Why does my photo print look like pixelated crap?
April 5, 2022 10:06 AM   Subscribe

So as per my earlier questions, I went and got this printed....11x14 including the white border. The image as per photoshop is 11x14 at 555 pixels/inch. All the "pieces" from which the image is composited where very high resolution and look great, even at 200% zoom in photoshop. So why is my photoprint pixelated garbage? I will have to reprint, but how do I get a better print next time?

I got it printed at Staples (yeah, I didn't need it to go in a gallery...but i don't want it to look like crap, either). i uploaded a jpg, obviously (it said the png was too large). The jpg is the image I linked and if you view the image itself to make it even bigger (right click open image in new tab on firefox), it looks fine.
posted by If only I had a penguin... to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Assuming that there was no mix-up with the file (i.e. you didn't accidentally send them a low res version), then it sounds like an issue on their end. Either their system spat out a low-res preview version of the file, or a person didn't know what they were doing. My guess is that if yo send it to a photo place (like Mpix, or Adorama, or whatever), that it'll print fine.
posted by jonathanhughes at 10:14 AM on April 5, 2022 [4 favorites]

I notice two things when I look at the image.

One is that there are some artifacts in certain parts of the boy. The edges of his hands are messy, there is grass on hi slower sneaker. These are things I didn't notice when I saw the image on the screen, but they might pop out more in a print.

Also, you have a wide off-white border all around the image. I don't know the purpose of that, but it makes the file larger than it needs to be, and you might end up with a two-tone border (off-white surrounded by white) depending on how you print it.

Beyond that, I agree with jonathanhughes: if there's a problem with the overall print quality it could be that you uploaded the wrong file, or Staples messed up the printing process. You could try another service, or you could talk to someone at Staples and see if there are special steps you need to take when making large prints from high resolution image files.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 10:48 AM on April 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah, I've definitely noted the hand stuff, but like even the edges of the numberblocks look bad. How hard is it to print a straight line? And the purpose of the border is just to sit under the matte in the frame. Staples (and most non-specialized places) only do specific print sizes, so to get the size I want in the frame I had to "pad it" up to the next biggest size that they print. I never saved a lower res version of the file, so it's not possible I sent a low-res version. I'm worried it's soemthing that happened when they downsampled to the lower resolution that they print at. I'm wondering if I should downsample it myself to 300pixels or even 150pixels/inch and make sure it's ok before sending it somewhere else.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:32 AM on April 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Some possibilities:
  • A resolution of 555 ppi/dpi isn't typical of most printing processes. You might try resampling the image down to 300ppi which is more common and is less likely to rely on the printer doing its own resampling. (A 600 dpi resolution is also common, if you can upscale and still be pleased with the result.)
  • JPEG can introduce artifacts that will look pixellated, but I wouldn't expect this to be as noticeable at that resolution. Exporting a JPEG from the PNG source file with a higher quality setting can help avoid noticeable artifacts, though honestly the best result will be getting the print service to take your PNG file.
  • Staples plain screwed up, and someone/thing on their end downsampled down to screen resolution (e.g. 72 ppi) or something - you might have better luck with taking the file in person on a USB stick and talking with them about it, or using a different print service.
  • Looking at screens is just different than looking at paper, and it's often easier to notice these issues on paper. Looking at the file, that might be the case here, as the fringing around the compositing may read as pixellated to some in a few areas.

posted by Aleyn at 11:33 AM on April 5, 2022 [5 favorites]

Staples also has an article with guidelines for preparing a project for print that might be helpful.
posted by Aleyn at 11:38 AM on April 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Did they print on photo paper just regular paper?

Also, I wouldn't be surprised if the upload service does some compression of its own on the image which may have ruined it. I agree with the other suggestions to take a larger sized jpg or png on a USB stick and get them to print from that directly.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:36 PM on April 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Also, what resolution were the images you imported into Photoshop? If those aren't high enough resolution then they'll come out looking bad even if the document you created in Photoshop was set at 555 dpi.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:56 PM on April 5, 2022

Response by poster: All the images imported into photoshop were very high resolution, too...I'm pretty sure each "piece" was shrunk to be in this composite. Printed on photo paper. I know screens can look different and it's especially tricky with composites, but like I said, it looks fine even zoomed to 200% (which was the advice I was given here, so I don't feel like the problem is in my image or file). And i should add that since that AskMe, I composite using "paste embedded" instead of pasting.

Staples is a bit of a trek for me and I only did it there because I was going to the Home Depot nearby that day. I will do the next version at an actual photograph place near home and go in and talk to them before printing. Hopefully it will turn out better. I'll also take 300ppi and 150 ppi versions of the file that I've looked at myself.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:38 PM on April 5, 2022

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