Nostalgic Media Inc. - 404.844.3840 - 2250 North Druid Hills Rd. NE- Suite 128 - Atlanta, GA 30329

A Crash Course: Resolution, DPI & PPI

There is more confusion about scanning, resolution and file formats than anything else in the business. Hopefully, we can give you some clarity and cut through some of the misinformation and keep it simple. 

TIF or JPEG file format:  JPEG wins.

At Nostalgic Media, we deliver all photo, slide and negative scans JPEG images.  Why?  JPEG is the most universal format.  The images from your digital camera are JPEG.  97% of the pictures on the internet are JPEG.  You can easily send JPEG images by email. JPEG images can be viewed and shared on nearly all digital devices.

TIF images are specialized and used for high end applications such as printing and professional photography. TIF files are massive; up to five times larger than JPEG images.  Furthermore, TIF files cannot always be opened on common digital devices.  You'll likely need special software such as PhotoShop to open and view TIF files. 

We can deliver TIF files for an additional charge.  Contact us for the details.

DPI = Dots (of ink) Per Inch.  Use DPI when you're printing.
PPI = Pixels Per Inch.  Use PPI with monitors and TVs.

DPI: that's dots of ink on a piece of paper.  The more dots of ink that are laid down within an inch, the sharper the image will appear.  Sharpness is resolution. 

Tips on photo scanning:

If you never plan to make enlargements from
your scans, stick to 300 dpi.

If you expect to enlarge or crop your images,
scan your original photos at 600 dpi.


300 dpi is a standard benchmark for an excellent print.  200 dpi will still produce a good image. 150 dpi can be acceptable if you're viewing the print a few feet away.

Most desktop printers and photo labs print digital images at less than 300 dpi.  Why?  Often, the ink jets on those printers aren't capable of putting 300 dots of ink in a given inch. Also, it takes longer and uses more ink when printing at a higher dpi, so some printers are set at a lower dpi for speed and economy. 

Printed Media = DPI
Photo from a one-hour lab 200-260 dpi
Consumer ink jet printer 150-280 dpi
Glossy color magazine 180-240 dpi
Newspaper 160-200 dpi
Large billboard 12-30 dpi

At 20 inches, most people can't see more than 170 dpi

Researchers at UC Berkeley determined that the average person viewing an image at a distance of 20 inches will detect about 170 dpi.  Your ink jet printer may be printing from 120 to 240 dots per inch.  Prints from a one-hour lab may have a resolution of 220 to 240 dots per inch.  How about a slick fashion or travel magazine?  Those pictures can be about 180 to 250 dpi.  A billboard viewed from a quarter mile?  It looks good at 15 dpi. As distance increases, resolution can decrease.



With slides & negatives, we scan at a higher resolution.


Recommended maximum print sizes for scanned media

Scanned Media 300 dpi excellent 200 dpi good 150 dpi acceptable
4x6 photo: 300 dpi 4"x6" 7"x10" 10"x14"
4x6 photo: 600 dpi 8"x12" 13"x20" 17"x26"
8x10 photo: 600 dpi 16"x20" 24"x36" 32"x40"
35mm slide: 2000 dpi 7"x10" 10"x15" 13"x20"
35mm slide: 4000 dpi 14"x21" 20"x30" 26"x40"
6x6 negative: 3000 dpi 20"x20" 30"x30" 40"x40"
4x5 negative: 2000 dpi 26"x33" 40"x50" 52"x65"

So why should you care about high resolution? 

It depends.  If you have old 3x5 snapshots, then 300 dpi scans are fine for archiving. You can still print a good looking 5x7 enlargement.

For a small wallet-size picture, scan at 600 dpi so you can enlarge it and retain more detail. Got a photo of a group of people? 600 dpi will allow you to zoom in and crop.

Slides and negatives are smaller so they're scanned at a higher dpi rate. Better to have too much resolution. You can always go down in size; you can't go up without losing quality. 



PPI = Pixels Per Inch.  Use PPI with monitors and TVs.


A 21-inch monitor is about 105 ppi and
looks sharp at 20 inches.


A 40-inch HDTV is about 48ppi.
It looks sharp  when viewed at 10 feet.


Digital Media = PPI
Dimension (pixels)
40-inch HDTV 1920x1080 48 ppi
24-inch monitor 1920x1080 92 ppi
21-inch monitor 1920x1080 105 ppi
Laptop: 15" monitor 1920x1080 141 ppi
iPhone: 4.7" screen 1136x640 326 ppi

A scanned photo has more resolution than you will see on a computer monitor or TV.

A pixel is an individual dot on the screen. More dots mean higher resolution. Monitors cannot resolve at the same sharpness as a printed photo. This chart shows that the pixel density increases as the monitor gets smaller.  However, you will view the image at a greater distance as the monitor size increases. You'll view your iPhone (326 ppi) at about 15 inches.  You'll watch that HDTV (48 ppi) on a couch ten feet away.