How can I succintly explain the difference between print and web resolution?
September 20, 2006 7:44 AM   Subscribe

What is a good, crystal clear, oh-yeah-that-makes-perfect-sense, method of explaing the difference of print design vs web design

Print designer here, working with sales people. They go get clients, we build ads.

Often the salespeople bring us pictures from a client's website, saying "use these". This doesn't work and trying to explain why it doesn't work invokes the blank stare of people. Anyone have any good, boilerplate explanations that make sense to non designer types? They seem caught up on the fact that it looks good on the screen.
posted by anonpeon to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You've got an uphill battle: I still can't convince senior newspaper editors that even though they've seen pretty pictures of something on the TV, it doesn't mean we have the same photographs, or that we can "just use the TV".

The very best way round this is to do it. Take a web image, and send it for a press test. The next time someone says "use these" say, "Oh I would, but the problem with web images is that they print really poorly. Here, like this [show]"
posted by bonaldi at 7:55 AM on September 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Schedule half an hour with your sales team--frame it in such a way that you're helping them to increase their sales, etc.--in short, you want to make them look like heroes.

Then yes: show them samples of high resolution prints vs. low resolution prints. Give them cheat sheets of info they can rattle off to clients about DPI, 4-color process, etc.

If you focus on making your sales guys look good rather than show your frustration that they don't get it, you will totally succeed. Good luck!
posted by gsh at 8:02 AM on September 20, 2006

Oh this just gave me the shakes from when I worked at Kinkos. I've seen some of the ugliest stuff people have tried to come up with, and then have printed.

72dpi JPEG photos do not print well.

People don't usually get that. There's just as much problem in reverse as well. Just look at all the people who make websites and use 24x24 JPEG files that are resized to 1x1 in HTML code, and wonder why their sites take so long to load.

It's an uphill battle.
posted by gregschoen at 8:15 AM on September 20, 2006

I have had to deal with this countless times. A helpful thing to do is to create a specification sheet that lists, in detail, your image requirements (images must be tiffs, not compressed, 300 dpi at actualy print size, cmyk, etc. etc.).
When I made one up, I actually added in a glossary section, defining terms we use every day, but the average sales person does not. You can say over and over again "monitor resolution is not the same as print resolution" and they will never, ever get it. If you have a spec sheet, you can simply highlight, circle or check whatever is wrong with the image and hand it back to the sales person. If it's their job to obtain useable images, make 'em do it. And bold any parts about web images not being suitable for print.
posted by Alpenglow at 8:23 AM on September 20, 2006

Start by stating briefly how computer monitors and the printed page are different media, and how images optimized for one aren't going to be optimal for the other. Move into talking about dpi and color palettes. In about one sentence, their eyes should glaze over, long before you get into RGB vs. CMYK. Then whip out the coup de grace:

slick glossy printed examples of something designed ground-up for print, and something recycling web graphics.

Let them see the differences, coaching them if necessary, but flattering their astuteness in noticing them. In no time, you'll have them thinking that the necessity of re-creating the images for print was their idea.

Then tell 'em to do the same with their customers.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 8:26 AM on September 20, 2006

Best answer: Just print some 72 dpi crap out on your desktop printer. Of course, you should instruct your salesperson to request hi-res versions of the desired images from the clients - sometimes you will actually get them! Often not tho.

And don't be afraid to reach out directly to the client in question. You can explain to him/her that the web image will look like crap cuz it's "smaller" than the print version must be; and this can also help you track down hi-res versions of the images used on the web site (sometimes). Seems like a pain in the ass, but in my experience, clients find value in this sort of interaction.
posted by Mister_A at 8:48 AM on September 20, 2006

If it's a photo I usually say something like the photo in the file is X dots/pixels wide and the dots on the printed page are much closer together. e.g. If you're printing at 150 dpi and the image is 300 pixels wide, give them these numbers and say the photo will work if it's printed 2 inches wide but any larger and you'll need a higher resolution.

If it's a line drawing or something that would work best in a vector format, my first approach is to ask the client to go back to their own graphics person for a vector format file, as this is required for print. Unless/until this approach fails I would try to avoid much explanation (unless, of course, the explainee is eager to learn). Besides, if this approach fails, it's unlikely that a vector format file will be found in any case. I once made the mistake of asking for the logo (needed for a poster-size printout) as an EPS (instead of saying "vector") rather than the 50-pixel wide jpeg that had been provided. What I got back was the result of taking the jpeg and doing Save As: EPS.

And of course, demonstrations work well. They might not understand the mechanics of it but they can see the difference between if we do A then we get result B and if we do C then we get result D.
posted by winston at 8:54 AM on September 20, 2006

The only way to explain this is with a square tray and various concentrations of bouncy balls, I posit.

Even with fairly computer-literate people, it's a big concept to get their head around. Generally, what they need to know to make your job bearable is:

- Ask for high-resolution images up-front
- Get them to load images in a web browser (logos should be as big as a playing card, pictures of people should fill the screen)

What you can do to help:

- Know how to get public domain replacement images easily
- Go over the actual printing details first-thing before making them any design's much easier to structure preprints and such from the beginning than to try to retrofit them in.
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:12 AM on September 20, 2006

While I think it's a good idea to print out a sample page, don't just print a sample of 72-dpi art.

Lay out a dummy magazine page (or wherever you sell ad space) with several ads, only one of them using 72-dpi art.

Then say "which one of these ads will make our customer look bad?" You want to heighten the contrast between good art/bad art.
posted by adamrice at 9:13 AM on September 20, 2006

Put together a clear spec sheet indicated what you need to produce a quality printed piece. Maybe even have a side-by-side comparison of an image optimized for print media vs. one optimized for monitors. People usually get it when you show them.

I used to deal with this all of the time, too. I would usually say "Look, web images are 72 dots per inch. Print images are 300 dots per inch. If I try to take a web image and make it into a print image, it's going to look really pixellated." And yes, sometimes they might even insist that you try it anyway. You just have to cover your ass.
posted by Ostara at 9:17 AM on September 20, 2006

Don't try to explain 72 dpi vs. 300 dpi being the difference between web and print. DPI is irrelevant on the web. All that matters is the overall size in pixels. You can save a 300 x 300 image in Photoshop at 20 dpi or 400 dpi and it'll still be the same size and clarity on the web but only one will print well.

In print, color information is transfered into dots but the size is fixed. A screen's resolution will determine the size of an image.

72 dpi is an arbitrary number with a history that I won't explain here.

Yeah, that probably doesn't help. It is an uphill battle.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 9:36 AM on September 20, 2006

300 dpi isn't even close to what decent print work needs, anyway. I just tell them that for print, we need something at least 6 times the resolution, and show them a very exaggerated, pixelated image on paper as support. Don't even try to educated them on dpi or lpi or linescreens or anything else, just stick to the much easier term "resolution." Don't "try it anyway," as it might look like crap and they might not care, making your work look bad. You need to be responsible for the finished output - that's what they're paying you for - not a salesperson.

You could buy them a copy of that Robin Williams book, or a pocket pal.
posted by luriete at 9:50 AM on September 20, 2006

When I built ads for salespeople at a newspaper the only thing that worked was to make it, print it, and send it back. Maybe with a note that says "need hi-res image." Either they cared that it looked like shit or they didn't. If they cared, they came and talked to you and were receptive, if they didn't then the client didn't (that is, they show it to the client for approval, see) and everyone's happy. And if by some miracle you do end up with a higher-res version of the image you can just replace the old with the new. The only way they would get it is if it affected their numbers; explaining the geekery behind it never got me anywhere and was a general waste of energy.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:47 AM on September 20, 2006

If you look through your local weekly paper or daily newspaper you'll likely be able to find an example of a 72 dpi image that went to print. Keep that ad at your desk with an example of an ad created with print-resolution artwork. That way you'll have something concrete to show the salespeople without having a low-quality job go to press. The difference is really apparent when it's printed in four colors, on newsprint.

Barring that, just about every Photoshop manual I've ever seen has a one- or two-page section on resolution. You could pick one up at a used bookstore for just this purpose.
posted by lekvar at 12:18 PM on September 20, 2006

This seems to require a graphic design solution. Print a panoramic poster with full 300 (or more) dpi at the right going all the way down to 1 dpi and worse on the left. Highlight the 72 dpi region and label it web. While not strictly accurate (I think my laptop's monitor is somewhere ~100 dpi) it'll get the point across to the sales folks, I bet.
posted by Richard Daly at 12:53 PM on September 20, 2006

I second the visual aids and spec sheet; an official-looking document can go a long way sometimes.

When the initial request for hi-res is fruitless, my usual strategy is to ask to speak to the technical or design person at the other end. Instead of issuing seemingly arcane demands that get distorted by a few levels of miscommunication, just arrange a geek-to-geek chat.

I find it very helpful to remember that it is not these folks' jobs to understand resolution, just as its not my job to win work or schmooze clients. I wouldn't want to do their jobs, but I'm glad they are doing them. I aim to inspire a reciprocal senitiment in their non-designer minds.
posted by Cranialtorque at 1:52 PM on September 20, 2006

I'm thinking too, it's not just resolution but the layout. With web people have shorter attention spans and are used to certain conventions that don't apply in print. A 3 column page isn't necessarily going to translate well into a triple fold brochure. I guess the point is they serve different purposes, and different audiences and they complement each other.
posted by b33j at 3:41 PM on September 20, 2006

There's a context for web pages. There are typical ways to display information. If you try to apply print design to the web, you'll look slightly 'off' in a subtle way, because the web has its own vernacular for design.

That said, there's a lot of bad design and poor usability on the web, and a lot of usability sacrificed in the name of design, which annoys me a whole lot.
posted by theora55 at 3:48 PM on September 20, 2006

Why is your sales team pulling images off the web and giving them to you? Your sales team should be getting the images directly from the client (and from your post they need to explain to the client that it needs to be high resolution, at least 300 dpi., etc)

Are the clients fairly educated? i.e. are your reps dealing with marketing people or some random person that is responsible for booking ads but doesn't have a ton of expertise?

If they're educated, they probably wouldn't want your reps pulling down web images (I'd be furious!) and they'll immediately know how to get you what you need if the reps utter the magic words. Or if nothing else they'll realize they're in over their head and find the right person that you'd need (geek-to-geek from Cranialtorque).

If they're not educated, what about holding an education event or two for the clients as well as the reps? Train the reps first with some of the ideas here, and then hold a little networking/education event one afternoon or one night after work to go over some basics with the clients. It will serve as a nice client outreach for your sales team, will educate the clients so you won't have to deal with this, and you'll look good for taking the initiative.
posted by ml98tu at 8:44 PM on September 20, 2006

Response by poster: Your sales team should be getting the images directly from the client (and from your post they need to explain to the client that it needs to be high resolution, at least 300 dpi., etc)

This is a very nice dream.

But the visual comparsion idea works best.
posted by anonpeon at 9:29 AM on September 22, 2006

72dpi JPEG photos do not print well.

No one should ever discuss dot pitch with regard to bitmaps. Software (e.g. Photoshop) should never have been designed to save "dot pitch" values into bitmap files.

This is the source of the problem: People talk about dot pitch when they should be talking about resolution. No software should allow you to set a dot pitch on a bitmap format. Period. Doing so merely obfuscates the fact that there aren't enough dots in the image to make it look good at large sizes.

Look, the math on this is very simple: At 300dpi, a 1200 pixel image will be 4 inches wide. At 72dpi, a 1200 pixel image will be about 16.7 inches wide. Hopefully somebody who can calculate a sales commission can get that.

"72dpi display" is an oxymoron, anyway. I have a monitor that with one or two clicks can be set to any resolution from 640x480 up to 1856x1392. It may possibly be something close to 72dpi in one of those resolutions. Maybe.
posted by lodurr at 10:54 AM on September 28, 2006

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