no one knows! It seems like basic information but unless you’ve worked in printing or graphic design it’s not.

The transferring and posting of images have become commonplace but the technicality of it has been left behind. Do you know what resolution images need to be for the web? Is it the same as for print? These are basic questions that everyone should know, but no one does, and everyone is afraid to ask. So here it is, and I’m going to make this as least technical as possible.

A high-resolution image is typically used for print, but don’t assume that. When asked for a “high-res” image ask if it will be used for print or digital. Print images need to be at 300 dpi resolution. No exceptions. While digital images can be low-res at 72dpi or high-res for the web at 150dpi.

Dpi stands for dots per inch. Like bedsheets, the higher the number/thread count, the better the quality. The higher the number = the more dots = more detail = sharper image.

The number of dots, dpi, is one part of the equation. Let’s go back to the sheet analogy. You’ve established the needed thread count. Now what size sheet do you need? Twin? Queen? King? Let’s say your corporate headshot, is requested by a magazine. We know we need an image at 300 dpi because it’s going to be printed. My next question would be, is it the cover or an inside blurb? How big does the image need to be? I prefer getting this information in a physical size, inches. Is it a 9x12 inch front cover photo or a small 2x3 inch photo? Some people give this information in file size, 3MB etc. but I prefer knowing the final output information, actual size, because I want to deliver the best quality possible. The only time file size is an issue is during the transfer and by now we’ve got many options for transferring large file sizes.

When in doubt always request bigger and by bigger, I mean dpi. You can make a twin bed sheet out of a king sheet, but you cannot make a king sheet out of a twin. If you did, you would have to stretch the fabric out so much it would look like gauze. Same with a photo. You can make it larger, but it will be pixelated, grainy, or blurry.

Before I finish up with the two questions to ask the next time you’re asked for a high-resolution photo, I want to take this moment to make a point about culture and information.

Not having information makes everyone feel insecure. It’s understandable. However, ignorance is not a hall pass to treat others rudely. Technology develops at the speed of light. It’s hard for those of us in the industry to keep up and impossible for those who are not, which is why you hire us. Just because it looks easy and simple does not mean there isn't a plethora of knowledge and artistry in the digital world. It’s easy to forget that a picture that looks beautiful on a phone will look eh, on a desktop, and like total shit in a projected presentation. But for those of us in the industry, the second we look at that image we know how it'll play out in all spaces. Just because you think it looks good, doesn’t mean it does. We design websites, logos, etc for you the way professionals in our industry and similar industries see them because we want you to look like your industry leader. After all, your peers are not your clients.

If you are a client of mine reading this, I hope it makes you feel informed and empowered. I also hope you know I am here to answer the “dumb questions” …which they never are.

That’s basically it! There are more nitty gritty details but this is what you need to know to be and look well-informed. It’s super simple right? Next time you are asked for a high-resolution image, your two questions to ask are:

1. Is it for print or web? and

2. What dimension in inches do you need it?

Now you have all the information your photographer or designer needs. If you’d rather have “your people” handle it, pass along your photographer's contact info and disregard all the above, except my paragraph on rudeness.


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