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Print vs. Web The Resolution Revolution

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The need for more information on smaller screens is driving a resolution revolution. Now more than ever, our society expects to see rich, lavish, beautifully printed pages. Thanks to higher quality printers with higher dot density, we are able to meet these expectations and even increase readability by producing smoother graphics and crisper type. The higher dot density also allows us to pack more pixels (also referred to as “information”) into a tighter space, making it possible to include more information on a page.

The technological advancements in screen resolution are finally allowing web design to catch up to the lifelike quality that print has relished for quite some time. Unfortunately, even with Apple’s release of monitors with Retina Display, web design is still not reaching the print-level of clarity. Pair that with the fact that a monitor is essentially a large lamp projecting light and you are still left with a product that is harder on the eyes and therefore more difficult to read. What can be captured by glancing at a printed piece still requires squinting and scrolling on the screen. Thus, designs have to be planned accordingly.

It is very important for you, the consumer, and your web designer to be aware of these facts when designing a campaign for web and print, since they are not easily interchangeable. The images seen on a website designed at a typical 72ppi will not print in the same size you see on your monitor. This is because the lack of information, or the amount of pixels per inch, is rather low on the web. So low in fact, that it causes the conversion to a higher dot density for print to result in an image that looks very small, but still contains all the information of the original. Conversely, a website designed for print at 300dpi will not yield accurate pixel sizes for screen resolution and may lead to programming issues. The site will have to be converted from 300dpi to 72ppi to match screen resolution. This often leads to inconsistent measurements that result in blurry images and inaccurate sizes. Designing for print and web can be catastrophic if you are not aware of the facts, which is why it is very important for you to choose a designer with a strong set of skills in both areas. After all, a consistent voice through print and web is crucial to a successful campaign.

To help you with both interacting with designers and buying your next multimedia device, we have defined some of the common terms for measuring dot density, also known as image quality.

Pixels Per Inch (PPI) refers to the pixel density of devices such as monitors, image scanners, and digital cameras. PPI is a confusing term as it has been erroneously used as a blanket term for everything from image size to printing resolution. However, a pixel is a digital measurement for the smallest element in a display device. An image in its digital manifestation can be referred to by PPI, but once it is printed it should be referred to by its DPI.

Dots Per Inch (DPI) is a measurement of dot density within an inch. Commonly used in printing, DPI can also be used as a blanket term for point density as it refers to dots instead of the digitally specific term, pixels. Printers form images by spraying dots of colors. Likewise, monitors form images by using dots of light. The higher the DPI, the more dots you are using in the same amount of space, thus, more information can be presented. You are able to show more data in the same amount of space with a higher DPI.

Lines Per Inch (LPI) measures the density of lines in a halftone grid. Unless you have been working with a commercial offset press lately, the term LPI will not be at the tip of your tongue. It is also highly unlikely to be something that you will ever encounter. Like the other terms, the higher the density or LPI, the better the image will look.

Due to advancements in technology, information has to be presented in different ways for different media. While most terminology is generalized by the use of dot density, it is not acceptable to use some of these terms interchangeably. It is very important for your designer to be aware of these facts and use the terminology effectively. Watch out for red flags like Adobe InDesign being used to design your website, or Adobe Photoshop being used to design your print pieces. Those programs were designed to be effective in print or web, but not necessarily both. When in the right hands, either can work, but it is a sign that your designer may not be versed in the proper tools for the job.


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