I hear this a lot from my bleary eyed clients after pulling an all-nighter to finish their project on time. They find great images online that precisely communicate their message and utilize them in their design. There are a couple serious challenges to using these images that often result in costly hold-ups and serious frustration for you.
The first and simplest of problems is this: if you took an image from the internet, you don’t own it! It’s not your property to distribute without the rightful owner’s permission. It doesn’t matter where you found the image. Unless you possess the lawful rights to the image granted you by the lawful owner, it is illegal for you to mass produce or distribute that image PERIOD.
The second issue is image resolution. Professional printing requires images of 300 dpi or greater for optimal reproduction whereas internet images are typically 72 dpi. When you use an internet image in your file, it will make your image look either very blurry or jagged around the edges. It will stand out like a sore thumb if it’s next to a higher resolution image. Trust me, I just got a mailer from one of the premier printing press manufacturers in the world with a low resolution image on the first page. Can you believe that? I should write the president.
So why do those low-res images look ok on my printer?
Simply put, the method by which your office printer works uses different and much less precise imaging. It’s like the difference between a Top Fuel Car and your passenger car. One isn’t better than the other, but they have very different purposes. The Top Fuel Car is going to have more precise jetting and fuel/air mix ratios, high performance tires, and many other things to make sure that car goes down the track at the highest speed. Your every day vehicle is reliable comfortable, perfect for it’s intended purpose but that purpose is not going 300 mph.
What if I take my internet image into Photoshop and increase the resolution?
You can not “Res-up” an image. Once the image goes down in resolution, it can not come back up in resolution. Take a single red square of paper (this represents a pixel) and cut it into 4 equal squares. What color are all the smaller squares? Red, of course! You now have 4 red squares (or pixels). No matter how many pieces you cut that pixel up into, they are still all the same color. However, the paper pieces are smaller and smaller. If you try to “Stretch” the paper out again, those pixels become more visible to the naked eye resulting in jagged edges. You may be able to blur the image or dull the image to help hide the problem but there is no real solution to fix a low-resolution image.
So Michelle, how do I get the quality images I need?
- When taking your own photos, use the highest pixel setting on your camera.
- Download your images into a specific folder for original images.
- Make copies of the originals when working in your project so you can revert to the original if you make a mistake or you require a higher resolution image.
- Purchase photographs from a “Stock Photography Company”.
Stock photography is usually very reasonably priced and easy to use. Simply browse the website of the company and select your image. Download a low-resolution copy and use it in your project. The image will bear a watermark that upon your purchase of the image will go away in the final high-resolution download. Pricing for images is typically based on the size of the image so pay careful attention to sizing your image correctly as you work. A few of my favorite sites are www.dreamstime.com, www.istockphoto.com, and www.shutterstock.com.
Now my file sizes are GINORMOUS and hard to work with.
Isn’t there a better way?
Sure is! As you are designing your piece, you can resize your images down or create low-resolution images. If you are working with a page layout program like Adobe InDesign, your previews will already be low-resolution. It’s important to size your images to 100% before you send it to your printer.
When I was a Print Production Manager at CS Creative, I would pre-flight my own files before I sent them to my printer. After EVERYONE signed off and there were no additional changes, I would then calculate the size of the image, re-size it and then re-import it into my page layout program so it was 100% of size. Yes, this seems like a cumbersome effort but it is a step that if you’ve taken in the process, helps to avoid those ugly pre-press charges that everyone hates to see on their printing invoice.
If you are sending “Print-ready PDF” files to your print vendor (which is the preferred method in most cases), the above process will ensure that you are sending the smallest PDF files possible. If you are “Collecting for output” from your page layout program, this will keep your “Images” folder as small as possible as well.
No one likes prematurely grey hair. Paying attention to image size in the early stages of your design project will ensure a smoother process for you and your printer. This will ensure a better relationship between you both and keep your unexpected fees to a minimum.
If you have any other questions post a reply.