Learning how big you can print a photo is important if you want to get the best quality results.
Factors like viewing distance, the maximum resolution of your camera, and the printer’s output resolution will all affect what print quality you need.
This guide will help you understand the relationship between image quality and resolution so you can be confident when printing and enlarging your digital images.
Table of Contents
How Many Megapixels is Good for Large Prints?
Every digital camera produces images in megapixels – this is known as the resolution. This resolution is nothing more than the number of pixels it has on the long side multiplied by the pixels on the short side.
So, the more pixels you have – the larger will be the maximum size of your print. The above chart shows how many megapixels you need for the most common print sizes.
Notice how a small print such as a 5×7″ or an 8×10″ is marked with a YES because all cameras with more than 8MP resolution produce photos that can be printed in those sizes with good quality.
As the size increases, you’ll see that some resolutions are marked as NO and others as OK. When it says no, it is not that you can’t actually print it – you can do it, but you’ll get a lower-quality print characterised by jagged edges (pixelated).
Instead, those marked as OK are the ones that aren’t the ideal print size, but the results are quite acceptable.
What Resolution Is Needed for Large Prints?
Resolution is one of the most complex (and confusing) terms in digital photography. To keep things simple, you can consider the size in pixels as the image resolution. In other words, the width by the height equals the full resolution, which is usually expressed in megapixels.
The relation between both values is called the aspect ratio. This is different depending on the type of camera that you own. For example, a full-frame camera has a sensor with a 3:2 aspect ratio, while a micro-four-thirds camera sensor is 4:3 (hence the name).
So, a Nikon D6 full-frame has a 20.8MP resolution of 5568×3712 px, while an Olympus E-M1 Mark III micro four-thirds 20.4MP has a resolution of 5184×3888 px.
But let’s come back to the relation between megapixels and print sizes. You can arrange the existing pixels closer together or further apart to change the physical size of the photo – this will give you the pixels per inch (PPI).
If you arrange more pixels on each inch, traditionally, this would be 300 PPI – you’ll get smaller prints than you would if you spread them out to fit 150 pixels per inch – which would result in double the size.
Continuing with the example above of the 20MP cameras, this would mean that you could get a 17.28 x 12.37-inch print photo at 300 dpi from a Nikon Z6.
So, to know what resolution you need for a large print, you need to multiply the size of the print by the quality settings you need. You can get this information from your printing service because you need to consider the viewing distance and the dots per inch (print resolution) of the specific printer.
Let’s see how this works using this chart which is widely accepted to determine print dimensions vs image quality.
Print Size Chart
This chart shows the file size on the left and the resulting print size on the right depending on the PPI. If you want excellent quality, you should have the original image at 300 PPI, which means that your printed photos will be smaller.
Instead, if you want to achieve the maximum size, you’ll need to lower the quality settings by adjusting the PPI to 100. When you do this, the photo’s original size is not changing – you’re simply rearranging the pixels to produce larger prints.
Factors That Affect How Big You Should Print a Photo
While there’s some math involved in the process, the truth is things aren’t written in stone when it comes to printing. You have to consider different things, including how trained your eye is, your tolerance or strictness regarding detail quality, etc. While I can’t talk about the subjective part, I can tell you about the objective factors you should consider.
1. Image resolution
The image resolution refers to two different things – which is why it causes a lot of confusion. It indicates the number of pixels that form a photograph (width by height) and the way they are arranged – in other words, the pixels per inch.
Most cameras allow you to adjust the file size, while the PPI can be changed only with a post-processing program.
2. Output resolution of the printer
When you talk about the printer, you’re no longer referring to a digital measurement – so, instead of pixels, you now have to consider dots of ink. That’s why printing resolution is expressed in dpi.
While the image resolution is a factor, you also need to consider the amount, size and patterns of the printer nozzles to determine the ideal output resolution. This way, you’ll manage to get the most details on your photos.
3. Viewing distances
The viewing distance is another key factor. While you need the best quality and resolution for a small print that you’ll be looking up close, larger sizes require a lower dpi.
Billboards, for example, are printed at 15 to 30 dpi. That’s because from further away, you wouldn’t be able to see each dot of ink. If you get close to the billboard, you’ll notice each dot instead of the full image.
How Big Can I Print a Photo From My Phone?
Like any other camera, smartphone cameras have sensors that determine the image’s resolution. The same rules apply to calculating how big you can print a photo from your phone. Simply divide the pixel size by the resolution that you want.
To make things easier, you can simply check the above chart and look for your phone model to see which dimensions you can print with good quality and which ones with OK quality.
Can I Increase the Resolution of a Photo?
Yes, you can increase the resolution of a picture up to a certain degree before you start losing too much quality and detail.
If you use a dedicated program such as Topaz Gigapixel, you can increase up to 6 times its original size. This software uses AI to enhance and upscale your photos.
To use it, simply drag and drop the photos that you want to upscale. Then, select the new size that you want – you can do this by choosing the scale to multiply the resolution or by inputting the new width or height value, including the PPI.
Then, adjust the settings such as Face Refinement, Suppress Noise, etc. You can see what your settings will achieve in the preview. Finally, choose which images you want to resize with these settings, and that’s it.
You can buy Gigapixel with a one-off payment after using the free trial period.
Instead, if you have an Adobe subscription, you can use Photoshop to increase the resolution of your photos by up to 4 times their size.
With Photoshop, you can do this by manually upscaling your images or by using its AI tool called Adobe Camera RAW Super Resolution. The latter is also available in Lightroom.
To do it manually, go to the menu Image > Image Size. On the dialog window, input the new size values, select Resample and choose an Interpolation method. Then, click OK.
Adobe subscriptions start at 9,99 per month, but they usually work on a yearly basis.
There are some free options to resize your photos, but in my experience, the results aren’t so good – but it depends on how much bigger you want to make it.
How Big Can you Print a Photo: FAQs
How big can you print 6000×4000?
Using the highest resolution (300 PPI), you should be able to print up to 20″ x 13″. However, you can obtain reasonable results printing as big as 40″ x 30″.
How large can you print 24 megapixels?
Here’s the 24mp print size. 24 megapixels is another way of saying 6000×4000, which is why you can print 20×13″ at full resolution but can still get an acceptable quality up until 40×30″.
What resolution do I need for a 24×36 print?
You need a minimum of 16MP resolution to print a 24×36″ photo. However, more megapixels will give you a higher-quality print.
How big should an image be for a poster?
There are two poster sizes: 20×30″ and 24×36″. The minimum required resolution is 3000×4500 PPI and 3600×5400, respectively. Of course, a higher resolution will improve the print quality.
As you can see, there’s a lot of leeway on how big you can print an image. It mainly depends on how much quality you expect to get and how close or far away you will be looking at it.
For fool-proof printing quality, always try to use the full resolution. Also, talk to your printing service beforehand so that you can prepare the file with the correct settings for their devices.
I hope you found this article helpful. Please share with us your printing experiences and which programs you use to prepare your files for printing.
You might also want to read up on how to find the right frame and mat dimensions for prints.