Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sending Christmas Cards

Here it is just a few days past Halloween, and I'm thinking about Christmas. I'm thinking about my Christmas card and how I never sent one out last year. It was well thought out, nice design and all, but there was that thing called resolution. The card looked great on the computer screen. However, when I printed it out, it was blurry and pixelated. Now, I've been instructed on how to correct this issue more than once. Unfortunately, my brain has decided that it doesn't want to maintain these instructions, and all is forgotten once the project is done. Because of this, when it came time to print my 2009 Christmas cards (4 days before Christmas) and I realized that my technical difficulties were more than what I wanted to stress out over (4 days before Christmas), I decided not to send a card at all. Instead, I think I sent it via email to a small group of friends and family. Since making that decision to forego sending Christmas cards, the wheels have been turning (slowly) as a I have considered (sporatically) how to redeem myself in the wake of last years failed mailing.

At this point I am wondering...should I try going digital once again or opt for one-of-kind handmade?

Either way, I'd better start them now.


  1. It's all about DPI - dots per inch. Every digital image is composed of pixels (dots). The resolution of an image is its two dimensions (height and width) in pixels. A 6 megapixel image will be roughly 3000x2000 pixels, as an example.

    Now, for that image to look sufficiently crisp and detailed then its the pixel density (aka DPI) needs to be high enough for the medium it's displayed on. The problem is, the native DPI of computer screens vs paper is significantly different. Typical computer screens probably display 90-100 DPI these days and images still look crisp/sharp at that density, but to achieve the same level of sharpness on paper, the DPI typically needs to be at least 300 dots per inch.

    The image you see on screen will essentially have to shrink in physical dimensions to look just as sharp on paper. Going back to the example of the 6 megapixel picture above, that would probably look good upto an 8x10 print (Take the dimensions of the picture in pixels and divide each by 300 DPI to get the dimensions in inches that would be "safe"). Beyond that, it'll start to get blurry and details will lose clarity.

    Now, if you crop that same 6 megapixel digital photo, you have to realize that you are also reducing it's resolution - you're cutting away pixels. So you have to be aware of what you are reducing the resolution to when you start cropping photos, because it will affect the overall size you'll be able to print on paper. For example, if you took a 6 megapixel picture of the boys but only wanted to use their faces from that picture, that may end up being only a 200x200 section of the photo, which means in print it would have to be smaller than an inch square to look sharp enough, whereas onscreen it may look to be more like 2x2 in size.

    Basic rule of thumb: know the resolution of the image and keep in mind the minimum DPI for print is usually 300. Depending on the software you are using, most graphic programs should either display image resolution in a properties panel or by looking for a menu option related to Image Size or something similar. Once you know the resolution of your image(s) in pixels divide the pixel dimensions by 300 to get a rough idea of how big the image will actually print out, in inches.

    Oversimplifying, but this is already getting long-winded and that should be enough to get you going on the right track.

  2. also, just to be clear, DON'T try adjusting the DPI of the image itself. Some image editing programs will let you do this but that won't achieve the result you might think it will