Why is My Graphic Pixelated?

If I had one word to summarize the most frustrating and confusing marketing-related topic for small businesses – I would choose RESOLUTION. Did you think I was going to choose something to do with social media?? Nope. After ten years in the industry, I have found that pixelated (and the concept of image resolution as a whole) causes more issues for service-based businesses as it comes up with both print and digital marketing.

Raise your hand if you cringe at the thought of resolution and pixelation. It can seem like a mystical concept.

What even is a pixel? 
How do I know if my image is “high-resolution”? 

WHY is this printing pixelated when it looks clear on my screen?!

Today’s post is a comprehensive guide to preventing pixelation. You’ll learn what pixels are, how to know if your images will look nice and crisp, why vector files are essential, and most importantly, two easy tips for making pixelation-caused-gray-hairs a thing of the past!

What are pixels?

Pixels are tiny squares of digital color. “Pixel” stands for Picture Element – they are the smallest visual unit that, when combined with others, creates a raster image. To help us truly understand how pixels work, we are going to move beyond intangible descriptions.

When I describe pixels and resolution, I want you to think of a mosaic made out of many square tiles. Each square tile is a solid color. There are slight variations in shading and hue so that when viewed at a distance, you are not seeing the individual tiles but rather the larger image.

Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/ZBgNK_UkLm0

When a graphic is described as a “raster image,” it is an image made up of pixels. Raster images typically end with .jpg, .png, .gif, .psd.

When image dimensions are listed, they are often done so in terms of pixels. For example, you may need to provide your logo file at 900px by 900px. That means that the file you need has to be 900 pixels across and 900 pixels tall. So what happens if the only file you have is 500px by 500px?

Can’t I just increase the number of pixels in photoshop?

Unfortunately, this won’t solve the problem. Remember our mosaic? If you just adjusted the number of pixels in graphics software, you would essentially be splitting each existing square tile in the mosaic into smaller square tiles. The issue is that each square already contained a solid color, so by dividing the tile into smaller pieces, you aren’t adding any more detail to the image.

In this first image, we are working with 50 pixels across and 25 pixels in height. If we were just to increase the number of pixels that made up the image, it would look something like this:

While there are more pixels (aka tiles) making up this image, it doesn’t add any more detail/visual information since we worked with a limited amount to begin with.

Often, pixelation occurs when there aren’t enough pixels to fill the space required by an image; therefore, the pixels are enlarged, causing the image to look grainy or blurry.

What does resolution have to do with my service-based business?

Perhaps most importantly, legibility is a concern with low-resolution imagery. When a photo or graphic is pixelated, it has a blurred look or rough edges. This makes it difficult to decipher the image. Similarly, a crisp graphic can be a more efficient way to communicate information to your audience. Dr. Ruth Colvin Clark and Dr. Richard E. Mayer found that imagery paired with text increased comprehension by 89% compared to just communicating with text. Our world is becoming more and more visual, which means more visuals are competing for your audience’s attention than ever before. The images used in your business marketing and advertising must be as attractive as possible. Graphics should be clear and communicate the critical information to your audience without making them think too hard. Findings from the 2015 Content Preferences Survey show that a majority (91%) of buyers prefer visual and interactive content rather than traditional formats. Give the people what they want!

A few ideas of how you can incorporate visuals into your messaging:

  • icons
  • animations
  • bar graphs, pie charts
  • illustrations
  • timelines
  • photographs
  • videos

The best service providers out there are strategically pairing high-quality graphics, videos, and images with their text content and successfully increasing comprehension. They are saying more with less.

How can I tell if my images are of high quality?

Print 

What happens as we transition from digital pixels to printing?  I was hoping you would ask! We use a metric known as DPI (dots per inch), indicating the number of tiny dots of ink a printer puts out in a square inch. 300 dpi is the standard for most printed items, meaning your graphics should be exported at 300 pixels per inch. For example, to check the print quality of a headshot:

  1. On a Mac, right-click on the image and select “Get Info” from the list of options. Under the “More Info” heading, you will see the pixel dimensions listed. On a Windows computer, you will need to right-click on the image and select “Get Properties.” The image dimensions will be listed within the “Details” tab.
  2. Divide each number (the width and the height) by 300. That will give you the largest size, in inches, that your image can be printed without loss of quality.

Example: an image resolution of 1,200px by 1,800px can be printed at 4in by 6in.

Digital

We recommend starting with the pixel resolution at which the graphic will be displayed for digital use (think website graphics, email marketing, social media images, etc.).

Example: The recommended image size for a LinkedIn page is 1128px by 191px. We suggest using an image with these exact dimensions. 

The image file size is critical for websites as they can cause your webpages to load slowly. Each website has many variables, so we suggest working directly with a professional if you have specific questions about image resolution on your site. 

How to prevent pixelation issues?

Vector Files

One of the most common issues we find businesses running into is not having a vector file of their logo and graphics. A vector graphic is made up of points and lines and uses mathematical equations to scale infinitely without losing quality or pixelation. You MUST have access to the vector files of your most important brand identity items, such as your business logo, icons, etc. These files typically end in .ai or .eps, so although you may not have the software to open them, it is crucial to have these files if you don’t want to be limited to whatever size .jpg your designer exported of your logo file. If you are just starting or considering a rebrand, make sure to discuss the need for a vector file with your designer.

Keep Original Photo Files

In the age of digital cameras, it can be challenging to manage and organize digital images. As a business, you’ll likely need to invest in digital storage for your files. Uploading an album of images to Facebook doesn’t cut it. Those images are reduced in quality to load fast enough to be viewed on the Facebook platform. If you decide you want to print one of these images later, you will be pretty darn limited on the size (likely no larger than 5 inches, which would be challenging to use on a brochure or one-pager). Set up a Dropbox or Google Drive account and store those images in the cloud, so you don’t risk losing them forever!

Bookmark this post to reference during your next pitch book, annual report, proposal, prospectus, one-pager project.

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