# Pixels, Image Sizes and DPI Explained

### Pixels, Image Sizes and DPI Explained

Digital images are measured in pixels(px), a pixel is a single square of color and it has no physical dimension. This is one the fundamental things to understand about a pixel so I'll repeat it again, a pixel has no physical dimension. If we have a 249px * 276px image like the one below there is 249 rows of horizontal pixels and 276 rows of vertical pixels. Cameras are often marketed with their megapixel(Mpx) count. One megapixel is 1 million pixels, an image that is 1000px * 1000px is 1MP. As the pixel count increases technically the greater the detail there can be, that may not always be the case since a better camera can do a lot more with less pixels but that is for another topic. Increasing a small image will not increase the detail either, you're only going to create a larger softer image.

What your monitor displays is also measured in pixels, for example if you have a widescreen monitor the native display resolution might be 1920 * 1080. "Widescreen" is a ratio, typically 16:9. That means for every 16 units of measurement horizontally there is 9 units vertically. To further explain this the screen on my monitor has a physical width of 20 inches and 11.25 inches in height. If i divide the 20 inches by 16 it's 1.25, 11.25 divided by 9 also equals 1.25 which gives us a perfect ratio of 16:9 on a physical medium.

My monitors native resolution is 1920 * 1080. If we divide the 1920 by 16 we get 120, if we divide 1080 by 9 we get 120 which again is a perfect 16:9 ratio. Why that is important is because as long as we're using a resolution that has a 16:9 ratio on a display that is 16:9 our square pixels will remain square. If you use a disply resolution that has a different ratio than the physical ratio balls will take on egg shapes.

Onto DPI and it may help to understand the history, specifically the history of 72DPI. When computers first came on the market the monitors themselves were actually 72 DPI, a square inch on the monitor display had a resolution of 72px * 72px. At that point in time what ever you saw on the screen would print exactly the same size on a piece of paper. On modern display we have different resolutions and physical sizes so this no longer applies but it's still used as the default for images and to scale text. With Windows the default DPI is 96. If you go into your computers displays settings you'll find an option to set the DPI BUT it has no bearing on the what the real DPI is when displayed on your monitor. There is much better and longer explanation in this article:
http://www.scantips.com/no72dpib.html
Apple's 72 dpi logical inch was close to accurate text size on the early Macintosh screen (1984), which is why Apple selected the 72 dpi number back then. Apple still uses that number today for text logical inches, but that number was only about the size of THAT screen. That 1984 Macintosh graphical screen was something new, it could show various font faces and sizes, italics and bold, even proportional fonts on the screen for the first time. We take this for granted today, but graphic text on the video screen was a new idea then. MS-DOS screens did not show graphic text, and instead used screens dimensioned as 80x25 fixed-width characters of one bit-mapped font.

And back then, Apple did brag about 72 dpi and about WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), meaning text on that screen looked the same, and matched the size of the same text printed on paper. The size accuracy was not because of the number 72 dpi per se, it was because this logical inch size was selected to match this physical screen size. We don't hear about WYSIWYG today - it is not possible now because modern screens vary in size. But that early screen was always the same size then, and this advertising was very effective for Apple back then. However it was unfortunately also detrimental to our understanding how things work, because it let us assume 72 dpi had some significance to the video system. But it doesn't - it can't - there are NO inches and NO dpi in ANY video system - our screens are dimensioned in pixels. It was only about the size of THAT screen. That early 9 inch Mac screen was 512x324 pixels, and each of the 412x312 pixel images above would be nearly full screen then.

This is why images are given a DPI setting of 72 by default on most cameras, it's a legacy number. DPI is meta data, it has no bearing on the pixel size of the image. What DPI does is allows us to give a pixel a physical dimension where none exists. The following images are examples. These two images are exactly the same image. They are exactly the same pixel size, they are exactly the same colors, they are exactly the same file size and if printed at exactly the same physical size will produce identical prints. The only difference between them is the DPI setting which as you can see has absolutely no difference in how they are displayed on your monitor. We can change this to anything we want (*see important warning below) and it will still be the same image.

Example 1 - 249x276 @72 DPI

Example 2 - 249x276 @600 DPI

When we transfer this image to a physical canvas, this is where DPI enters the picture. It sets the default physical size or scale that an image should be printed at. If you're still not following along here save the two images to your computer and insert them into a Word document or other word processing program, the first thing you should note is they are now a different size because Word has scaled them according to their DPI. If you were to print them roughly speaking example 1 is going to scale to about 3" * 3" and example 2 will only be about .5" * .5".

A Word document has a physical dimension based on what size paper you have selected in the options. Since we have a physical canvas Word will scale these images to it. By default when you print an image most software like Word will determine the printed size or scale of the image by the DPI. If we had a 300px * 300px image and set the DPI to 100 by default the printed size will be 3" * 3". If you take the same image and set the DPI to 300 the default printed size will be 1" x 1".

The other use for DPI is when scanning prints, in this case you're setting the scanner for how much information to gather per inch of physical surface. The higher you set the DPI the more detailed the scan will be. If you have a print with physical dimensions of 6" * 4" and set the DPI at 300 you're going to produce an image that is 1800px * 1200px or little more than 2Mpx.

*On a final note be careful when changing the DPI, some image editors use physical size to scale images and if you change the DPI you could in fact reduce the pixel size under certain circumstances.
Last edited by Richard S. on Sat Apr 21, 2012 8:38 am, edited 11 times in total.
Reason: updated

Richard S.
Mayor

Posts: 11061
Joined: Fri Oct 01, 2004 8:35 pm
Location: NEPA
Stove/Furnace Make: Van Wert
Stove/Furnace Model: VA1200

### Re: Pixels, Image Sizes and DPI Explained

I enjoyed this and want to thank you for typing it out...I learned a lot.

I like photography but suck at it, still I have a question (or a million or two).

I took this photo of me and my wife using a junk Point and Shoot digital camera at a mock 1930's photo shoot at our local railroad station. It was done on a tri-pod using the self-timer. She really likes the photo and I would like to make it into a big puzzle for her for a Christmas present as she LOVES puzzles, but was curious, how do I know how big I can make it without distortion? Also there are a few more from that photo shoot that would look good on canvas frames in our home.

What information do I need about the original image so that I can print these photos off appropriately?

Hello by Plowpoints, on Flickr
Last edited by Richard S. on Sun Oct 28, 2012 6:38 am, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Fixed BBCode formatting, if you're using auto generated code from these services you only have to paste it. No further action required.
NoSmoke
Member

Posts: 584
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 7:52 pm
Location: Mid Coast Maine
Stove/Furnace Make: Vogelzang Pot Bellied Stove
Stove/Furnace Model: Munchkin LP Boiler (Backup)

### Re: Pixels, Image Sizes and DPI Explained

For printed images the human eye can see details around 250 DPI at viewing distance, viewing distance is what you would typically hold an image in your hand at. Anything with more detail can't be seen unless you move it closer to your eye. Note that everyone's eyes are different and this is generally speaking.

You would divide the pixel dimensions by 250, for example the largest sized photo they have listed for this image is 2048 x 1508
1508 / 250 = 6
2048 / 250 = 8

So the ideal print size for this image at "viewing distance" is 6*8 inches.

Having said that you don't always view images at that distance, if for example you were going to put this up on wall where the viewing distance would be further it would look just as good if it were printed larger since you're farther away. If you were going to print this on a puzzle it could probably be double or triple the size of that.

Depending on the service they will most likely resample the image using the standard method called bicubic to enlarge it. This won't produce more detail in the image but it won't be all blocky either. It will be a larger softer image. There is software out there like genuine fractals specifically for enlarging images which produces better results. What it does is examine an image for edges of contrasting detail and preserves those edges. If they are using something like that you'll get some great results even if it were printed a 4ft.*3ft.

Richard S.
Mayor

Posts: 11061
Joined: Fri Oct 01, 2004 8:35 pm
Location: NEPA
Stove/Furnace Make: Van Wert
Stove/Furnace Model: VA1200

### Re: Pixels, Image Sizes and DPI Explained

Wow, thanks for you fast an knowledgeable reply. I REALLY appreciate that.

I was thinking about making this a puzzle, and then once it is put together, frame it for her so that it could double as both a wall hanging framed photo and a puzzle. I thought that would be a great Christmas Present. Now that I know it will be big enough to do just that, do you feel (in your expert opinion) there is enough contrasting edges, interesting subject matter, and quality in the photo to do that for this photo, or are there better ones. Feel free to check out the remainder of them on my Flickr Account. I think she liked the photo set titled "Railroad Photos", so I would like to get a puzzle/wall photo from that set if possible.
NoSmoke
Member

Posts: 584
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 7:52 pm
Location: Mid Coast Maine
Stove/Furnace Make: Vogelzang Pot Bellied Stove
Stove/Furnace Model: Munchkin LP Boiler (Backup)

### Re: Pixels, Image Sizes and DPI Explained

NoSmoke wrote: Now that I know it will be big enough to do just that,

As long as they do it right it will be big enough.

do you feel (in your expert opinion) there is enough contrasting edges, interesting subject matter, and quality in the photo to do that for this photo, or are there better ones.

You're asking a for an opinion on the photo? Looks fine to me. That siding is going to be a bitch for a puzzle. LOL My one friend had this puzzle it was all white except a blueberry in the corner.

Richard S.
Mayor

Posts: 11061
Joined: Fri Oct 01, 2004 8:35 pm
Location: NEPA
Stove/Furnace Make: Van Wert
Stove/Furnace Model: VA1200