Why don’t images off the internet print well?

“I found this really great image on Google but it doesn’t look good when I print it!”

This can be a really frustrating problem, especially if you just spent a lot of money to get your marketing materials printed. How annoying! Sadly, printing internet images incorrectly is often an amateur mistake and one we can help you avoid…

Image quality on the internet is reduced to save server space and to load your website faster. So that graphic you’re pulling from the internet (We hope legally!!!) has been reduced to web quality and won’t look good on your printed material. Just because your images look awesome on your computer or mobile does not mean this will translate once printed. Images don’t need to be a high-resolution in order to look good on your screens, which is why we reduce them to load pages faster.

Let’s dig in more…

Your image is printing poorly because of one thing: PIXELS.

Pixels are the teeny tiny dots of color that are arranged together to form an image. The number of pixels, or dots, within a square inch, we call the resolution. The professional standard for printed images is 300 pixels per inch while photos on the internet are often only at 72/inch. That’s almost 4 times the quality! 

Here’s a graphic that shows you the difference. Look how sad our beautiful capitol looks on the right… blurry and pixelated. On the contrary, the left side is so beautiful, it would make anyone say, “Yes, I love Madison, Wisconsin!” The image looks sharp and in focus, perfect for your printers.

So we have established that the internet used images at a lower resolution for speed and file size. A web image at 72PPI is not enough to give us a sharp, professional look when printed. But why do the images we print have to be so much bigger?

What does 300DPI really mean, and why does it matter?

Printers use a higher resolution when printing, so when a web quality photo is printed, you can really tell the difference.

Printers work by applying ink or toner onto the paper. They have nozzles that spray tiny drops of ink – so the more dots of color you have within a square inch, the sharper your image will be. If you have a low-resolution photo, your printer may try to compensate causing your image to look worse. This is why you want to avoid printing internet images. Photoshop essentials compares it to spreading too little peanut butter over too much toast. It just doesn’t work.

Printing internet images:

We see this all the time with entrepreneurs and small businesses that try to DIY their designs. Beware, if you don’t know what you’re doing you may print a handout and the images look awful. This doesn’t give the professional look you’re probably looking for. We also see this problem with organizations that work with other company’s logos, for example, an event that lists their sponsor’s logos. People will say, “Just grab the logo off our website”. The problem is that the logo is probably optimized for web, not for print. So be careful!

If you’re using stock photography, be sure you are downloading an appropriate size. Often times you can save money or get free images by getting a low-res version, but don’t let them fool you, get the highest option you can so you’re prepared. We usually recommend at least 2000px wide for standard marketing materials like brochures or postcards.

(Bonus tip: Remember to keep your high-resolution images intact. Bigger is better, you can always go down in size, but you can’t go up!)

It’s a complicated concept to wrap your head around, however, it is important to know the difference. The key lesson here is to keep your web quality photos on your website and use high-resolution images whenever you plan to print.

We hope you learned something and feel free to explore more of our blog. You might be interested in this post about Raster vs Vector Images or the differences between File Formats.