Author Archives: Vail Henry

Web to Print: Why Great Images Go Splat

Taking a web image to print sometimes puts you in a sticky situation.

Taking a web image to print can put you in a sticky situation. The upper part of this image is correctly set for screen viewing. The lower part has one-fourth the detail your eyeballs need. Ever seen pictures look like this in print? SPLAT!

Let’s say you’ve got an outrageously gor-ge-or-gious website, and you hire a designer like me to use your website’s sleek-so-sexy style for a printed piece. Hey, SUPER! It’d be a delight to match your site’s design. I love consistent branding.

Easy, right? All you have to do is give me your website address and I’ve got all I need to design the print project, right?

Not really. Your web images will probably go splat in print. This comes as a surprise to a lot of people. I even get it from other designers—especially novice ones who’ve cut their teeth on web work, have never stared down an ink well of a 6-color Heidelberg press, and have never explored color realms outside of RGB.

Image need to be different in print because eyeballs are super strange. When eyeballs look at an image made out of luminescence (like monitors or phones), they’re forgiving. With a detail level of 72 dots of color per inch, right now you’re looking at pictures on this stunning, luminescent website. It’s so beautiful!

But eyeballs get picky when they see an image in ink. You need four times as much detail for anything to look as good. You’ve seen this before when you’ve printed out a website and noticed the pictures are pixilated, grainy, or blurry. That’s not your printer; it’s your picky, picky eyeballs.

This effect is more exaggerated when you print logos, pen drawings, charts, or any other type of line art. Pesky eyeballs are hypervigilant about the jaggedness of edges in line art. You’ll need twice as much detail as print photographs, or eight times as much as anything on a website for line art to look equivalently crisp in print.

This is why, when your friendly design team asks for your images, we’re probably going to need better than you’ve got on your website. There’s a trade to understand: Each image you send us has a set number of pixels in it. End of story. We can’t invent more detail than the image has. But we can pack as many existing pixels into each inch of photo as you want. This does allow us to make a beautiful image in print from your web images. But we’re trading detail for image size. So that magnificent 1200-pixel image that fills your entire home page will be a puny 4 inches wide in print. But it will look great. Check out my handy chart below for more examples of how we make this detail-for-size trade with pixels:


Chart of image size with resolution set correctly for screen, print, and printed line art. To summarize, a 2400-pixel-wide original image will be over 33 inches wide on screen, 8 inches wide in print, and 4 inches wide in print if it's line art.

For line art, 600 dip is the ideal, but if you’re in a pinch, you can probably let things go at 450 dpi. I can see a difference. So could you. But nobody has ever complained.


For line art only: Better than having high resolution is having vector art, which will deliver unlimited resolution without a monster-huge file size. In this case, whatever machine rips the film or prints the page will interpret your vector art using its maximum resolution, and that’s plenty. In fact, it’s why regular text always prints well. (See my article about vector vs. raster images.)

So what do you do if the only images you can send my design team are the pictures from your website?:

  1. If they’re stock photos, just go back to the company you purchased them from. Chances are good you can re-download higher-resolution versions (generally at a higher cost, and yes, you’ll have to pay again; next time let us guide the development of your graphic capital).
  2. If they’re custom photos, look for the original files from the camera. Modern DSLR cameras produce tons of resolution—usually enough to cover a whole page with print-level detail. Some cell phones give surprisingly good detail, too. Send me the originals.
  3. If there’s no hope of getting photos with the detail we need, get creative. If your photo don’t have enough detail to look good, flagrantly flaunt that lack of detail in a way that makes a super-cool finished project. Can’t imagine how? No problem! I’m your expert designer with a special love for flagrantly flaunting stuff in creative ways. I’ll have ideas.

Keep those eyeballs happy!

Trash-talking your Logo Format: Raster vs Vector

Raster versus Vector art: Crisp Point explains

Here’s the effect you can expect to see enlarging a raster file and a vector file. Kinda important.

Unless your marketing strategy pivots on secret-admirer loveletters* and confusion, everything I do for you will require your logo. The first thing I’ll want to do is be sure that pretty little logo file plays real nice with all my software.

If my studio is designing your logo, stop here and go get coffee: Your logo will work beautifully, and you’ll get all the files you need without even having to ask or pay extra because I wouldn’t have it any other way. Enjoy the cappuccino!

But if your company burst into life before you knew the scintillating audacity of Crisp Point, hey no problem, I’m glad to check your logo file. Tons of wackiness is possible—but, honestly, if there’s going to be a problem, nine times out of ten it comes down to raster versus vector file formats.

Designer, go faster!VAIL, CUT THE OPERA; I’M OUT OF TIME:

Send me a vector logo format. If you’ve got a vector format, it will probably have the file extension .eps, .ai, or .pdf. Don’t worry if you can’t open it; just send me the file.

What is raster?

A raster image is basically a bitmap. Oh, that bitmap could be gi-freaky-normous! Or it could be a super-fancy, many-layered “original” Photoshop file. But it’s still raster. It’s still a series of color dots. If you zoom in way hard, eventually you may even see the gridwork of dots. That’s why when you make a raster image bigger, all you’ll get is the same old image made out of bigger dots. There’s nothing smooth about that.

If your logo came off your website, I can almost guarantee you it’s raster. Also unusable. But that’s a story about image resolution I’ll tell separately.

What is vector?

To visualize the kickass power of vector art, think of a graph. On the graph, there are some fixed coordinates, plus a curved line connecting them. That curved line is being calculated by an equation. If you zoom in hard on this graph, you will still see a beautiful, smooth, accurate line—because the equation keeps on calculating the precise shape of that line no matter how closely you look at it or how big you make the graph.

Vector logos behave this way. They’re infinitely scalable. If you take the vector logo I designed and size it as big as a house, its shape will still be crisp and razor-accurate.

And, importantly, vector art is flexible and editable in ways rasters aren’t.

Can you convert my logo between vector and raster formats?

Can I do it? HECK YEAH, of course I can! I’m fantastic magic when it comes to this stuff!

But there’s more to the answer: It’s easy to take a vector logo and rasterize it—that’s like taking a photo of a graph. But now think of the reverse: If you have a photo of a graph, how easy would it be to curve-fit the exact equation that originally formulated that graph from the picture? And how accurate would it be? That’s roughly what it’s like to change a raster logo into vector format.

Here’s how I do it: I’ll use a program to estimate the original lines based on the limited visual information still contained in the raster image. That part is fast. Unfortunately, the shapes my programs will auto-trace for me are usually kinda dumpy looking and off-kilter. So from there, I’ll redraw the imperfect vectors myself by getting super nerdy right up against my screen at 1500% zoom. I’ll deliver great results for you this way, but it can take time. This is why I recommend you always get an original vector file of your logo from the company that designed it.

File formats to look for:

Common vector file formats end with one of these extensions: .eps, .ai, .pdf, .svf

It’s important to realize that every single one of these formats is capable of supporting a vector, a raster, or both simultaneously. Just because your file has one of these extensions doesn’t guarantee that you’ve got a vector file. Let me take a gander at the file you get and give a super-friendly, definitive answer.

Logos done in AutoCAD are almost always vector, but almost always inexact (it’s great design software… for the wrong type of design). In this case, it won’t take much time to perfect the vectors.

Common raster file formats end with one of these extensions: .jpg, .gif, .tif, .png, .psd

These file formats won’t be vector. Photoshop supports some limited vectors but nooooot realllllly. Yes, Photoshop is a great program. But except in weird rare cases, it is NOT the great program someone should have used to create your logo. The leading reason logos get created in Photoshop is that some poorly mentored designer didn’t know how to use Illustrator.

Common horrible logo file formats include: MS Word or Powerpoint. If this is you, don’t worry. I’ll absolutely get around this, I have done so a dozen times before, and you will be so relieved to have a real logo file again (or for the first time). But, dear friend, with my biggest smile I’ve got to wonder: What were you thinking? Your logo is your business’ best outfit. Would you wear MS Word clothes outside your garage?

*If somehow your marketing plan DOES revolve around secret-admirer loveletters and confusion, please PLEASE hire me IMMEDIATELY. I’m the perfect designer for this! My muse is already throbbing with grease-spot poetry and paintings so atrocious that you will be SO GLAD your beloved doesn’t know who sent it.


Planning out The Brand Bash

Just a heads up: I’m putting together a small-group workshop where we take a look at your current branding, break it down, look at the components of where you are and where you need to be, and make suggestions on how to get there! It’s going to be more fun than ten simultaneous games of rock-paper-scissors, and delivered in the typical glee that makes this most passionate, powerful part of your business SO MUCH FUN to work with. Please check in with me personally for progress / locations / schedules or just keep checking back in this category for when I start them up.

Also, I’ve made some tremendous connections for some space to deliver the workshops in, but I’m always interested in hearing from more people on where this may be useful. You’ve got the space and some people? I’ll BRING THE FUN.

DC TechBreakfast

I’ll be attending the DC TechBreakfast on Wednesday, April 15th if any of you need to break away from the end of tax season and have some fun. Please sit near me so I can hear your dirty jokes!

Three Factors in Website Development Costs

It’s about the time that a prospective client gets that sheepish look in his or her eye that I know one of my most common questions is coming: “How much does it cost to build a website?” It’s an important question, but of course, the reason for all the sheepish looks is that everyone knows there is no such thing as “a plain old website.” Unless you have a pretty clear vision for the site you need, prices for web development can be harder to nail down than a frog’s tongue.

That said, here’s the secret I get sheepish about: For almost every site I quoted, there are only three factors that really matter. Let’s dispel a bit of mystery, shall we?:

1. Does your company already have a fully developed, strong, targeted branding style? If it doesn’t, you already know what I’m going to say.

If you’re not sure how strong your logo and the elements of your design style are right now, try out one of my branding pow wows. They’re relaxed, fun roundtables to take an honest look at where you stand and where you should aim. For now, just text or email me to ask about the next one; I’ll get a regular schedule going later this year.

2. What features and functionality does your website need to have? If you’re not sure, then take one step back and try this question instead: What are your goals for the website? How does it fit in with your marketing plan? If you’re still not sure, it may be good for us to sit down to do some quick marketing strategy and assessments. That way you’ll have a better Crisp Point to steer your goals toward!

The features you need—a blog, integration with QuickBooks, a gallery or portfolio, the ability for non-tech-savvy people to change parts of the site, a custom video, an opt-in page with members’ only area, a shopping cart, multiple contributors independently managing multiple calendars—each influence two things: First, they affect the underlying technology the site needs to be built on. That will change the sets of tools at our disposal. Second, the choice of features affect how many work hours it will take to build your site simply because there’s more or less to set up!

If you’re on a budget, you don’t necessarily need to build all the functions out right away, but we still need to know what your future plans. We’d like your site to grow with you!

3. Who is providing the content for the site? Once we have the site ready to show off your stuff to the world, where does that supertastic show-off material come from? Who will write the text for the various pages? Who will write the first few blog articles or the descriptions of your inventory items? Who will provide photography of people / products? Will those photos be polished or will they need retouching?  What about the other incidental graphics that go into a site to break up text or to make a more Crisp Point?

We’d be delighted to produce as much of your site’s content as you want us to. Many clients like to send us their own drafts to get started with, which is an awesome middle ground. A few clients produce tip-top content all on their own, and we can just run with it unchanged.

If you know the answers to these three questions, it will go a long way toward squaring in on the costs to launch.