What Size Should I Print My Photos?
Perhaps you’ve chosen some photographs of your own that you’d like to print and display at home, or have purchased digital files from a professional photographer to print yourself. Either way one of the first questions you’re likely to have is what size should I print my photos?
The short answer is that it depends, and the long answer is that the size that you decide to print your photos is likely to come down to 3 factors:
- Where you are planning to display your prints
- The aspect ratio of the original photograph
- The resolution of the image
In this post I’ll explain how each of these can impact the size that you choose to print your photos, and how you can decide what the best size for each photograph is.
Where are you planning to display your prints?
The first consideration when choosing what size to print your photos is where you are planning to display them.
Will it be in a large frame on the wall, or in a small frame on a shelf or mantelpiece? Will the photo be alone, or grouped with other photographs – for example in a gallery wall?
If you’re choosing to hang the photograph(s) on a wall, an important consideration is whether the print will be the right size for the room. You don’t want to go to the trouble of printing your photograph and then find that it is too small and looks lost in the middle of a large, otherwise empty wall.
Equally, it’s important to think about the orientation of the print and where you want to hang it. For example a landscape photograph will probably work well over a large sofa but in the same place a portrait photograph may have too much empty space around it.
A final consideration when it comes to where you will display the print is the subject matter. A close-up of your children is likely to look good in a large frame on the wall and in a small frame on the mantelpiece. Regardless of the size the viewer will clearly be able to see who the photo is of. On the other hand, if the photograph is of your child running through a large meadow it will probably be difficult to see them clearly in a small 6” x 4” – in this case a much larger print may be a better choice.
Choosing The Right Size Print For Your Space
Once you’ve considered all of these factors, a simple way to check whether your print will be the right size is to make a template of the final framed print or canvas.
Start by cutting out a template of the frame / canvas from brown Kraft paper and stick it up on the wall before you print it and purchase the frame. If you’re planning a gallery wall cut out templates for all of the frames and stick them on the wall in the layout you have planned.
Once you have your templates on the wall you can stand back and see how they look – does the size look proportionate to the rest of the room? Does the size of the frame make the statement that you want it to?
If your photographer offers printing services you may find that they can use computer-generated-imagery to show you exactly what the photographs will look like on your wall saving you from making your own templates. This is a service that I offer my clients and many other full-service photographers do too.
As you’re considering where to display the prints you may also find the guide below useful. It shows some of the most common print sizes to scale – you may be surprised at how large you need your print to be!
What is the aspect ratio of the original photograph?
The next consideration to make is what the aspect ratio of the original photograph is. For example is it sized to print in a 3 x 2 ratio such as 6” x 4” or in a 5 x 4 ratio such as 10” x 8”?
The reason why it’s important to consider this is that if you choose a to print your photo in a different aspect ratio you may lose some important details from your print. Here’s an example of a photograph I took on a commercial shoot recently. It’s sized to print in a 2 x 3 ratio, and you can see that if it is printed at a different ratio parts of the image are lost. For some photographs this may not be an issue, but if your subject fills the frame it’s especially important to print it at the right aspect ratio.
If you’re not sure what ratio your photo should be printed in you can check it’s dimensions in pixels, and use these measurements to determine the best ratio – for example if the size of the photo is 1800 x 1200 it has an aspect ratio of 3 x 2. This short guide from the New York Times explains how to do this. If you have purchased digital images from a professional photographer you could also go back to them to check what the best aspect ratio is.
What will the resolution of the print be?
The final factor to consider is what the resolution of the final print will be.
The resolution determines how much detail there is in a print. The higher the resolution the more detailed, or higher quality it will be. The lower the resolution the more blurry or lower quality it would be. It’s exactly the same as televisions – when you watch in HD you’re watching at a higher resolution and see a higher quality picture than in standard definition.
When we’re referring to photographs, resolution is usually measured in Pixels Per Inch (ppi). A high quality print will have a resolution of at least 300ppi. The lower the ppi the less high quality your photograph will be.
So how do you know whether your print will be high quality? If you’ve checked the size of your image following the steps in the New York Times article I referred to earlier, you’ll know it’s dimensions in pixels. Divide the length of the photo in pixels, by the size you want to print it in in inches to find the ppi.
For example, if you have a photograph that is 1800 pixels x 1200 pixels you can print it at 6” x 4” and have a high quality print as you’ll be printing at 300ppi.
On the other hand if you printed the same print at 9” x 6” your print will only have a resolution of 200ppi and won’t be of as high a quality.
Putting it all together
Now that you know all of the factors to consider when printing your photos the last step is to put it all together.
First, where do you want to display the photo, and what size best fits that space?
Second, is your photograph of the right aspect ratio to print in that size? If not, would you lose any important parts by cropping it?
Finally, is the size of the photo sufficient for you to print it at high resolution?
I’d love to know how you get on putting these steps into practice. And if you have any other questions about printing photos please do send me an e-mail.