How Much Resolution Do I Need for a Good Photo?

From Camera to Printer
Imagine this: You’re serious about producing high-quality photos, so you buy a good digital camera. You spend hours capturing beautiful scenery and the memorable moments of your life. Next, you want to print out your pictures and put them in an album, or even blow them up and frame them. But how do you know your printer will be up to the task?

As you probably know, your ability to produce high-quality printouts does partially depend on the resolution of your digital camera. In general, higher resolution will result in higher quality prints, so an 8-megapixel camera—which can capture up to 8 million pixels in a single image—is capable of giving you better prints than a 2-megapixel camera.

But how does camera resolution translate into printout quality? In other words, how can you make sure that your printer will do justice to your best photography work?

Set Your Camera Correctly
First things first—make sure you’re taking pictures at the optimal setting for printing. Even the most advanced digital camera in the world won’t take the best pictures it’s capable of taking if you don’t program it to do so. So, always check to make sure your camera is set on the highest resolution.

High-resolution images do take up much more space on your memory card—and later on, the hard drive of your computer—but it’s a small price to pay for outstanding printouts. So, unless you’re absolutely certain that you will only be viewing your pictures on a computer screen (where lower resolution is acceptable), it is a good idea to shoot all your pictures at the highest resolution your camera provides.

Connecting Resolution to Photo Size
Once you’ve set your camera on the highest resolution possible, what picture sizes will you be capable of printing at high quality? That depends on the megapixel capacity of your camera. To come up with an accurate answer, we have to do a little bit of math.

An 8-megapixel camera captures up to 8 million pixels per photo. To ensure good print quality, you will want to print at about 300 dots per inch (dpi) or higher, which we’ll consider to be roughly the same thing as pixels per inch. Suppose your 8-megapixel camera takes a picture at 3200x2400. To calculate the photo size that will print at acceptable quality at this resolution, divide each side by 300 dpi. So, 3200 divided by 300 is 10.67, and 2400 divided by 300 is 8. Therefore, you will be able to print an 8”x10” picture with good quality. Similarly, you could use the 1600x1200 resolution setting to print a 4”x6” photo.

If you’re planning to use an image editing program to increase the pixels per inch of your photos onscreen before printing them, keep in mind that the program will decrease the dimensions of your photo to compensate. The program will essentially scrunch the pixels together to eliminate tiny white spaces and the “washed-out” look they cause. That will cause the total image size to shrink as the quality increases. So, if you want to produce high-quality prints of large photos, you’ll need to use a powerful camera that’s set on the highest possible setting.

What Today’s Printers Can Offer
Once you’ve figured out the ideal resolution on your camera for the picture sizes you plan on printing, it’s time to take a look at what today’s printers are capable of delivering. Canon PIXMA printers can print resolutions as high as 9600x2400 dpi, depending on the model. But it’s not all about resolution. Canon Full-photolithography Inkjet Nozzle Engineering (FINE) uses a next-generation 3,072-nozzle print head that ejects precise, consistent droplets as small as one picoliter for smoother, virtually grain-free images. Some Canon printers also feature high-intensity Photo Cyan and Photo Magenta inks, which expand the fine-tuning capabilities of the conventional four printer inks.

In addition, Canon PIXMA printers can print borderless 4”x6” photos in as little as 21 seconds*, which means that printing your latest shots at home can give you comparable quality to a photo lab at a much faster speed.

* Photo print speeds are based on the standard mode driver setting using photo test pattern(s) and select Canon Photo Paper. Print speed measured as soon as first page begins to feed into printer and will vary depending on system configuration, interface, software, document complexity, print mode, types of paper used and page coverage. See ISO Standard IPM Print Methedology and Conventional PPM Print Methodology for additional information.