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:
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?:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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!