Resolution gets a bad rap.
No, I’m not referring to your New Year’s Resolution to lose 10 pounds. I’m talking about image resolution for trade show graphics production. When you are planning your graphics for a trade show exhibit, image resolution is critically important but not well understood. Worse, many people dismiss it as being too technical. Here’s image resolution made simple.
A digital image is simply a grid of color tiles known as pixels. Image resolution asks: How many pixels do you have, and how large is the area (in inches) where these pixels must fit? This is expressed as pixels per inch.
Analogy #1: Weight
Which weighs more: one 300-pound man or three 100-pound people? That’s image resolution: if one number goes up, the other goes down. It’s a proportion; the actual number of pixels has not changed.
Analogy #2: Money
Which is better: a $5 bill or five $1 bills? No tricks here—the amount is constant. We have merely changed the size of the units. However, what would you think if someone gave you a $10 bill and said, “Just draw in another zero and you will have $100”? It doesn’t work with image resolution, either! So, having enough pixels is critical to creating large format graphics.
5 Tips for Image Resolution
- Look at your image at 100% to 150% on your screen. If it looks blocky, noisy, or blurry, these defects will usually show or even be amplified in the print.
- The number of pixels is key. Recent DSLR cameras can capture over 4000 x 3000 pixels. Divide the pixel dimensions by 100 to find the size the image can reproduce before doing any enlarging. In this example, the size would be 40” x 30”.
- File size is NOT an indicator of quality. However, if your image is smaller than 3.0 MB in file size (red alert!), it’s probably too small for use in large-format printing.
- Doing your own enlarging (upsampling) is not recommended. It causes irreversible damage to the image. For best results, send your highest quality original to your graphic professional, and let him or her control the enlarging process.
- In all cases, communicate often and early with the designer AND producer of the graphics. They will guide you and help to make you look your best.
Chris Radovich is an award-winning exhibit and environment designer at Group Delphi.