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Images, Print Quality, and your Art Storefronts Site

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Art Storefronts and Images

When you’re first setting up your Art Storefronts site and are learning your way around this new way of doing things, you may run into a couple of potential hurdles involving images and image sizes. I’m going to discuss images and how you’ll use them on your site, which will hopefully explain how things work and give you enough information to allow you to avoid some common pitfalls.

Some of this information may be elementary for more technically adept site owners, but there is still some information that everybody creating their site may benefit from and I’d recommend at least giving this article a quick once-over.

 

Image Formats

This can be a challenging concept for people new to computers or who haven’t had that much experience with digital images to get their heads around.

What are image formats? When you’re talking about images, you’re talking about a file with a name which (if your computer displays these) ends in something like .png or .jpg. Each one is an image, but the format refers to the method by which it is stored - while JPG and PNG and TIFF and others do roughly the same thing, they do it by using different methods, and the different formats have different things for which they are best used.

There are three common formats which you’ll commonly encounter today, and I’ll list them here with their important qualities.

 

JPG Smallest file size Fastest download speed
PNG Average file size Average download speed
TIFF Largest file size Slowest download speed

The JPG format isn’t the oldest, but it’s the most widespread of the three. Officially released in 1992 it’s been one of the cornerstones of the internet ever since graphical web browsers became popular. Probably the greatest strength is its ability to compress images to fairly small sizes without much loss of quality. This also allows them to be downloaded and displayed faster when viewed online. The downside of this is that it can lose some detail unless saved at high quality settings.

The PNG format is the newest of the trio, originally being released in 1996, and offers better image reproduction than JPG images for a slightly larger filesize size. It also has the ability to offer transparent backgrounds, something JPG is unable to do, although this will usually only be needed for polyptych products.

Warning: Do not save your images as a PNG with a transparent background unless it's intended to be used as a polyptych preview image. Transparent backgrounds can create issues when used with Art Print Store images.

The TIFF format is the oldest by quite a margin, dating back to the early days of home computers, in 1986. It is popular with professional photographers due to its ability to reliably reproduce images, but this comes at the cost of creating very large images and having noticeable computational overhead compared to the other formats.

When getting your images ready for use on your site, PNG is usually the best format. While TIFF can provide the best quality, and is often the format in which people who have had professional photographs taken of their work receive their images, it comes with a noticeable performance hit if you have more than a handful of large images in this format on a gallery page, sometimes creating a noticeable delay when a person visits the page as they wait for them to load.

We also support GIF and PDF formats, but would not advise using either of these given the availability of the other formats. GIF offers poor colour depth, awful compression, and very large file sizes. PDFs can have issues by nature of just being a container for the actual image. If you have a PDF containing your image, you should really just use the image itself.

If your images are CYMK-encoded (this is something which applies to TIFF images or source images in Photoshop, or occasionally to specifically-encoded PDFs) you will need to convert them to sRGB or Adobe RGB before using them on your site. Converting them to JPG or PNG files is the easiest way to achieve this.

 

Image Sizes

By sizes in this instance, we’re referring to the space an image takes up on your hard drive, or in your cloud storage.

There are three specific and one general page types on your store which have size limitations which you need to keep in mind when preparing your images.

Art Print Store 100mb per image
Photo Gallery 50mb per image
Standard Store 20mb per image
Other Pages 5mb per image

The Art Print Store is where you’ll put the largest image files you’ll be dealing with. The large file size is because these are the source images from which the prints your customers buy are generated, and these benefit from having a higher resolution, being more detailed as a result.

In the Standard Store, you’ll find the images attached to original, limited edition, and polyptych (multi-panel) products. These images are only intended to give your customers an idea of what the physical items they are buying look like. Because they’re not used to create a print product, they don’t need to be as large as the Art Print Store products.

In the Standard Page, you’ll find much more general-purpose images, appropriate to the this more flexible page type. These images can be almost anything; from scenes which inspired a piece of artwork, to a photo of the artist, to local scenery where the artists lives, to a picture of the artist’s cat.

Please keep in mind, your images do not have to be 100mb in order to achieve printable quality. The best way to go about it is to upload an image you have as a test piece and see what sizes are available and based on that, check if you need to just keep uploading, do some corrections using software, or retake them altogether.

Image Resolutions and PPI

Please Note: This only applies to Art Print Store images. The images for your Standard Store and Standard Page are almost always only going to be viewed on a computer, and don’t need to be taken at the highest resolution.

This is where the difference between images intended to be displayed on a computer screen and images being used to create physical art prints becomes important.

What is image resolution? When you are talking about images, at its most basic level, the resolution of the image is the number of pixels wide the image is, and the number of pixels tall. For a “FullHD” image for example (the size of a the screen on a HD TV), the resolution which fills up the screen is exactly 1920x1080.

When you’re viewing large files on a computer monitor, you’ll often be dealing with images which have a resolution higher than that of the screen you are viewing them on. This means that the computer usually shrinks it down to fit more of it onto the screen; sometimes it will shrink the image so it is visible in its entirety, or sometimes to fit the width of the window you’re viewing it in. But either way it’s usually shrinking it down, which tends to be flattering to an image.

When you’re printing images out, when the image has a high resolution and it’s being printed out very small there is a similar effect of minimising the flaws of the image. But when the image is smaller and the print is larger, then the flaws can become very noticeable. This is where the concept of PPI becomes important.

What is PPI? It’s a measure called Pixels Per Inch. This refers to how fine the elements are of what you are printing, and how detailed the print will be as a result. This measures how many pixels you can display within the same area, a square inch (or a square measuring 2.54cm on the side) on a given medium or means of display.

When dealing with physical printing, the “Gold standard” is 300PPI, which means each inch of printing is 300 pixels across and 300 pixels tall. This is the common resolution used in book printing. By comparison, CRT displays in the 80s helped set the display standard of the time of 72PP, where an inch-wide square on the screen only measured about 72 pixels along each side. For images being viewed on a screen slightly more than arms’ length away, this was usually not a problem. For something printed on paper, often viewed from much closer, this setting usually gave a less than impressive result.

We recommend at least 150PPI at the largest print size you will be offering, although 225PPI would provide a better print (especially when viewed up close). It’s possible to use 300PPI images to create your prints, but if you want to create large prints from them you’ll also end up with very large image sizes, and might have to compromise between image quality, resolution, and file size.

This tables lists different print sizes, and the resolution of the source photo which you would need to reach for each size at each PPI level:

Print Size (Inches) 75PPI 150PPI 225PPI 300PPI
5x7 375x525 750x1050 1125x1575 1500x2100
8x10 600x750 1200x1500 1800x2250 2400x3000
11x14 825x1050 1650x2100 2475x3150 3300x4200
16x20 1200x1500 2400x3000 3600x4500 4800x6000
24x36 1800x2700 3600x5400 5400x8100 7200x10800

When it comes to the images you use to create your prints, it’s usually a case of “The higher the native resolution, the better.” If you have a source image which is 7200x10800 pixels in size, you’ll have much more flexibility when it comes to deciding what you wish to do with it.

If your image is lower resolution, you’re starting at a major disadvantage. It's possible to use the tools built into Photoshop and other traditional image editors to upscale or up-res an image if you wish to create prints from it, but this should be used in moderation. If over-used, or applied to poor quality source images, it can result in images which might look passable on a computer screen, but which can be disappointing when printed. And due to having only been able to preview the print on a computer screen, you may not realise how poor an upscaled print will look until after it's been printed.

You’ll also only be able to go so far using the camera in a cellphone. When creating the source images for your print, for the highest quality and resolution photographs you will get the best results with a real camera such as a DSLR, and better still if you have a professional photographer take them.

For a real-world example, my 2-year-old flagship cellphone takes images at 2976x3968. In print terms, this would make:

  • a 150PPI print of around 19.8x26.5 inches.
  • a 225PPI print of around 13.2x17.6 inches.
  • a 300PPI print of around 9.9x13.2 inches.
Please Note: All images need be saved as sRGB or Adobe RGB, and in 8-bit-per-channel colour.

“So, What Should I Do?”

(Several short answers to one big question)

In short? It depends. There are so many variables that it’s just not possible to say “This is what you need to do!” to everyone because people have different needs and start in different situations. Here’s a number of different scenarios and questions that have come up in the past, and some suggestions of how best to deal with them.

If you only have relatively small images of your artwork, and are unable to take better ones because the artwork has been sold, you’ll be limited to the best prints you can get from the resolution and quality of your images.

If your images are small but you have access to the work and can take new photos, that is your best bet. Have the best quality photos taken that you can, and you can scale those (sometimes very large) source images down to the resolution that would provide the best quality for the largest sized prints you plan on offering.

If you only wish to provide small prints, or prints that match the size of small original art pieces, you have a lot more freedom in creating your image source prints. Even if you choose to use 300PPI, you will still be able to use images that are much lower in resolution, possibly even cellphone photos (if you have a cellphone with a very good camera, and you have very steady hands or a tripod mount you can attach it to).

If you wish to provide very large prints, you may find you need to employ the services of a professional photographer or to use something like a DSLR camera which is capable of taking very high resolution images. The larger the source image, the better the image you can then use as the source of your prints.

If you have been provided with your images in TIFF format by your photographer and don’t want to convert them to other formats because you want to have larger print sizes, you don’t need to worry! You can convert them to PNG or JPG and get files which have exactly the same resolution but also have smaller file sizes (and will create prints just as large) and will load and display faster once they’ve been uploaded into your store.

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