For anyone just starting with digital images, or having trouble getting started, here is an review of the first basics we need, about how to USE our digital images, about how to resize them for viewing them on the video screen or for printing. This is about those first basics of resizing images (i.e., the necessary steps to be able to USE and show your images).
Please appreciate that this can be compared to learning to drive... sure, there are a few details, how to operate the car, safety concerns, and the rules of the road, etc. But you learn it one time, and it's not difficult, anyone can do it. Then it becomes second nature to us, we always know how. So then you can use the skill for the rest of your life, when knowing how will make a huge difference.
Images are easy to learn, and safer too. :) We do need to know that digital images are composed of pixels, and that image size is dimensioned in pixels. Not inches, not bytes, but pixels. You just gotta understand this, and it is simple, and this one detail will be repeatedly covered here.
So image size is dimensioned in pixels, for example a 4000x3000 pixel image. Megapixels is the total image area (image width x height), so a 4000x3000 pixel image is 4000x3000 = 12 megapixels.
Digital images are binary data, meaning, each pixel is just NUMBERS, data describing ONE RGB COLOR for that tiny area, a tiny dot of color, much like one colored tile in a mosaic tile picture. Our brain recognizes the reproduced image in the arrangement of those pixels or tiles. Pixels are all there is in a digital image, so we must think of it that way. It will make sense when you do (a few more details at digital basics).
But relax, we don't need to know much technical depth. To use our digital images properly and skillfully, mostly we only need to realize that pixels do exist, in fact, pixels are all that does exist in our digital images. Primarily, we must understand that our images are in fact dimensioned in pixels, an image is so many pixels wide, and so many in height. We can see them enlarged above. Just accept it, and think in terms of pixels. :) Then things can proceed properly.
There are two general methods to view a digital image: (details of these two vary, see digital basics).
There is not much advantage of fitting the image shape to the screen shape. It need not be full screen, few images are. Whatever shape it is, we can view it.
Viewing the images on a video screen - The digital camera takes large images, maybe most are generally 10 to 24 megapixels size. But the computer screen size, and also the HDTV screen size, are only about 2 megapixels in size... and cell phone screens are maybe 0.2 megapixels. Sure, you can ignore everything, and simply show the 12 megapixel image as is, but then the video system has to first resample it down to fit on a 2 megapixel or 0.2 megapixel screen size, which takes more time and storage space, slower waiting to access each one. (Many models of HDTV have a USB port, which easily shows our JPG images BIG from a USB memory stick... but still, 1920x1080 pixels is all the screen can show.) For more than a one time show, you can instead simply properly prepare a copy of the images to be the right size, perhaps to fit the 1920x1080 pixel HDTV screen, which will then become fast and peppy. Hugh images will load slow.
Printing the image on paper is much more critical, the image shape needs to match the paper shape. If it does not all fit on the paper, some of the image is cropped off and lost. One big issue is that the image SHAPE is often NOT the same SHAPE as the print paper, until we crop it to match. Size is a factor too (number of pixels), and important, but speaking of SHAPE right now (aspect ratio).
That's really about it, but you just gotta think about pixels. Doing anything at all with digital images REQUIRES knowing at least this much. It is quite easy, if you let it be (if you will simply think "pixels"). If your complaint is that the photo lab does not print all of your picture area (cuts off heads, etc), then you really need to learn this easy material. It is easy, but we all have to know this much.
We may not be greatly disturbed if our image has some unfilled blank margins on the side of the monitor or HDTV screen, but cutting heads off of paper prints needs more attention.
There are two main ideas here:
More introduction still below, but some direct links to page 2 topics:
I wouldn't say it's a problem, it's just an issue which we must address. It is a problem if we don't address it. Images do have a shape, and paper has a shape, and the image and print paper sizes are very often NOT THE SAME SHAPE. For example, we simply cannot make a 4x6 inch image fit 4x5 inch paper, not without losing an inch off the end, perhaps the top off of someones head. This fact is of course perfectly obvious, but we tend to forget that images also have a shape. So we simply first crop the image to be the same Shape as the paper goal, easy to fix, and an important step.
Aspect Ratio is the shape of things - the shape of the image and the shape of the paper. The rectangular shapes may be long and thin in various degree, or might be more nearly square. There is absolutely nothing fancy or complicated about this. Aspect Ratio is the simple ratio of the two side dimensions.
Aspect Ratio describes the shape of the paper, and the shape of the image. When the paper shape and the image shape match, then we can enlarge size to exactly fit the paper.
This Crop can be a trivially easy operation (see Cropping on next page). We don't need any math skills. The (little bit better) photo editors (Adobe Elements for example) should have a simple cropping option to declare the desired paper aspect ratio to crop (enter as 8x10 inches for example), and then any image crop box we can draw will be this exact shape (meaning shape, not size). We simply mark its crop size to include what we want to include, and it will be that shape. As for size, our crop result does need to have sufficient pixels to print at about 250 to 300 pixels per inch of paper (e.g., 1000x1500 to 1200x1800 pixels to print 4x6 inches). More detail on next page.
Images from a DSLR camera (and also from 35 mm film) are aspect ratio of 3:2. We can enlarge it to any SIZE, but this means for example that the SHAPE of the 3:2 uncropped images will enlarge to print 4x6 inches, 8x12 inches, 16x20 inches, etc. Regardless if the image is oriented portrait or landscape (vertical or horizontal), all of these are still SHAPE of 3:2. This shape will print "as is" on 4x6 paper, but all other paper sizes probably are all different shapes. It is just a way to describe a rectangular shape with numbers, the simple ratio of the lengths of the two sides.
There are two ways to describe this shape in numbers. For example, for a 6000x4000 pixel image, the ratio of the two sides is 6:4, which we reduce to say 3:2. This is also the ratio of 3/2 = 1.5, so if one side is compared as "one", it is also 1.5:1. Same thing, and we may encounter either way (typically we say it as 3:2, but we compute with 1.5). More on next page, but a few common Aspect Ratio numbers are:
Aspect ratio is only critical when matching an image shape to one printed paper shape, or maybe to full screen monitor shape. Only one ratio fits another shape. And since many shapes exist, no one ratio number is very important, except for your current match, when it is all important.
Size and Shape are different things. Cropping can change the image shape (to fit the paper shape). When we only enlarge the image size, it stays the same shape. A 4:5 image can fit 4x5 or 8x10 paper, but is not the shape of 4x6 or 5x7 paper.
If you use a 3:2 DSLR (or 35 mm film) and only print 6x4 prints, these are the same shape, so you may never realize there is any problem. But all other combinations will see a problem.
Photo images from a compact or phone camera are 4:3 shape (long side is 1.33x the short side, 4 to 3 ratio). However, 4:3 is NOT an available paper shape. So these images suffer a similar problem of needing to be cropped to fit the desired paper.
Kodak's standard tips for taking Great Pictures always emphasized "Get Closer". Cropping tighter later can correct to serve the same purpose, and is usually a necessary step for printing anyway. Opinions will always vary about details, but cropping is very easy to do. We can crop to paper shape any way we want, so why not give a little thought to improving your prints too? Slightly changing camera position (to choose background) can also be a big help sometimes. A tiny bit of fill flash would have helped here too (to add a sparkle in the eye).
Most printing labs (where we send photo files to be printed) set up their machines to fill all of the paper. They won't underfill the paper, they will instead cut something off the image if necessary. If you order 5x7, you will get 5x7, but you may not get all of your image. This means if you print your images without first preparing them (cropping them to the correct shape to fit the paper ordered), you will see surprises about parts of your image cut off, not showing in the final print.
This is nothing new with digital cameras, film was always the same thing, simply not the same shape as the print paper. However back then, there was a human operator watching and controlling and making decisions and adjusting things for film images. Digital machines are automatic (inexpensive prints), but digital does make it easy for us to crop it right first. Many online photo printing web sites offer a crop tool there, and will warn when our image is not the same size as the selected paper. And some processors offer an option to "Print Full Image", meaning, they won't crop any off, but will instead leave blank white space (borders) where it doesn't fit the paper. You can trim the paper smaller then.
But generally, the paper shape itself is going to crop it, and a different shape simply will not fit... something has to go. And of course the point is that when we crop it ourself, then we see it, and we can judge and decide ourselves which portion of the image is to be cropped away... probably we can choose to crop the edge opposite from the head we want to save. :)
The editor resample box (Resample section on next page) will be your most useful tool. It is a calculator, and you can try different numbers to see the result numbers (then click Cancel then instead of OK, to Not actually change your image). It does not crop, and you do want "Constrain Proportions" always On, to avoid image distortion.
Specifics: Size and shape are very different things. We cannot fully print a 4x6 image on 4x5 paper. The purpose of this aspect ratio calculator is to help give an idea of the crop for the aspect ratio of the paper you want it to fit. The calculator is a minor thing (see Cropping section on next page for the actual procedure), but perhaps the numbers can make the major point that cropping to fit the paper shape is usually very necessary. The paper is usually NOT the same shape as the image, so we can choose to fit the long side to the paper, or to fit the short side to the paper. I am trying to emphasize the difference between SHAPE vs SIZE, but both are important. The point of the calculator is to show that image shape and paper shape are often NOT the same shape (so we must crop the image shape to fit the paper).
Calculator: This is NOT meant to be a working tool. It is accurate, but instead it's an overdone effort for illustrative purposes, just to show the concept involved, to show the problem we always need to solve when printing. The image and the paper need to be the same shape, but usually are not, until we correct by cropping. In regular use, your photo editors crop and resample tools should be very adequate, if you understand the situation and know your goal (next page).
Here, specify your image size and your paper size (numbers only). Calculations assume borderless printing. The calculator just computes the precise numbers which fit the paper. The most detailed option is to enter "Other" for paper, and then enter actual paper dimensions (adds dpi information). Image size need NOT be exact for printing. 300 dpi is the usual goal for photos, but 240 to 360 dpi might be acceptable for printing. But the shapes of the image and paper do need to match fairly closely.
The exact percentage numbers are not the point here. They are what they are, and any difference is not good. We know of course that a 4x6 image simply will not fit on 4x5 paper. And images and paper are often not the same shape, which of course means the image must be cropped to be the same shape as the paper. We have good tools making this very easy to do, and it's an extremely important skill to learn. The point is, if you crop it yourself first, then how it turns out is your own choice. More how-to about cropping to aspect ratio on next page.
Just a few pixels is normally no big deal, but otherwise, we of course should choose the best way to crop the image to the correct SHAPE first (to match the paper shape), and after that (if image is too large), then we might resample the image SIZE to print at about 300 dpi on this paper. I worry that novices not yet familiar with images may miss the point. Do realize that cropping to the paper shape is an extremely important issue when printing an image.
Aspect ratio is just the simple ratio of the two sides. 6000x4000 pixels is 6000:4000 = 3:2 = 1.5:1 ratio. This ratio represents the Shape, the simple ratio of the sides. Like all math fractions, we normally reduce the 6000:4000 to express it as the ratio 3:2, using the greatest common divisor method discovered by Euclid, 4th century B.C. (GCD is 2000 in this case). Math does like exact numbers, and if our image had been 5998x4000 pixels, then greatest common divisor is 2, so reduction comes out 2999:2000, not exactly 3:2, and not as easily recognized (the calculator may show rounded minor differences).
So image Shape is important, and also, image Size is important. We can crop the shape, and resample the size (to be smaller - resampling larger does not add needed detail). Discussed on next page, but for printing goals, the necessary procedure should be to first crop image to match the paper shape, and then resample smaller to produce image size of about 300 dpi. That means for example, to print a 6x4 inch print at the ideal 300 dpi resolution computes:
Image Size: Sufficient pixels to print at 250 to 300 dpi is optimum to print photo images. More pixels really cannot help the printer, but very much less is detrimental to quality. This is very simple, but it is essential to know and keep track of. This simple little calculation will show the image size needed for optimum photo printing. This method is one thing you really need to know, it should be second nature to you, considered when printing any image.
This little calculator will serve two purposes:
However, this size does NOT need to be exact at all, 330 dpi or 300 dpi or 272 dpi does not really matter much, but somewhere near this size ballpark (of 250 to 300 pixels per inch) is a very good thing for printing.
If 3000 pixels are printed 10 inches size, then the printing dpi is 3000 pixels / 10 inches = 300 dpi.
If 2820 pixels are printed 10 inches size, then the printing dpi is 2820 pixels / 10 inches = 282 dpi.
A printing tip: When preparing for printing a few different sizes from one image (say for portraits of one image printed 4x6, 5x7, and 8x10 inch), what I do is crop it three times and create three proper output images to upload. If I don't crop it, the printer's machine will, and the machine is dumb (cannot recognize what the image is). So... I create all of these separate copies (from that one same original). If there are different sizes of same image, I also add the size to the file name to help me keep it straight when selecting them online for printing.
For 8x10 inch prints, I crop 4:5, resample to 2400x3000 pixels, and add "8x10" to that output file name.
For 5x7 inch prints, I crop 5:7, resample to 1500x2100 pixels, and add "5x7" to that output file name.
For 4x6 inch prints, I crop 2:3, resample to 1200x1800 pixels, and add "4x6" to that output file name.
For wallet size prints, we can simply use the 5x7 image, since they are the same "shape" (next page). The shop will resample it, still same shape.
This is easy trivial stuff to do, and then I know exactly how it will come out, and the results are always perfect. My notion is that the more expensive shops might have a paid employee to verify acceptable cropping of each print, but the least expensive shops (one employee to work the counter while the machine prints) just feed it into the machine, which doesn't know, can't decide, and doesn't care. Even if there might be a person preparing for the printer, they cannot know your particular preference, how you actually want it to look. But if you crop it to paper shape yourself, then of course you always get your choice. Image shape is a primary concern about printing.
Possibly you are the only human that will see it before the print is returned to you (meaning the machines will print it automatically, in their way). The printer's web site probably does offer a Crop tool option for you to crop it online first, after you upload it (however, that can still be a problem if you need multiple print sizes of one). Today, this crop to paper shape is Your Job to do it. I simply just do it at home, and then upload all the proper images, and then no surprises. The rest of this article (next page) is about how to do it, and this is about the least that we need to know about using digital images.
When doing anything with digital images, the first question is "What size is the image?" Digital image size is dimensioned in Pixels. Pixels is what it is all about, and digital is very different than film. If any mystery about pixels, here is a short primer: What is a Digital Image Anyway?, or a more detailed summary at Pixels, Printers, Video - What's With That? Once we accept that pixels actually exist, it's all quite easy.
Resize is a term too vague and ambiguous, it has no specific meaning until we say what it means. There are three very different ways to "resize" an image, and all three have very different meanings and results. These topics are on the next page, but first a summary.
Cropping discards those trimmed pixels, making the image pixel dimensions smaller, but primarily, it changes the scene included, and often the shape too. Different paper sizes (4x6, 5x7, 8x10 inches, are each a different shape - therefore we also often crop to make our image shape match the paper shape. Our camera always makes its images of the same one shape (aspect ratio, which is width:height), but our intended use often needs other shape(s), to fit it to the printed paper size or viewing screen size. And frankly, a little cropping often improves the composition of many images, removing distracting or uninteresting blank nothingness around the edges, concentrating the actual subject larger (zooming tighter, so to speak). More detail at Cropping.
Examples before we get into how to do it. This was a D800 camera image, 36 megapixels, 7360 x 4912 pixel dimensions. To show it here on the web screen (our screens are no more than 2 megapixels size, and many are not even that), it was resampled to an arbitrary 500x333 pixel size, 0.167 megapixels. And by the way (a different subject), do note that even this small image is still quite enlarged here, because the lens image on the camera sensor was very much smaller. But now perhaps near 5 or 6 inches wide on some screens here (screens vary), but the FX sensor was only 1.4 inches wide, a DX sensor is almost 1 inch wide, and a phone or compact camera sensor is less than 1/4 inch wide. Like film sizes (which are generally small too), that's still a considerable enlargement that we see.
To emphasize the shape differences, note that 2:3 is a longer and thinner shape, 4:5 is shorter and wider.
The camera has no clue what size you might print the image, if at all, so it just makes up some dpi number (it does not affect the pixels). We fix it before printing (called scaling, which simply edits the dpi number).
Cropping or Resampling are NOT reversible operations (pixels do get changed), however Scaling is completely reversible, it merely changes the separate dpi number that will be used to adjust pixel spacing (resolution) when printing on paper. Scaling does not change pixels, it merely spaces them differently.
If we wanted to print an image that is 2000 pixels tall, then:
PPI: I learned it as dpi (dots per inch), but some people like to say ppi now (pixels per inch, which it is). When I started, it was only said as dpi, so dpi is quite second nature to me, and to many. It may have been jargon, but a pixel is of course a dot of one color, which is normally printed as a few colored ink drop dots (usually of 3 or 4 ink colors to simulate the pixel color). If dpi is used referring to image pixels, it is of course about pixels, so interchangeable terms if about images instead of about ink drops. If about images, dpi can only mean pixels. We of course need to understand either use.
Scaling the image simply is changing the dpi number in the file that tells the future printer to print "X pixels per inch". It will be the spacing of "pixels per inch" on paper (same pixels, just different spacing). Scaling the dpi or ppi number does not change any pixels in any way, and it does not change the appearance of image seen on our video monitor, not in any way (resample certainly does though, but our screen video systems don't even look at the dpi or ppi number, they just show pixels directly, one for one, but possibly having to resample a too-large image smaller first to fit it on the screen).
Scaling is sometimes called Resize, and Resample is even sometimes called scaling, (not really unreasonable), so the terms can be questionable (what they actually mean in the given usage). My definition of Scaling is about changing the size the image will print on paper (inches), specifically WITHOUT any pixel resampling. It is about declaring the dpi number, in preparation for printing a certain size on paper. This is by far the simplest operation, but sometimes a bit harder to grasp it.
Printing - Before getting into resizing details, first some reasons for them. Printing at home is different than sending the work out.
We upload an image, which is some size and shape, and tell them to print it on some paper size and shape, like 8x10 inches. If we tell them 8x10 inches, that is what we get, regardless of any other information about the shape or size of our image. If we have not already cropped the image properly (to match 8x10 paper SHAPE), the edges of the paper will crop it. Hopefully we have used the resize methods described here to be certain the image is appropriate size and shape to be printed that size. Because if we don't crop the images (shape) correctly for the paper size (shape), the shops printer will crop them automatically, often in surprising unwanted ways, cutting off tops or sides of the image. We should also of course be sure our image has sufficient pixels to print the size we specify. That image dimension number should ideally have been prepared to be at least 250 pixels per inch, or better 300 pixels per inch, of print dimension, mentioned next below.
Saying again, if you send the printing out and order 5x7 inch prints, it does not matter what the actual dpi number in the image file says, because they will rescale whatever you send to print the 5x7 inch print that you ordered. And the paper will crop it, one way or another. Your image dimensions (the resample) should be sufficient so that they necessarily will compute a dpi number around 250 to 300 dpi... around 1500x2100 pixels for a 5x7 print at 300 dpi. Sending more pixels cannot help. Many fewer can be a problem - low resolution, but ± 10% or 15% difference on dimensions and resolution is not much issue. We like to send 300 dpi, but in fact, most of these Fuji or Noritsu type machines are set up to print at 250 dpi. We get good results either way.
Photoshop for example, if you saved the image with the File - Save As menu, it does embed the dpi number that was set in the Image Size dialog, and will default to print that size. But if you used File - Save For Web, it strips out the Exif, so there is no dpi number saved, and Photoshop will then assume 72 dpi, which won't be helpful. There probably is still an option to Scale to fit media size (the selected paper size) - you just need to ensure that resulting resolution will up near 250 or 300 dpi then. But if that file number has been scaled to say 300 dpi, it will scale the image to cover one inch for every 300 pixels, which is what determines print size. A 3000 pixel dimension at 300 pixels per inch will then print 10 inches (this is called scaling).
With either method, a little of our attention first will be naturally be necessary to ensure the desired results (sections on next page). If we want 8x10, we need to crop it to 8x10 shape, and resample it and scale it to 8x10 size. This is not probably going to happen unless you do it.
A printing calculator might be of some help, at least to see the scaling concepts the first time. But the photo editor Image Size tool will do the same calculations, and will do all you need.
My own notions about how to prepare our megapixel size camera images for printing are this:
Steps 1 and 2 can routinely improve our image tremendously.
When we print in photo editors (for example in Adobe Elements or Photoshop), we specify paper size, and the default print size in inches is computed from the pixel dimensions and the value of the dpi number stored in the file (3000 pixels at 300 dpi, then 10 inches, which hopefully we prepared for this printing). But we can also print it a different size. This is also scaling. Scaling is changing the dpi number so it prints a different size. Or if you send the pixels out to be printed, and specify 5x7 inches, they will scale it to 5x7 for you. But the printer device itself needs that dpi number when it prints images (which is the only use for this dpi number).
Any cropping or resampling changes are definitely seen on the video screen too. However, scaling does NOT affect the image seen on the video screen in any way. We will see no change at all, because video totally ignores any dpi number and shows pixels directly. But scaling will print a different size on paper if the dpi number changes. More detail at Scaling on next page.
OK, here we go. Next Page is the Cropping, Resampling, and Scaling topics.