Printer and Photographer speaking different!
February 5, 2008 10:15 PM   Subscribe

I need to have a photo printed on a 4x10 poster: the photo I emailed was taken on a fancy digital camera but the printer says the photo file is too small.

The file was 503KB and he says that if it printed at resolution, it would be 20"x8.32". He says it should be 120"x48" @ 150 pixels/inch at a 5:2 ratio.
It's being printed on a large format digital printer and I think that's the problem; since it's not CMYK offset, the file requirements are completely different and I can't translate what the printer is saying to the guy with the camera.

Any ideas about what to tell the photographer to do or do need to find someone who has an even fancier camera?? Thanks!
posted by lois1950 to Technology (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You need to tell your photographer to send a full-resolution file - based on the file size you've given, the file has been downsized for speedier emailing.

In other words, send the original file as it came from the camera.
posted by davey_darling at 10:17 PM on February 5, 2008

4x10 as in feet? That's huge!

And yes, he's right. What you need is a file with dimensions 18000pixels x 7200pixels, and only a 130-megapixel camera can take a image that big. Moreover, your file will be more like 502 megabytes or more, not kilobytes.

If you're talking about inches, then that's a communication issue between you and the printer, because he definitely thinks that you're talking feet. Your image should be the right size.
posted by suedehead at 10:30 PM on February 5, 2008

'120"x48" @ 150 pixels/inch at a 5:2 ratio' equals 18000x7200, which is 129.6 mega pixels, so the printer is dreaming if he thinks a camera can produce that. Maybe he's talking 150 dots per inch (dpi), in which case 130 megapixels is overkill.

Regardless, get the photo at the maximum filesize and resolution available, then use something like photoshop to scale up the resolution to whatever he wants. 18000x7200 is safe - since you're upscaling, you're not losing any detail, you just get a bigger filesize, and so long as it fits on a CD-ROM (which it does), that (probably) isn't a problem.

You might want to preview first - since the detail in the image is fixed, but you're printing it so large, the viewer distance must be much further away for it to remain looking like a sharp image - up closer it will be blurry and have remnants of pixel jaggies. At this size, "up close" might include viewers a fair way away. So once you've got your giant image, print a small fraction of the image at scale on a normal page, and see if the detail is sufficient for the viewing distance you require the poster to be viewable at.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:37 PM on February 5, 2008

Response by poster: Yep, it's big, 4' x 10' so I think the printer is right. So, thanks. I will check with the photographer to see if his camera can take an image that big. Any other ideas gratefully accepted. MiFis, you rock.
posted by lois1950 at 10:40 PM on February 5, 2008

You're going to need a pretty fancy camera to produce output for a 4'x10' poster. Unless you're viewing at a distance, only a large-format film camera will give you sufficient resolution. Even that might be pushing things.

You should be able to find a photographer with a large-format camera and a high-resolution scanner. They're definitely still out there. A digital camera will not cut it. Maybe in another 3-5 years.

You should maybe try running some sort of interpolation algorithm on the image to smooth out the pixelation. Do you have photoshop and patience?
posted by mr_roboto at 10:53 PM on February 5, 2008

(note: if the detail is not sufficient, and you really actually genuinely really do need a 130MP photograph, then either (cheapest/easiest) your photographer is going to need a zoom lens and tripod, to take dozens of photos from the same vantage, all zoomed in on all the different parts of the scene, those images to be software-stitched together into a single huge image later. Or (more difficult) you're going to have to use some quite exotic camera gear, such as a large format film camera and a professional film scanning service.)

Alternatively, some futzing in photoshop can introduce the illusion of more detail. For example, if you were going for a weathered look by degrading the image with noise, using noise that is higher resolution can give texture that gives the eye something to focus on up close, reducing the effect of the blurriness.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:53 PM on February 5, 2008

It looks like your image is about 3.7MP (megapixels), which is not very much. If the photographer can provide a 10MP or higher image (reasonable for a digital SLR), you will be better off. He will not be able to provide a 130MP image. Any print of an image from a digital camera is going to look very fuzzy and pixellated printed at 4'x10'. That sort of look can be kind of cool and won't be a big deal viewed from far away, but be sure you know what you are getting into. Once you are sure you want to go ahead, then you can upscale your image to meet your printer's requirements. -harlequin-'s suggestion of a test print of a small section is a good idea.
posted by ssg at 10:55 PM on February 5, 2008

Like anything with typical equipment used day to day, there will be some pixelation unless you can get it in native resolution. This is normal and not a big deal. Have your printer blow the image up to whatever size you want it at. If he complains about blowing it up, resubmit the file after scaling it on your own (or the photographer's) computer.
posted by rhizome at 11:08 PM on February 5, 2008

A quality medium format digital camera back will do enough to give you a reasonable print at that size at 72dpi without needing to stitch partial images together, which may be good enough depending on what you want the print for... but you're not going to get suitable output from a 35mm camera...
posted by russm at 11:44 PM on February 5, 2008

Though I'm not directly involved, people at my work routinely print banners, posters, and signage at 4X10 or more and get it to look good. Well, good enough. Anything that big has to be viewed at a decent distance to get it all in.

We aim for 72 dpi and let the printer up-sample. If we can't get 72 we up-sample to 72 ourselves and make it look good enough.

Asking for 4x10 files at 150dpi is sort of insane. The printer should be able to take care of all that on their end. Sounds like they may not have their shit together. Up-sample what you've got to 150 dpi and ship it off ...

Unless. Unless the photo is actually 4MP, as ssg suggested. That's too small and you're really not going to be happy with the output. Find out how many megapixels your camera is; if it's less than, say, 8, you're going to be in trouble. Really, you want a 10 or more megapixel camera. The bigger the better.

It's possible that your photographer is taking photos at a smaller size than the camera is capable of. Check with your photographer to make sure they're shooting in as high a resolution as possible. I've known people with DSLRs who take photos on the smallest setting, losing them about 6MP in resolution.

If you need this stuff explained even more basically, let us/me know.
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:40 AM on February 6, 2008

You obviously want to work from the largest available file of the specific photograph to be used.

However, as a professional photographer who was using six megapixel digital SLR cameras back in the olden days of 2003, I had a number of images from those cameras reproduce very nicely as full sheet billboards, and also as bus wrappers (the graphics which cover the entire side or surface of a transit bus.

Nobody is going to stick his or her nose right up against the 4x10 poster; it will be viewed at a greater distance and therefore not typically subject to pixel peeping.

I don't know what the ultimate file resolution for the bus wrapper I shot was, but the billboards were ultimately imaged out at 9 (!) ppi. They looked great and my client was very happily surprised at the end product's image quality.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:33 AM on February 6, 2008

Silver based film and a drum scanner. You should be able to get by with a medium format 2"x2"camera, but if this is to be of any quality you may need to find a Studio with a 4"x5" film camera. The key is the drum scanner which will give the printer exactly what he needs. It's more than just pixels, it is the quality of the pixel, dynamic range of the scan, and color corrected for the printer that gets the best results.
posted by Gungho at 6:55 AM on February 6, 2008

imjustsaying has probably the best answer so far. Everyone else saying you can't make a print that large with a standard camera is talking out of their back end. Of course there will be pixelation but I'm sure you are aware of this already. Basically all you need to do in Photoshop is go to "Image Size" and upsample the image to 150ppi and set the document size as required. You have to understand that the printer does not want to spend extra time doing the work for you because time is money. It is the responsibility of the customer to provide a correct file for the job. Then they can download the file and not have to spend time setting up everything.

You should get the best file you can from the photographer which mets the printer's specs. Contact him/her and tell the specs. The photographer should be providing that file to you although the file size is going to be pretty big and won't be something you can easily email. Anyone who uses Photoshop on a regular basis should be able to easily modify the file to something the printer can use.
posted by JJ86 at 7:02 AM on February 6, 2008

Once you get the original photo, Genuine Fractals might be useful to upsize the pic.
posted by omnidrew at 7:48 AM on February 6, 2008

Also, instead of the raster-resizer type program omnidrew mentions there are “vectorizer” programs that would convert the photograph to a sort of line drawing like VectorMagic (free, easy to use, and web-based at the moment) and many other commercial ones.

Whether or not your picture would look good after conversion depends on the photo (sometimes it actually comes out looking better) but once a picture is in vector format it can be upscaled to any size at all without any work and without losing resolution.
posted by XMLicious at 2:17 AM on March 7, 2008

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