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How to Deal With Low Resolution Graphics and Photos

written by: •edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick•updated: 1/25/2010

It is every desktop publisher's nightmare; a CD full of low resolution graphics from a client, with instructions to blow them up for a printed piece.

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    Low Resolution Graphic Solutions

    It’s a common problem facing desktop publishers; a client walks in and hands them a CD full of low resolution graphic files, and asks that they be blown up and used in a printed piece. “They look great on our website," they say enthusiastically, “so we’re sure they will look great in our printed catalog ... only we want them to be even bigger!"

    As a graphics professional, you are faced with a dilemma. If you follow the maxim that the customer is always right, and blow the photos up and have them printed as is, that will only lead to the inevitable customer relations disaster that will follow. Alternatively, do you follow your professional instincts, and let your customer know that they have a problem from the beginning, and risk having them go to another desktop publisher who will mislead them into thinking that there is no problem? Or is there another solution?

    Unfortunately, contrary to the misconception of many non-graphic designers, there is no easy way out of this situation if the client is hell bent on having the photos printed as is. but to learn more about image resolution refer to Basics of Image Resolution. A low resolution photo cannot be effectively blown up without creating quality problems in the printing process. There are ways around the problem, though, that involve a bit of cooperation between all parties involved.

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    Find the High Resolution Image Files

    Solution one is to find out if the client has the electronic originals of the photos on the CD. If the originals were created in high resolution (either as high resolution scans or high resolution digital photos), and then optimized for the web, you are on your way to the optimum solution. Get hold of the originals and use them in the printed piece. As long as you follow the basic rules of image resolution, you will have no problems.

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    Use the Printed Image

    Solution two is to see if they have printed versions of the originals. Not prints of the 75 dpi versions from their inkjet printer (which will not scan well and will retain the quality problems of the electronic versions, plus some), but actual developed photos or high resolution prints. You can then scan these at the optimal resolution, and you will be able to create a quality print document.

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    Reduce the Size Completely

    Solution three is to convince the client to not only forego blowing up the photos, but to have the visuals reduced in the printed document. A four by five photo at 75 dpi that is reduced to half size in your page layout software will result in a 150 dpi graphic... not ideal (200 to 266 dpi is better if you can squeeze it further), but often within the quality requirements of many clients, especially ones that are educated as to the process.

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    Using Resolution Interpolation

    Solution four is one that no professional desktop publisher or graphic designer will resort to unless they absolutely have to. That is to use resolution interpolation to increase the resolution of a graphic in an image editing program like Photoshop. Depending on the photo, you may be able to get better quality doing this, but often the result is no better, or occasionally even worse, when this is done. Even a best case scenario will not produce the results that the first three solutions listed will.

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    Getting the Approval

    The key is to plan ahead and make sure you and your client are on the same wavelength from the start regarding graphics (and any other issues that may crop up). Nothing is worse than making a certain graphic the focus of your printed document, and then finding out after approvals have been given by the client that the graphic is low resolution and that no alternative is available. It is every desktop publishers’ nightmare, but one that need never turn into reality with a bit of foresight.