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How to Enlarge a Photo For Printing (Without Losing Quality!)

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Whether they are for your personal use or to sell, it is crucial to know how to enlarge a photo for printing. You would hope that preparing a print file would be a breeze—simply resizing and then clicking on the big print button. But there are many things you need to consider.

Today, we will discuss what you can and cannot get away with when enlarging images. These tips will make sure you don’t come back from the printers with pixelated images. By the end, you should be confident in knowing how to enlarge a picture for printing.

An enlarged black and white photo of a woman framed and hung on a living room wall

Determine File Formats Needed to Print

First, check with the printing house or printer to see what file sizes they cater to. Most will use the most accessible format— JPEG. But JPEG files may be lower quality images.

Ideally, you would enlarge photos in their original RAW file. Then you would export it to a TIFF file. TIFFs are a lot less restrictive than JPEGs. But you won’t notice this loss of information if you are printing JPEGs in a small format  (roughly any bigger than A4.)

If your digital image is below the high-quality standard, you can use a few techniques to bring them up to scratch. It’s all about assessing your current file size and seeing how much you can get away with.

Enlarged printed and framed photos of the ocean and a flamingo hung above a bed frame

Check Your Image Resolution

When dealing with photo prints, you’re dealing with the resolution of the photo. The resolution will determine how sharp your images will be when rolled out of the printer. If you haven’t got a good resolution, there’s not too much you can do to make big prints look nice. It depends on how big you print, of course, but you will likely be able to see the pixelation.

The easiest way to do check your image resolution is to open your image in Photoshop. Go to Image > Image Size, and a window laying out the information will appear. You want to look for the number in the resolution box. This number is measured in DPI (dots per inch). It means how many pixels there are in an inch of the photo. The higher the number, the better the resolution.

Image size box in Lightroom showing photo resolution of leaves

Ensure Your Image is High Resolution

The industry standard of a high-resolution image is 300 DPI. Honestly, you don’t want to be printing any images lower than this. If you are taking photos from the internet, you will most likely find them at 72 DPI. Depending on the dimensions, you could print this. But it would not be a high-quality print. At this point, you would have to enlarge your image.

Photographer pulls out enlarged photo printed on a photo printer

Enlarge Your Image to Improve Quality

How to Enlarge a Picture in Adobe Photoshop

After assessing your image, you want to start thinking about how big you want to print it. Printing is all about negotiating the image size and transforming it without losing its quality. The best way to enlarge photos is with Adobe Photoshop.

Images can always scale down without losing quality, but it is the enlarging that is tricky. The fact is that when enlarging the image quality, the computer is creating new pixels for the image. This means that the computer program is guessing how to appropriately fill in the gaps between the pixels provided in the photograph.

Photoshop Steps

Open your image in Photoshop and go to Image > Image Size. If your photo is at 300 DPI already, then hopefully, your dimensions are to the standards you would like. If not, you will want to go to the drop-down menu titled Resample. Once in this box, select ‘Preserve Details (enlargement)‘ and change your DPI to around 300.

Image size box in Lightroom showing options to enlarge photo of leaves

Now, you should look at your image with 100% zoom (View > 100%). This view will give you a rough idea of what your image will look like at that size. Look for signs of pixelation. If you start to see the small squares that make up the image, you have gone too far and will notice this in the final print.

You can sharpen your image if your enlarged image looks good but is a little soft on the defining lines around subjects. To do this, follow this guide on how to sharpen an image.

How to Enlarge a Picture in Adobe Lightroom

New to 2021, Adobe Lightroom has announced a ‘Super Resolution‘ feature. This feature can enlarge photos to double the size. Both the width and the height will be two times the size of the original image and four times the total pixel count without losing quality.

At first glance, this seems like a great additional feature to Lightroom. I am a big fan of Lightroom and use it for archiving my images. The editing features they have made an excellent printing prep station. With this added feature, you can easily handle a file through this process.

Lightroom Steps

Start by opening up your digital image in Lightroom. When in the Develop section with your image selected, go to Photo > Enhance. Here you will get the option to use the Super Resolution feature. There will be a preview window showing the enhancements, so be sure to check this. After checking to make sure it’s all right, click the Enhance button, and you will get a DNG file type beside the original image.

Image enhance preview in Lightroom showing Super Resolution option for enlarging image

Enlarging Images Online

Suppose you aren’t able to access the Adobe range of products. Some free online sites can do this for you. Of course, be wary of what programs you use. These programs are helpful for the people who have found images they like or even taken themselves, who want to have small prints around the house. I would not trust online software to make files for big prints, but you can use your judgment.

How to Enlarge a Picture in Reshade Image Enlarger

Another good software option for enlarging images besides the Adobe ones is Reshade Image Enlarger. This program is created solely for upsizing images. I am a fan of this software because everything you need is presented simply, even though the interface looks dated. For enlarging programs, ease is everything. This software will be able to get your image to the size it needs. But it will not be able to handle the quality as well as Adobe programs. Again, this is because the program has to make up information in the files.

A large printing press for enlarged photos

Test Print to Check Color and Quality

The best way to check if your file will hold up well enough is to make a test print. Many printing labs offer this service now as it can save a lot of time and money. You can do this yourself by printing the image. Or, if it’s a big image, cropping a cross-section that can fit on a smaller piece of paper and checking for yourself. Then you will have an idea of what the picture will look like. This is not only good for checking the quality of the image. But also for how the printer handles the colours.

Printed enlarged photo coming out of a Canon printer

How to Get the Best Quality Prints

The number one way to ensure you have the best file to print from is making sure your camera is shooting at its full capability. You always want to photograph with the most significant file size available. If you’re not shooting in the RAW image setting already, you will want to start as soon as you can.

Taking photos with a lower ISO is also a great way to be conscious of your image’s sharpness. The lower ISO will reduce your shutter speed. A tripod will allow you to compensate for this. Luckily, camera phones are excellent nowadays. Most smartphones will now have cameras with upwards of 10MP (megapixels). Their images will be sufficient to get a good quality photo print.

Lastly, if you are scanning old pictures, make sure the scanner is working at its highest resolution. The scanner is technically taking a picture of your photo. The better the quality is in the scanner’s settings, the more faithful the digital file will be to the image.

Conclusion

It is possible to enlarge an image without losing too much detail. But remember that the computer is blind. It makes these changes through its algorithms, following patterns. But doesn’t understand how it will look to us. This process means that you have to have an eagle eye when checking the final render of your image when upsizing. Again, the best way to handle this situation is to prepare. Have your camera set to photographing RAW, and make sure you edit those direct files.

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