If I want to print a photo, what size does it need to be?

Jan 8, 2017

Daniela Bowker

Daniela Bowker is a writer and editor based in the UK. Since 2010 she has focused on the photography sector. In this time, she has written three books and contributed to many more, served as the editor for two websites, written thousands of articles for numerous publications, both in print and online, and runs the Photocritic Photography School.

Jan 8, 2017

Daniela Bowker

Daniela Bowker is a writer and editor based in the UK. Since 2010 she has focused on the photography sector. In this time, she has written three books and contributed to many more, served as the editor for two websites, written thousands of articles for numerous publications, both in print and online, and runs the Photocritic Photography School.

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I took the photo just down there from the deck of the ferry that took me from Auckland to the Coromandel Peninsular in New Zealand. My camera was in my lap and in one split second, everything came together to create that image. It looks almost as if I’ve shopped in the cruise liner, doesn’t it? I was travelling alone, and minding my own business, but two older couples struck up a conversation with me.

It was the camera that they noticed. We spoke about all sorts, but what I recall specifically from the conversation was one of women mentioning that she’d tried to have one of her photos printed by an online print company in New Zealand, but hadn’t been able to manage it. Whenever she uploaded it, the image was red-flagged for being too small. She wasn’t really sure what she was doing wrong, or what size her image needed to be so that she could print it.

Almost five years on from that February day and it occurs to me that between ppi, dpi, pixels, and megapixels, people are probably still confused by minimum image sizes for printing. This is especially so, given that smartphone photos are regularly saved at 72ppi, but printers prefer 300ppi. I decided, therefore, to go straight to the printers’ works and ask a selection of companies what their preferred sizes were for printing wall art (so that’s canvas or acrylic or any other type of medium that you hang on your wall) sized 20 by 30cm (8″ by 10″, roughly A4) and 40 by 60cm (20″ by 24″, roughly A2). Here’s what I learned.

CEWE Photoworld

CEWE Photoworld‘s print business is photobook-dominated, but it has a great line in wall art, too. It offers all sorts of media that you can hang on your walls, including acrylic, canvas, and gallery prints.

For a 20 by 30cm hanging—it doesn’t matter which medium you choose—your image needs to measure a minimum of 900 pixels along its longest side. Ideally, it should be 1,600+ pixels.

If you want something larger, a 40 by 60cm print, then you need a picture measuring at least 1,500 pixels on its longest size, but preferably 3,000 pixels or more.

Diamond Photo

Seeing as this article has its origins in New Zealand, I thought I’d try a New Zealand-based print operation, too.

Diamond Photo requests that a 20 by 30cm canvas is made from an image measuring a minimum of 1,440 pixels along the longest size.

Your image will need to measure 2,640 pixels along the longest edge for a >strong>40 by 60cm canvas.

Snapfish

If you want to have a canvas printed by Snapfish, you’ll need your image to measure 1,704 pixels along the longest edge for a 40 by 60cm canvas.

Snapfish doesn’t offer a 20 by 30cm equivalent canvas print (it’s sizes are in inches), but it does offer an 11″ by 14″ canvas, which works out at roughly 28 by 36cm, or an 8″ by 10″ canvas (20 by 25cm). For these, you’ll require the longest edge of your image to measure 994 or 710 pixels respectively.

Canvas Press

Should Snapfish not float your boat, I took at look at Canvas Press too. It also works with 4:3 ratio canvases in inches. For an 8″ by 10″ canvas needs an image with its long edge measuring 640 pixels.

An 11″ by 14″ canvas needs your image to have a long edge of 1,024 pixels.

To summarise

The bigger your file size, the bigger you’ll be able to print your canvas, acrylic image, or whatever other medium takes your fancy. This much is obvious. But if you want to hang a photo on your wall that’s roughly A4 in size, it’s best to have an image that measures in excess of 1,000 pixels, and preferably 1,600 pixels on the longest edge.

For a larger print you’ll need a bigger image. If you want to go for something that’s 40 by 60cm (roughly 20″ by 24″) try to use a photo that measures at least 3,000 pixel along the longest side.

Oh, and right now is a great time to get a canvas printed. Just about every company is offering New Year discounts.

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Daniela Bowker

Daniela Bowker

Daniela Bowker is a writer and editor based in the UK. Since 2010 she has focused on the photography sector. In this time, she has written three books and contributed to many more, served as the editor for two websites, written thousands of articles for numerous publications, both in print and online, and runs the Photocritic Photography School.

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5 responses to “If I want to print a photo, what size does it need to be?”

  1. Chris Halbach Avatar
    Chris Halbach

    Those numbers seem awfully low. Always make aware 300DPI is the preferred resolution for super sharp images. At those numbers, a 16×24″ would require a 4800×7200 px image for 300DPI. I’m aware smaller resolutions work, but IDEALLY the larger resolutions create good images… There is the ease of printing smaller images, but considering this is a photography site, It would make greater sense to go ahead and suggest the best resolution for the job.

    1. moonshin Avatar
      moonshin

      300dpi is overkill in most cases. as you print larger the viewer tends to stand back when viewing the image requiring lower resolution. billboards for example are printed at only 15dpi. 200-250DPI is more than enough in most cases.

    2. Doug Sundseth Avatar
      Doug Sundseth

      Further note that it looks to me like the author is using “canvas” in two different ways: both as a generic term for the finished piece and as a specific term for the material on which the image is printed.

      On a substrate that supports really high resolution (gloss printer paper or metal for instance), 240 dpi is fine. In fact it’s a standard print resolution for color images used in art. Note that it’s easier to see dots on B&W images, so a higher resolution for such images, particularly if the image includes line art, can be desireable.) On a substrate that doesn’t support such high resolutions (like, say, actual canvas), a much lower resolution will be indistinguishable from very high resolutions, since the texture of the substrate will obscure any pixelation of the actual image.

  2. Simone Pompei Avatar
    Simone Pompei

    I work in the printing business and i think that telling just the pixels of the image for the size is more complicated for not “expert” of just telling what is the best ppi to have a great print. People just need to understand that the ppi are associated with a size and if you want to print bigger the native ppi will reduce.

  3. JerseyJosie Avatar
    JerseyJosie

    What if I only have a 1 pixel by 1 pixel image that I’d like to get printed? Should I just blow it up 16 million times?