The Complete Guide to Resolution for Printed Media

Posted by: Marsha Jones on Mar. 3rd, 2011

It is important to understand the difference between image resolution and print resolution. Many software programs use these terms interchangeably, but there is a difference. Image resolution refers to the number of pixels that fit inside each inch of space on screen while print resolution refers to the number of dots that fit inside each inch of printed space. An easy way to remember this is that monitors display pixels and printers produce dots.

Image Resolution

Image resolution is measured in pixels per inch, or PPI. Pixels are small squares of color, also known as picture elements. The term PPI is generally used when referring to image resolution on the screen. Computer images are usually acceptable in a low number of pixels per inch. This resolution is good for the type of transmission we need over the internet, but is not acceptable for printing. This explains why printing images or graphics directly from a web site often affects the quality of the image.

Print Resolution

Print resolution is measured in dots per inch, or DPI. Dots refer to the density of dots that fit into an inch of space. The term DPI is generally used when referring to print resolution. This definition of print resolution translates to how clear an image prints on paper.

Although there is a difference between image and print resolution, they must be correlated for clear and sharp printed results. Note that images you download off the computer often appear larger and better on the screen than when they are printed. Understanding and setting the proper resolution for an image you are printing is essential to clear and sharp results.

High vs. Low Resolutions

Understanding when high and low resolutions are appropriate will help you in the design of your printed business cards. A clearly printed business card presents a clear image for your business.

Low Resolution

Computer monitors generally have a display setting of 72 dpi for internet and other online images. This resolution is perfect for online viewing but it is not adequate for printing. Most everything we print is generated on a computer, so resolution adjustments need to be made.

High Resolution

If you are printing business cards on a professional printer, using an appropriate image resolution is the difference between a quality card and an unprofessional one. The higher the resolution, the sharper an image will print.

What resolution value do you need to use for professional quality printing? The recommended minimum resolution for printing is 300 ppi. Printing an image at 300 ppi compresses the pixels enough to create sharpness. You may be able to set a resolution of 240 ppi without noticing a loss in image quality. Lower resolution for printed material results in a fuzzy or blurry images.

Printing and Resolution

Photos and scanned images are bitmap graphic types made up of tiny pixels, each pixel representing a single color in the image. What this means as it relates to printing is that these images are dependent on resolution. The quality and size of the printed image is limited by the number of pixels in the image. You cannot increase one value without decreasing the other.

If you intend to design your own business cards using a software program, use the following print size chart to determine the size settings in conjunction with the pixel dimensions or dots per inch. See Figure 1:

Print Size Chart

The standard printing pixels per inch are shown in Figure 2:

Printing Resolution

Best Resolution for Business Cards

Given what you read above about resolution, consider the following tips and guidelines when setting appropriate resolution for your professional business cards.

  • Images should be 300 dpi (dots per inch) for the printing stage in your design.
  • Images with text should be 400 dpi for the printing stage in your design.
  • If you enlarge an image, the resolution decreases; if you reduce an image, the resolution increases. Example: a 2x3" image at 300 dpi is acceptable, but if the image is enlarged to 4x5", the new resolution of 150 dpi is unacceptable.
  • Low resolution images tend to print fuzzy and blurry.
  • When capturing an image through scanning, a digital camera, etc., the resolution can be improved by decreasing the image size or by recapturing the image at a higher quality setting.
  • Computer monitors can effectively display 72 dpi, but they will print fuzzy and blurry unless you increase the display to 300 dpi.
  • Once images become electronic, they cannot be enlarged without loss of quality. For printing, begin with a high resolution when the project is designed if possible.
  • The dpi measurement of a printer often needs to be considerably higher than the pixels per inch (ppi) measurement of a video display in order to produce similar-quality output.
  • This is due to the limited range of colors for each dot typically available on a printer.

The Bottom Line

Resolution refers to how clear an image looks. Screen resolution settings are different from print resolution settings. While screen images look great at 72 ppi (pixels per inch), clear printed images require 300 dpi (dots per inch). Your software application will allow you to resize the image to the size it will be when it is printed and to make the image 300 ppi. A commercial printer can guide you with the resolution they need from you, or you may select from their design templates and avoid resolution issues altogether.