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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Commercial Printing: More Solutions for Problem Photos

In life, challenges seem to come in waves, so I haven’t been surprised lately as a number of clients have had problems with photographs to be used in their custom printing jobs.

The issues have generally focused on how to make bad photos usable or, more specifically, what to do with photos with insufficient image resolution.

The ideal situation would be to have a photo that has twice the line screen’s worth of image data. For instance, if your commercial printing vendor will use a 150-line-per inch halftone screen, and your image is the same size as the final printed product (with no reduction or enlargement), your target would be 300 dpi or ppi (150 x 2).

But sometimes you just don’t have that photo.

What Not to Do: Don’t Upsample, Ever

I once had a client for whom I was designing a CD jacket. He wanted a particular photo. I only had a 72 dpi version. I enlarged the photo and resampled it, creating a CD-sized image (approximately 5” square). I used Photoshop’s “Gaussian Blur” to blur the very obvious pixelation, and then I resharpened the image using “Unsharp Mask.” The image was not crisp, and there were artifacts and halos in the photo. It was a serious problem. So don’t do this. Save yourself the heartache.

Make It Smaller

In another case recently, I suggested that a client make the photo smaller in her print book design. She is using a grid for her layout incorporating two wide columns and a smaller scholar’s margin. I pointed out that her readers would not see the flaws if she reduced the problem photos and placed them in one column or in the even narrower scholar’s margin. Certain small flaws are below the threshold of visibility. That is, damage that would be overly time consuming (or impossible) to fix in Photoshop might not be visible if the photo is reproduced at, say, 2” wide by 2” deep. In contrast, the same image might be totally unusable at 4” x 4” because (for instance) the tear in the archival photo, which you unsuccessfully tried to fix in Photoshop, crosses someone’s face.

In short, use the limits of the human eye to your advantage. Also, consider the age of your readers (my eyes, at least, aren’t what they used to be).


I know I just emphatically said not to do this. As with everything else in life, rules are meant to be broken–in selected instances.

Let’s say you have a photo that you need to enlarge slightly for a custom printing job. The key word is “slightly.”

An article I read recently suggests using PhotoZoom Pro2 by BenVista or Genuine Fractals by onOne Software. I know nothing about either, but it’s a start for your research online. Both allow you to upsample images with very little loss of quality.

Another protocol mentioned in the same article just uses Photoshop to enlarge the photo.

  1. Open the “Image Size” window.
  2. Check “Resample Image.”
  3. Choose “Bicubic Smoother” from the options under “Resample Image.”
  4. Change the “Document Size” option to “Percent.”
  5. Choose your target resolution (such as 300 pixels per inch).
  6. Type anywhere from “105 to 110 percent,” and click OK.
  7. Do this multiple times to enlarge the photo incrementally.

This actually works. I have done it myself. Be careful, though, and check the image at high resolution to confirm its quality (and lack of pixelation). Start with a high quality image (with only one flaw: the fact that it’s just not quite big enough). Other flaws will be magnified, so I’d use this quick fix only in a dire emergency.

Make It Artsy

I had another client ask me recently about using images shot with a cell phone at 72 dpi for a print book cover. I said no, absolutely not.

However, I did made a suggestion. My client could use multiple small photos for the print book cover, or he could add artsy screens to the low resolution images. For instance, a rough mezzotint screen of fine dots (like a Seurat pointillist painting) would totally stylize the image in Photoshop. It would no longer be a “photographic likeness.” It would be art. It would be a mood piece.

Play with the filters in Photoshop. Consider such options as “Fresco,” Cutout,” or “Dry Brush.” With each filter, your flawed image will take on a different emotional tone. It will be more like a painting than a photo. This can wipe out a lot of flaws—or at least obscure them from the average reader’s eye.

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