Help me print out the universe
January 14, 2006 12:07 PM   Subscribe

I want to make a poster out of this massive picture (29 megs) of the center of the milky way. Whats the cheapest way to do this?
posted by pwally to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
posted by monju_bosatsu at 12:17 PM on January 14, 2006

Response by poster: Nope that only allows 1 meg, this guy is 29. Id rather not have to resize it too much.
posted by pwally at 12:20 PM on January 14, 2006

Rasterbator is great. Picasa has a built in poster creator as well.
posted by bering at 12:22 PM on January 14, 2006

Make friends with someone in a geology department. Many of them seem to have poster printers in-house.
posted by Aknaton at 12:22 PM on January 14, 2006

For a single print the answer would be using a large format inkjet.

Prices range from about $5 and up per square foot, depending on the substrate (plain paper, glossy photo paper, adhesive backed, synthetic, canvas, other) being used, the inks (CMYK, hexachrome, UV resistant, other), and the printing company.

Large format digital print shops are quite numerous these days. Check your yellow pages. Even FedEx-Kinko's copy centers sometimes have a large format department these days - but generally it's much more expensive than the going industry rates, with lesser quality. (About $9/sq foot, AFAIR. For plain matte or glossy papers printed in CMYK.)

And this is the cheapest way. The time and money spent tiling a self-printed small format inkjet or color printer would quickly exceed that of a single print done properly on a large format printer.
posted by loquacious at 12:23 PM on January 14, 2006

Does the standalone Rasterbator have a size limit as well?
posted by bering at 12:25 PM on January 14, 2006

I had a poster professionaly printed from a digital print shop. I used a very high res image and it was somewhere around the size of 36x48, and it cost me $50.

Sam's Club photo center can print up to 24x36 and they charge $20.47. I'm unsure of any file size limits for the their online ordering, but if you go to a store locally and bring in a burned CD then there shouldn't be a problem.
posted by monsta coty scott at 12:34 PM on January 14, 2006

You could have winkflash do it, if you wanted it to look good. I think a Rasterbator style solution would do a disservice to this image.
posted by null terminated at 12:35 PM on January 14, 2006

You'd have to compress it some, but Cafe Press will take up to 10MB and produce a 23 by 35 poster.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:37 PM on January 14, 2006

Are you sure you really don't need to resize the file?

Snapfish recommends about 40-60 pixels per inch for posters. And these are posters that look fine when you're holding them in your hands.

The file you link to is big enough to make a poster over 8 feet by 6 feet that will look pretty damn sharp hanging on a wall. If you plan on something smaller, then it's OK to resize the file.
posted by driveler at 12:54 PM on January 14, 2006

I know this is contrary to what you intend, but you may save money by instead searching for an already mass-produced version of this picture at poster size.
posted by VulcanMike at 12:59 PM on January 14, 2006

Snapfish is talking a bunch of trash. 40-60 ppi? My old palm pilot has better res than that.

Industry standard is about 1.5 to 2 source pixels per output dot resolution.

The large format shop my GF works for won't even touch 72 pixel per inch files - that's screen/web resolution, and it looks like utter crap on a decent large format printer. Pixel blocks and artifacts the size of houses.

300-600 pixels per inch is much more common, and still playing it loose considering good large format printers these days are capable of 600-1200 DPI and up.

Heck, they do 600 DPI on low res vehicle wrap film. 300-500 meg files aren't uncommon at all. Any decent print house will have no problems at all ripping a 29 meg compressed file to print.

Don't touch the file. It's already compressed. You'll just end up re-encoding jpeg atop an old jpeg, and that's baaaad. Never open a jpeg, edit it, and save it again as a jpeg if you want to keep compression artifacts out of the image.

Give the print shop the most unsullied, purest file you have, tell them how big you want the poster, and they'll scale it down in the RIP or on a de-encoded jpeg from there.

Trust me. Large format shops love huge ass files. The bigger the better. They're constantly getting space cadet yahoos coming in wanting huge posters from crappy little 10 kilobyte jpeg level 10 compressed images, who then complain that it looks like crap - even though the shop told them before printing that it would, indeed, look like crap.

Customers who bring in huge, gigantic, clear and uncompressed files actually make the job easier.
posted by loquacious at 1:24 PM on January 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Think about what loquacious is saying. According to him, a photo like this, say, which is 800 pixels wide, should be printed on a rectangle about an inch across.

But if you do send it to a real print shop, give them the original file and let them decide how to scale it for the best printing results.
posted by driveler at 1:42 PM on January 14, 2006

Driveler: For quality printing, yes, that's what I'm saying.

I've been actively involved in graphic design and digital printing since about 1988. I know what I'm talking about. That rule-of-thumb ratio of about 1.5 pixels per print dot is industry standard for a reason - namely anti-aliasing and averaging. The more pixels, the better the RIP can interpolate the image into printed dots. Really high quality printers insist on a higher ratio than that - 2 to 3 pixels per print dot, or more.

That 29 meg jpeg of the Milky Way is gorgeous and large. But if it was printed at about 8 feet wide, even a layman would be able to see the pixelization and "jaggies" in the print. I could do the math... heck, let's do the math, back of the envelope style, using driveler's guesstimate of the source file being able to print clearly at 8 feet wide:

8 feet / 6000 pixels = 750 pixels per foot, or 62.5 pixels per inch.

Now, imagine a millimeter. It's large, and it's visible and tangible - compared to, say, 1200 dots per inch, which is barely visible to the average eye. There are about 25 millimeters per inch. So 62.5 pixels per inch is just a bit over twice that of millimeters per inch.

So, at 6000x4800 pixels printed at about 8x6 (or whatever the aspect ratio actually breaks down at), that's a printed pixel size of about half a millimeter.

Large enough to be distracting, at that print scale and with this source file. Large enough to totally override the RIP and printed dot, leaving you with a grid of square pixels much larger then the available print dot size and resolution.

At 6000x4800, that source file is just about large enough for a fairly crisp 3x2' print at around 1200 DPI. I wouldn't really want to push it much further than that. And 3x2' is about large enough for most folks, I'd guess.

And 6000x4800 pixel images are just the tip of the iceberg in large format printing. I've seen 50,000x250,000 pixel images come through shops. Sometimes they're so large they must be tiled, otherwise the file formats break down, or Photoshop or the RIP server can't handle them at all.

And now, I too want a poster of that image. Maybe I can talk my GF into printing one up for me on some scrap paper at work.
posted by loquacious at 2:04 PM on January 14, 2006

What a beautiful picture. Those interstellar dust lanes - teh sexeh!
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:08 PM on January 14, 2006

I suspect you'd have an easier/cheaper time finding just buying the poster from one of the many online stores that specialize in space posters.
posted by mmdei at 2:21 PM on January 14, 2006

This page has it in TIFF format -- use that instead.

That image printed at 3'x2' would only be about 166 PPI. That's pretty borderline, but would still look decent as a poster. It'd cost $19.95 at WinkFlash. Not a bad price, and you probably couldn't buy it for much less from a poster retailer.
posted by zsazsa at 2:32 PM on January 14, 2006

You could try Pictopia (review by Kevin Kelly)
posted by pullayup at 2:35 PM on January 14, 2006

Dang, that's a decent price for Giclée prints, especially one-offs.

You might be able find that exact image or print as a pre-printed poster. And it may even be cheaper. But it might take a while to find that exact print.

Here's the trade off, though. It'll be a screened CMYK print at around 300 lines per inch. Sure, it'll look fine.

But a high res digital print like the Giclée or photographic process, or even the stochastically screened CMYK or hexachrome inkjets will give you much higher quality with better color, saturation and resolution.


Me, I'm seriously considering having my GF print the high res TIFF for me on the best printer in the shop. I've actually been thinking about getting some kind of space imagery poster, and that one of the Milky Way is pretty breathtaking, while delightfully abstract and colorful, without being too specific. And I'm now curious as how much nicer it would look as a high res print, rather than peering at it dimly through my 1280x1024 monitor.
posted by loquacious at 2:43 PM on January 14, 2006

Not that it needs to be said, but Loquacious is right when it comes to professional quality prints. I'm working on a tradeshow booth now with a 10'x8' print. We've settled on going fairly low-res at 300 dpi since it will be seen from a distance. My working photoshop file is pushing 1.6 gigs.

But for a nice 3'x2' print to hang on your wall for the average person to see then the linked TIFF file will be perfect.
posted by monsta coty scott at 2:46 PM on January 14, 2006

Driveler: For quality printing, yes, that's what I'm saying.

Well, yes and no - really depends on the effect you need - For MINI we made a life-size image of a Cooper that was broken up into several hundred letter-size PDFs so that the enterprising fan could get them from the site and print them at home.

Obviously a hi-res image of that size would be nearly impossible for most folks to download, so in experimenting with resolution we found that going as low as 10 dpi looked perfectly fine from more than 2 or 3 feet away. And the download was about 1 meg.

Obviously, to frame something and put it on the wall to admire and examine you want as much headroom as possible, but you could have something huge and cool to look at (say from a few feet away in your recliner) created from a surprisingly small image.
posted by jalexei at 2:58 PM on January 14, 2006

I'm kind of curious jalexei: did anyone actually go to the MINI site and print off several hundred PDF's to form a life-size poster of a Cooper? That amount of work seems like it might be bordering on obsessive.
posted by saraswati at 4:35 PM on January 14, 2006

I'm kind of curious jalexei: did anyone actually go to the MINI site and print off several hundred PDF's to form a life-size poster of a Cooper?

We had thousands of downloads, though obviously we had no way of knowing how many actually printed them out and put them together. But knowing and working with MINI fans/owners, "bordering on obsessive" is a pretty apt description...
posted by jalexei at 6:16 PM on January 14, 2006

Nice... thinking of taking the TIF and having it done on vinyl, and covering the freezer door.

One question: I didn't see any copyright notice, so I doubt Kinkos will do it. Does NASA provide a copyright release?
posted by Marky at 10:36 PM on January 14, 2006

It should be public domain. NASA is a public agency. They post those pics for public use and reproduction - be it personal edification or educational or other.

I once (briefly) worked at Kinko's. The copyright enforcement has always been hit or miss, and seemingly at the whims and moods of whomever is on duty at the time.

If my experiences are any guide, the night staff at the 24 hour locations tends to be a lot more mellow and accomodating, as well as knowledgeable - especially so for the large format crews. The night shift-working large format crews are generally the production staff - they're the meat of the operation, and they generally get the most actual work done.

Afterhours is also generally when all the art students, zine freaks, ghetto nightclub promoters and other counter-culture types would come in to place their orders, pillage the self serve areas, do obsessive copy and paste work on the tables or otherwise get their work done.

I actually (kind of) miss that about Kinko's. There were some real freaks and weirdos that would walk in.

Especially those marginal, struggling, wanna be business men that'd come in all self important in their worn out, slept in thrift store suits, their boxes of dreadfully important papers and their gravy stained ties - all just to slurp the free coffee and make their insane, rambling, oh-so-important free local phone calls. Mostly harmless, but always annoying.

I don't miss the company one bit, though. Sucky. Avoid.
posted by loquacious at 12:49 AM on January 15, 2006

Awesome! I didn't even notice the "unpackaged" image links at the bottom of the image's page! 7002x5050 without the border and text that's in the 6000x4800 image.
posted by zsazsa at 8:20 PM on January 15, 2006

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