Questions of Social Media
Interview with Pierre Carles
Half the Story: DPIby Ellen Million
Plenty of things will set my teeth on edge: people who talk too loudly on their phones in public, or companies that let you spend an hour working on a merchandise order before letting you know that they don't ship to Alaska. But there is one thing that is guaranteed to make me stomp off the Internet and find something to break. And alas, I run into it everywhere -- at art sites, in posts by people I otherwise love and respect, and even in professional contracts. You've probably seen it yourself!
The topic of art theft comes up, and one of the first things you see is someone shaking their head and saying, 'you should never post artwork on the Internet more than 72 dpi.' Or, you're talking about artwork to be printed, and someone says 'files should be 300 dpi.'
The problem with writing as a method of communication is that I can't insert an obnoxious game-show 'you're wrong!' blat
Let me demonstrate.
This image is 5000 dpi.
This image is 5 dpi.
They look remarkably similar, don't they?
Let's look at them side-by-side, just to make sure:
These two images contain exactly the same amount of information, defined in different ways.
Did that blow your mind a little? How can this possibly be?
The problem with using dpi to define things is that dpi is only half the story.
The first image, above, is 5000 dpi and 0.04 x 0.06 inches. The second is 5 dpi, and 40 x 60 inches. Each is exactly 200 x 300 pixels and 30.8 kb. Dpi stands for dots per inch. If you don't know how many inches something is, you don't know how many dots you have, and 'dots' are the real measure of information. (Also, how confusing is it for people on the metric system to use 'dpi', when their measurements are in centimeters? This topic is rife with pitfalls of logic!)
If everyone in the world made their original art exactly the same size, it might be useful to say that you should post your work to the web at 72 dpi. But with some people painting giant 3 foot by 4 foot canvases and some painting itty bitty ACEO pieces, that means extremely different things - a 72 dpi image of each of those could be 180 x 252 pixels, or 2592 x 3456 pixels. The former will have people squinting for details, the latter will have people grousing about not being able to see it all at once. Digital art complicates matters even more, since there is no 'original dimension' to factor in.
Art thieves, in particular, don't give a flying rat's posterior what size your original was. That 2592 x 3456 pixel image will make really nice letter-sized prints -- you have not only not protected your artwork by posting at 72 dpi, you have provided a really quality print file. Indeed, anything over about 800 pixels on the long size can make a pretty nice ACEO print, and for things like jewelry and tiny stickers, there is almost no way to protect your artwork by keeping the image small. If you want to deter thieves... well, that's a topic for another article, but the short answer is to consider a watermark. For general purposes and viewing convenience, about 500-750 pixels on the long side is a good size to make images for viewing online.
So, next time you see someone refer to posting something online at 72 dpi, or says that files have to be 300 dpi to print correctly, make a game-show blat in your head, and suggest using a discrete pixel size, instead. Remember that dpi is just half the story!
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