Making Peace With Resolution

Resolution is the amount of information your document contains. The final outlet determines how much information you need to make your image look great.

Without enough information, your finished deliverable looks bad. It looks bad because there wasn’t enough information in your file for proper processing–by a printing machine, for example. That’s why you can’t upload a small file to a printing service bureau and expect nice results.

If your file has too much information, the immediacy of its delivery online or on devices takes too long or takes over the screen because it’s too big.

You MUST learn and understand the difference between the different kinds of files and process your design work according to the final output device.

For ANY screen application, the resolution is 72 dpi. That’s because all screens have that resolution.

This means that your file must be processed, regardless of physical size, to a resolution of 72 dpi. We’ll talk about the physical size later.

• When you first create a document, choose a file that’s RGB at a dpi of 300. It’s the best of both worlds. You’ll have the biggest color gamut (RGB) and the best resolution (300 dpi). This is, of course unrealistic. A file like this would be too huge for screen applications, and the incorrect color gamut (also called a color space) for print. Don’t worry, you’ll process it for the correct color space and resolution output later.


• When you make a PDF for screen, in InD, under FILE — PDF presets — choose “Smallest file size”.

To designate that your file was processed to this size, put a w somewhere in the file name; either at the beginning or at the end.

Like this:


In Pshop or Illustrator, it’s called EXPORT. Same thing: chose smallest file size. Chances are strong you’ll have to modify the physical size, but we’ll talk about that soon.

• When you make a PDF for print, in InD, under FILE — PDF presets — choose “High Quality Print” or “PDF-X-1A”. PDFX1-A always works for anything that’s printed. It looks awesome.

To designate that your file was processed to this size, put a p somewhere in the file name; either at the beginning or at the end.

Like this:


In Pshop or Illustrator, it’s called EXPORT. Same thing: chose high quality print. You won’t need to modify the physical size, because the image is already to the designated output size.

Next Tuesday, all your icon files are due, both print and screen, and we’ll go to print them in Voorhees. I’ll then get laser prints and see if we can print them in The Pearl from a high-end printer as well (have to check supply levels). The idea of the three print methods is for you to see how each of them answers your needs.

As with digital music, we’ve ground used to an inferior quality output as long as the input is as good as it can be. Meaning, that the color and resolution of your files must be good, because we tend to be more forgiving of our output devices.

As for size:

For digital: Choose the smallest size you can get away with.

11 x 17″ IS NOT AN OPTION for any screen application. You’ll find that anything bigger than 5 x 7″ for screen is overkill. It doesn’t help you image. It just makes it bigger. And bigger, when it comes to screen, especially Internet, is BAD.

The key here is to CREATE your images in the proper resolution, and process them to the appropriate size in the computer. When you[‘re photographing, choose CAMERA RAW. When you’re in Illustrator, set up your doc to the best resolution you can (see image attached).

Author: Anita Giraldo

Hi, I'm Professor Anita Giraldo. I teach and write courses in design, photography, design theory and creative project management in the Communication Design department at the New York City College of Technology. At City Tech, my signature project is the design, furnishing and implementation of The Pearl media study center, a $5M capital project funded by the New York State Department of Education and coordinated by the New York State City University of New York. Before coming to City Tech, I have worked as an installation artist, designer and fine art print maker. My work has been and continues to be exhibited nationally and internationally and has received funding on the city, state, national, international private level through grants, fellowships purchase princess and residencies. Before that I was the sole proprietor of my own commercial photography studio where I executed numerous national advertising campaigns for fashion and still life clients and consumer catalogs. Throughout the graphic arts industry I have been manufacturing director for international art magazines and production managed consumer magazines such as "Time Out New York,Art + Auction, Saveur and many others. All of these experiences began shortly after I finished art school with my first job as an illustrated book designer in the Studio Book division at Viking Press/Penguin Books.

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