Working with Low-Quality Images for Photo Printing

Sometimes we want to use our personal photos for printing services like making canvas prints or other services like photo printing on T-shirts or anything else. Sometimes, though, we want to use web graphics we’ve come across or our personal photos are similarly poor quality. If you don’t know much about digital photography and web printing, the first time you hear about a low-quality image may be when you upload the file to your canvas printing web site or other site. Usually, they’ll tell you flatly that your image is too low-resolution to use in their high-quality services.


You’re usually better off being told this; if they go ahead and try to use your poor-quality photo you won’t be excited about the results. But what do you do if it’s your only option? If you only have a low-quality image to work with, there are some options you can try – but keep your expectations tempered.

Low-Res Photos to Art Prints 101

Before we go further, here’s a quick primer on what determines a digital photo’s quality. The main number you need to know is a picture’s DPI – dots per inch. You might also see PPI – pixels per inch. This means exactly what it says: How many points of coloured light (pixels) are crammed into each inch of the image.

Almost all web graphics display at 72dpi, which is relatively low-res, but sufficient to look decent on your computer’s monitor. Most people wouldn’t know the difference even if you displayed 300dpi graphics on a web site, which is why we’re often surprised to discover these great-looking images off a web site are low-quality.

There’s a mathematical relationship between the size of an image and its DPI. If you increase the DPI, you shrink the image, because there are only so many pixels encoded into the file. If you cram more of them into each inch, there will be fewer inches.

As a general rule, you should try to attain a minimum of 150dpi, with 266 or 300 being the ideal. The trick is to balance size and DPI so you don’t end up with a postage stamp-sized photo.

Techniques for Turning Low-Res Photos into Art Prints

So, obviously you must increaser the DPI of your picture before you have it turned into a T-shirt or a canvas print. Here are some considerations:


  • The Bigger, the Better. When working with web graphics at 72dpi, find the largest version you can locate. This way when you bump up the DPI and it shrinks you’ll still have a decent-sized photo to work with.
  • Keep the Target Size in Mind. When bumping up the DPI in your photo manipulation software, know in advance the minimum size you need the photo to be. Hitting 300dpi won’t help much if your photo is tiny as a result.
  • Resample Just Once. Bumping up the DPI is called ‘resampling’. Do it just once. Every time you resample, something gets lost, and every iteration after the first pass will result in a lower-quality image, even if you can’t tell the difference with the naked eye. Be careful to make sure the web site doing the photo printing doesn’t automatically resample, either!

You can’t perform miracles: Each photo contains a finite amount of information, and you can’t make more. But you can usually improve things at least slightly, and perhaps just enough to make your photos usable. When you’ve put in the resampling work, click here and let us turn that effort into a beautiful canvas print!