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DPI vs. PPI Difference Explained

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With so many photography related acronyms and abbreviations, it is easy to get lost between them. What is DPI vs. PPI? What can DPI be used for? Is PPI or DPI useful for me?

These are all something that can aid with your post-processing. For all the information about DPI vs. PPI, look no further.

Close up detail of image being printed
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What Does DPI Stand For?

DPI, meaning Dots Per Inch refers to the resolution of the printer that you use to print your images. These machines create a representation of your image by spraying tiny dots onto paper. The number of DPI (Dots Per Inch) denotes the quality of the print and the print size.

DPI means using a color model known as CMYK. Here, cyan, magenta, yellow, and black controls the amount of red, green, and blue reflected from the print.

This is a subtractive color model, as more colors added removes more reflected light.

These DPI (Dots Per Inch) color dots are printed in a specific way to allow the eye to see patterns of color. They are of fixed size, and more of them gives you more detail and resolution, depending on print size.

When Is DPI Important?

DPI is only important when you decide to print your digital images. Each printer you use will have a different DPI, which sets a limit on the DPI dots per inch resolution.

Inkjet printers can handle 300 DPI to 720 DPI, whereas laser printers can handle up to 2,400 DPI.

DPI dots on printed paper come in different sizes and shapes. More DPI doesn’t always mean a better quality image. A printer can create a print using 300 DPI and look much better vs. another that prints from 720 DPI.

An image in a newspaper will use a much lower DPI (Dots Per Inch) vs. those found in a book.

NB: Always consult your print shop personnel for the best DPI for your work. 

What Does PPI Stand For?

PPI (Pixels Per Inch) relates to the resolution of an image. At its simplest, this is how many pixels you can find in any square inch of your digital image. This can also relate to how many pixels your digital screen can display.

My computer monitor can show a pixel density range of 2560 x 1080. My digital camera has a range of 5184 x 3456. They differ in size substantially, but they relate to the same thing – resolution, or image quality.

If you heard of the term Pixel Count, this refers to the pixel density you can find along the edges of a digital image.

You might have heard of the term 4K. This term all comes down to how many PPIs there are in your scene.

With a 4K still image, you are looking at a size of 3840 x 2160 or 4096 x 2160 pixels. This is twice the resolution of 2160p or four times the size of 1080p (1920 x 1080 pixels).

When you capture a still image with your camera, you get two values: the width and the height. These values are shown in pixels and give you the resolution of your camera.

For example, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV takes images of (maximum) 6720 × 4480 pixels. This means the camera has a megapixel size of 30.1 MP.

Canon printer printing image of leaves

What Are Pixels?

Pixels are the components of a digital image or computer monitor. If you get close enough, you might be able to see that each consists of little squares. Within each of these little squares are smaller squares of red, green and blue light elements.

You won’t be able to see these due to the technology used. They all merge into one color, which is too small for us to see. But trust us, they’re there!

The Red, Green, and Blue is important. When we edit our images, we capture them with an RGB color mode. Print uses a different method, so let’s say that all things electronic, such as modern television sets, use this same model.

The more pixels, the better. Having more pixel density means more of your scene is photographed or shown on your screen. 4K has a higher resolution than HD (1080 p – High Definition), but 8K has an even better image quality.

More pixel density means more RGB elements to record or show a digital image.

Image of Big Ben showing 72 PPI and 300 PPI image quality

When Is PPI Important?

PPI (Pixels Per Inch) is vital when you come to work with your digital image. You will use this when preparing your images for printing, vs. DPI, which picks it up for the physical picture.

To give an image a higher quality and increase print size, we need to provide it with a larger PPI. The increased pixel density allows for more information, such as color and detail, to be stored.

The standard for printing is 300 PPI, vs. images for the internet which can be 72 PPI.

This is because a 72 PPI or 300 PPI image and a 6720 PPI image will look the same on your computer monitor.

Changing the size of your image’s PPI (Pixels Per Inch) will give you large image print size. If you don’t a large print size, there is no point in increasing them. Otherwise, you eat up the memory of your hard drives.

As well as the print size, the material you want to print on will also denote the PPI (Pixels Per Inch) used. Canvas prints don’t need such a large PPI as details become lost on the fabric material.

An image for a client to hang on their wall will need the standard 300 PPI or higher.

Changing Your PPI Value

Editing software that works with pixel-based images allows you to change the resolution. Adobe Photoshop is a perfect example, where a quick visit to Image>Image Size will enable you to resample the pixel count.

You can create a New Document and set the PPI there. But, once you import an image, the pixel size will change to fit the import. You’ll notice that the image will vary in size depending on uprating or downgrading the image’s pixel density.

Resampling is also possible in Adobe Lightroom, but only when you come to export the images.

Making an image larger through an increased PPI is something you don’t want to do if you can help it. Increasing the PPI size forces programs like Adobe Photoshop to create new pixels. It does this through a Content Aware program, reading the pixels surrounding the new one.

While accurate, they can be misinterpreted, and leave unattractive results behind.

Resizing PPI value of an image in Adobe Photoshop


We can see that although both DPI and PPI deal with detail through resolution, just in different areas. DPI refers to the printed image from any given printer, where PPI refers to a digital image on your computer or the monitor you are using.

DPI uses a subtractive color model through the CMYK process. PPI uses the RGB model, the additive color model. Having a higher DPI vs. PPI number can give you a better resolution in your scene. But, the process of doing so could make your image worse in some cases.

Image Size Does Matter

Size, concerning resolution, is significant. You will get more from your pictures if you know a little about DPI vs. PPI terms. Even more, if you know how to use DPI vs. PPI correctly.

Knowledge about the PPI gives you more detail in your images. This is the most important to know about, as chances are, you’ll want to resize for printing or the web.

DPI will help you get better prints and print size but DPI isn’t exactly necessary. You have control over the PPI, and using a large enough pixel density size will ensure great photographs too.

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