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Working with Images: Hi-Res vs. Lo-Res

Lots of times, we get sent images that are too small, or “lo-res” (short for low-resolution) to use for print. Here’s a helpful guide to understand the difference between using lo-res and hi-res images.

The first step to knowing the difference between high-resolution and low-resolution images is to understand what DPI means. DPI stands for ‘dots per inch’ which is a measure of the individual dots that can be placed in a line within the span of one inch. When viewing an image on your monitor, the dots are referring to “pixels”, or “picture elements”, which are the smallest visual elements (tiny little rectangles) on a display screen. When viewing a printed image, the dots refer to the actual dots of ink on the page. The more dots per inch, the higher-resolution the image. Think of it this way; what would make a clearer image? Ten dots of color per inch or 100 dots per inch?

Lo-res to hi-res

Low-resolution → high-resolution

So, when does an image become high-res?

300 is the magic number! Anything under 300dpi is considered low-res and anything 300dpi or above is considered high-res. 72dpi is the standard for low-res.

Keep in mind…

When you have a seemingly large image (dimension-wise) that is lower-res, the dimensions decrease greatly when bumping up the resolution. For example: If I have an image that is 10×10” at 72dpi and I resize it to 300dpi, the dimensions decrease to 2.4×2.4”.


Why shouldn’t I just use high-res images all the time?

High-res images are great and designers love them. They’re clear, sharp, beautiful files and when you are printing anything it should always be high-resolution. But believe it or not, there are some reasons to use low-res images.

Internet browsers

The standard resolution for internet browsers is 72dpi, so anything you see online is automatically low-res.

Smaller file size

It makes sense that low-res images are smaller file sizes than high-res images; they have so much less digital information. This means they take up less space, load much quicker, and are easier to send through email.

How do I tell the difference?

If you know how to use Photoshop you can check out an image’s size under Image>Image Size. Otherwise, generally, the larger a file size is, the higher-resolution it will be.

What’s the deal with vector art?

Vector based files are information based, rather than pixel based. They use points, lines, curves and shapes that are based on mathematical equations to produce images. Because they are not made up from pixels, the dots per inch measurement is not applicable for vector files and they can be scaled up to any size without losing quality. Vector files are typically used for line art such as logos, digital illustration and typography, whereas photography is always pixel based.


When in doubt, always send your designer the high-res image.

These can always be cropped down to the correct dimensions and dpi, whereas a low-res image’s resolution cannot be increased any higher than it currently is — once an image size is decreased, that digital information is lost. You cannot create a high-res file from a low-res file.

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Logo Files: Which One Should I Use?

When we finish designing a brand identity, we always send the client a big ol’ zipped file of the final logo in a variety of file formats; EPS, PSD, JPG, TIF, and PNG. Do you ever wonder why we send so many logo formats? Or when to use a JPG instead of a PNG? A TIF instead of an EPS? No worries, we’ll break it down for you here.


Stands for: Encapsulated PostScript

What it is: These are vector based files, which means the file is information based, rather than pixel based. It is made up of mathematical equations (please don’t ask us how, exactly) to produce shapes and lines that can be increased in size indefinitely without losing quality. EPS files can be either CMYK or RGB color modes (see our blog post CMYK vs. RGB: What’s the Difference?). When we design your logo, we create it in Adobe Illustrator and save the original in this format so we can go back and edit as necessary. We like it because the logo can be transparent on various backgrounds.

What we use it for:

  • Print design
  • Large scale printing
  • Anytime your file needs to be edited or modified
EPS Logo

Here is an example of what an EPS file looks like in Illustrator, as an editable vector file, and a close up of part of the logo with no quality loss.


Stands for: Photoshop Document

What it is: These files are Adobe Phosotop’s native files. For logo purposes, these files are vector based, editable and can be either CMYK or RGB color modes. We like it because we can make the logo transparent on other backgrounds.

What we use it for:

  • Website design
  • When designing other elements in Photoshop that will incorporate the logo
  • When we need to save other formats or sizes of the logo

Here is an example of what a PSD file looks like open in Photoshop.


Stands for: Joint Photographic Experts Group

What it is: JPGs are pixel based files, usually set to RGB color mode because it’s typically used for screen display. “Pixel” stands for “picture element,” it is the smallest visual element on a display screen. Pixel based, or raster, images are made up of many of these tiny rectangles. The more pixels per inch, the higher quality, or resolution, these files are. A JPG is a conveniently small file size as it can be compressed down to 1/10 of the size of the original data. The thing is, you can’t increase the size of a pixel-based image past it’s original resolution without it losing quality (becoming “pixellated”!).

What we use it for:

  • Online purposes; websites, email, evites, etc.
  • Images viewed on monitors or TV screens
JPG Logo

Here is an example of a JPG file and a close up of part of the logo where you can see the pixel detail.


Stands for: Tagged Image File Format

What it is: TIFs are pixel based files, used for storing high quality images. TIF files are usually in CMYK mode, high-resolution and can support a transparent background. This means your logo can be used on top of another image or color and that background image will show through behind your logo

What we use it for:

  • Printed collateral
TIF Logo

Here is an example of two TIF logo files with transparent backgrounds layered on top of a colored backgrounds, and a close up of part of the logo to show the pixel detail. Notice the TIF is a lot higher quality than the JPG.


Stands for: Portable Network Graphic

What it is: A pixel based file format in RGB color mode that can support a transparent background and can remain compact in size even at a high resolution.

What we use it for:

  • Online purposes when your logo needs a transparent background
  • Word and PPT templates
Here is an example of two PNG logo files with transparent backgrounds so the background image shows through.

Here is an example of two PNG logo files with transparent backgrounds so the background image shows through.

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CMYK vs. RGB: What’s the Difference?

While we are working on your digital images, there are two basic color spaces, also known as modes, that we encounter: RGB and CMYK. They’re not as complicated as you think! For now, let’s focus on the specific use of each mode. This is an important differentiation because utilizing the correct color mode for how the image is being used will get you the best results possible.


RGB is short for Red, Green, Blue. It is the color of the light emitted from your computer monitor; when RGB light is combined, the image gets brighter. RGB mode is used for anything that will be viewed onscreen. This includes anything online, in an email, evites, and pictures being viewed on a computer monitor or TV.



13-0206-colormodes-CMYKCMYK is short for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black. These are the inks used in 4-color printing; when the inks are layered on top of each other the image gets darker. CMYK mode is used for anything that is being physically reproduced, such as postcards, flyers, posters, etc.



Here’s an example of what the difference between RGB and CMYK looks like on screen. Notice the RGB image is brighter and more vibrant — that’s because it’s using the correct color space!

When we switch between the two modes you can see a noticeable difference in the vibrancy and in some instances, a shift in color. RGB mode is usually brighter and more vibrant due to the way the colors are ‘mixed’ and displayed on the screen. When prepping images for printing, we bring them into Adobe Photoshop and change the mode to CMYK so we can see a closer representation of how it will look once printed. That way we can decide if it needs any tweaking (color, contrast, sharpness) before we send it to print. If an RGB image gets sent to the printer, it will automatically be converted to CMYK, but be aware, the colors will differ from what you see onscreen!

When we are handling vector images (such as logos, diagrams and graphics) we use Adobe Illustrator to convert them to either RGB or CMYK color mode as well. This is an important part of keeping your image and brand in line. One of the things that helps us do this is your brand palette and brand guide. Here is where we set the color breakdowns for both RGB and CMYK modes for your company colors. Because we always use the correct color breakdown for each mode, you end up with a consistent brand, and the best results possible — whether it’s onscreen images, or printed collateral.

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The Importance of Using Professional Photography

Full disclosure: there are a number or photographers in my family including my parents and my sister, famed canine photographer Amanda Jones. But even if that weren’t true, as a designer I would still be writing this post. I have been wanting to write this for a very long time.

The imp

Westie puppies by Amanda Jones

Photography and Imagery: Put them in the Budget!

Photography should always be included as part of your marketing budget. Many of my clients complain of having to paying for photography, and usually ignore the possibility of doing a photo shoot altogether. One example is a fashion designer who attempted to photograph her products on her own. Against a patterned background. Using poor lighting, with the clothing hanging off a wire mannequin. Not even a 3D mannequin. Sigh. Inevitably, I would end up spending hours cleaning up the photos as best I could for use on their website, so that the product she was selling (her design!) would look halfway decent. What??! I understand being on a tight budget, but you aren’t going to make ANY money if: a) the customer cannot see what the product actually looks like; and/or b) the imagery looks unprofessional. Not to mention damage to the perception of quality in your brand. Hiring a professional to do your photography will be better for business and brand in the long run.

How Much?

The amount of budget depends on your marketing/outreach strategy. I recommend pulling together an image library at the beginning of the year (or project, or campaign) that shows the direction we will go with the imagery. You don’t have to purchase them at this point, but we will get a sense of the cost for one, five, or all of them. The images will be purchased at the first point of use. I’m talking about stock photography here, of course. But there’s also the delicious possibility of doing a photo shoot, which brings us to…

Photo Shoot vs. Stock Photography

Getty Image

Royalty-free hot air balloon, courtesy Getty Images

There’s a big difference between stock photography and doing a photo shoot. When you hire a photographer to do a photo shoot, depending on the license agreement you make, you will have original images to use at your discretion. If the rights are exclusive (usually more expensive), you’ll have a set of images that no other entity can use. Such an original approach will create a unique and authentic feel for your brand. The style of photography will match across these images, which is also key to building your visual identity. The best thing about a photo shoot, especially for an art director, is that the images will look exactly as we want them to look. No settling for a half-right right model or location. You’d be smart to make such an investment in your brand.

Stock photography has its benefits. It is definitely faster to get your hands on stock photos and use them right away — no scheduling, shooting, editing, waiting. It may be cheaper as well — especially if you purchase royalty-free images. But stock has it’s drawbacks too. It looks like….stock photography. You have limited choices. You may not get the exact right expression on the correct age and gender of model in the exact right position in a relevant setting. You might have to settle for not-quite-right. More importantly: this can make your brand look generic. Another major drawback of stock is that if you don’t purchase exclusive rights to an image, there’s no guarantee your customer hasn’t seen that particular image on another brochure. Hopefully it won’t be for a competitor!

In short, a photo shoot will give you better images — more relevant, quality guaranteed, exclusive use. And a photo shoot is not necessarily more expensive. If you need a lot of images, it might actually be less expensive overall to hire a photographer to do all of them rather than purchasing one by one from a stock website.

Stock Photography: Royalty-Free vs. Rights-Managed

When searching through any stock photography site, you might notice there are options for “Royalty-free images” (RF) and “Rights-managed images” (RM). RF images are less expensive because the photographer is not receiving royalty payments from the stock house for each use of the image, only from the first sale of the image. So you can use the image multiple times, the only restriction is placed by the stock house when you purchase it.

When you purchase an RM image, you’ll need to define how you will use the image — what type of use (advertising, publication, etc.), for how long (6 months, 1 year, 10 years), exclusive or not, multiple uses, how many copies if it’s being printed, etc. The image is (hopefully) of higher quality, or more specific to your needs than an RF image. If it’s not, find an RF alternative. The price of an RM image is usually more expensive, and you can only use the image as it’s been defined by the licensing agreement. I’m predicting RM will go away for the most part, except for the most unique photography. The ubiquity and cheapness of quality RF images is on the rise, so be smart about where you spend. If you’re spending on an RM image, it might be better to do the photoshoot.

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The Ultimate Social Media Cheat Sheet

We want to make you look good, not just on the home turf of your website, but also every time you reach out to your audience through social media. We put in a lot of thought as to how your brand is presented on the web, and now we have the ultimate guideline to follow. Introducing “The Ultimate Complete Final Social Media Sizing Cheat Sheet,” created by LunaMetrics. This quick reference guide relieves designers of dutifully taking screen grabs in order to nail your perfectly sized cover photo. Oh yes, we pay this much attention to detail. Check it out:

Social Media Cheat Sheet


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