Get The Most Out Of Your Images

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but if that picture is grainy or squished, it’s not going to be saying anything good. To help you include images that speak volumes in your next MagCloud publication, this installment of our Design Blog Series includes a short list of image DOs and DON’Ts:

DON’T use images copied off a website
Aside from the potential copyright issues associated with taking images off of websites, photos used on the web are almost always screen resolution, or 72 pixels per inch (ppi, or more commonly, dpi). This is roughly a quarter of the 300 pixels per inch that is the recommended resolution for printing. If you use an image less than 300 dpi in your MagCloud publication, you run the risk of getting a noticeably pixelated, or ‘fuzzy-looking’ image in the print copy.  The lower the resolution of your image, the more noticeable the pixelation will be, so a 72 dpi image off the internet will look very ‘fuzzy’ in print.

DO use images from your camera or stock photography websites
Images taken with a personal camera or purchased from a stock photography website like iStockphoto will generally be high enough resolution for printing.

An easy way to check if your images are high enough resolution for printing is to open your final PDF and zoom in to 350% on-screen. If an image still looks clear at 350% zoom, like the 300 dpi image on the below left, then this image will look great in your printed copy. If an image looks pixelated at 350%, like the 72 dpi image shown below right, then it will likely look pixelated in your print copy too.

300 dpi vs 72 dpi at 350% zoom

It’s also good to keep in mind that if you double the size of an image, the number of pixels per inch will drop by half. This is because doubling the size of an image doesn’t change the number of pixels in the image, it just increases the number of inches that the pixels have to fill. For example, if you have a 1” x 1” 300 dpi image, which is 300 pixels by 300 pixels, doubling it in size to 2” x 2” means that there are now 300 pixels for every 2 inches, making it a 150 dpi image.

DON’T squish or stretch your images
You have a rectangular photo, let’s say 4” x 6”, but you want it to be square in your MagCloud publication. Sound familiar? One solution would be to just squish or stretch the rectangular image into the square size you want, but here is the inevitable result:

Stretched/Squished Example

DO scale and crop your images
To avoid squishing and stretching the subjects of your photos, the better option is to use scaling and cropping to resize your images. Scaling your images maintains their aspect ratio (the ratio between the width and height of the image), keeping a rectangular image as a rectangle, then the image can be cropped (i.e trimmed) down to the size you want, like so:

Scale/Crop Example

In Adobe InDesign, QuarkXpress, Microsoft Publisher and Apple Pages, you can crop images by creating an image placeholder in the size you want, and then placing your image into the placeholder. These programs allow you to adjust the image independently of the placeholder, and the placeholder will “crop” the image in your final publication. In Microsoft Word and Microsoft Publisher, you can use the Crop Picture feature to manually crop the image itself down to the size that you want. Both methods will help you avoid stretching or squishing your subjects.

DON’T use images that are really dark with low contrast

Your computer screen is brightly back-lit, but unfortunately print publications are not. As a result, details that are dark or low contrast on screen may not be as visible in your printed copy. Overall, you can expect the print you receive to appear darker than what you see on screen, so it’s best to avoid using darker images or those with very low contrast to begin with. If you want to try lightening or increasing the contrast in your images in a photo editing software like Photoshop, check out these photo retouching tips and tricks.

DO embed your color profiles

To get the closest representation in your print copy as compared to what you see on screen, make sure that you embed the original color profiles of your images in the final PDF. We’ll dive more into detail on this next week in a post on color, but in the meantime check out our Getting Started page for downloadable instructions on how to do this in your design program of choice.

We would love to hear your favorite tricks for getting your images to standout. Please post them in the comments section below.

19 thoughts on “Get The Most Out Of Your Images

  1. Kevin Cullis 7 Jun 2011 / 11:17 AM

    Thanks Meghan for these tips, especially for those of us that are graphically art challenged. I loved the tip about zooming into a PDF to see the images. Great!!

  2. Joann Sondy 20 Jun 2011 / 1:35 PM

    Not everyone can be a photo editor. It takes experience and visual concepting practices to select photography and/or illustrations for any projects. Factors may include, but not limited to: subject matter, key words or phrases, horizontal vs vertical placement, color palette, direct relationship to enhance the story, and so much more. A professional photographer or graphic designer would/should have this skill set which is instrumental in any project.

  3. Belle Koblentz 6 Oct 2011 / 5:11 PM

    I’m using QuarkXPress and have read to use eps rather than jpg images when making a pdf, is this correct for MagCloud publishing?

    • Meghan 6 Oct 2011 / 5:48 PM

      Hi Belle,

      You can use both eps and jpg files within a QuarkXPress document when creating your MagCloud PDF. Assuming the file type is compatible with the program, which jpg and eps both are for QuarkXPress, it’s generally best to keep files in their original format when placing them into a desktop publishing application.


      • Rivar-Ridge 22 Nov 2011 / 12:19 PM

        Please watch out – it depends entirely on how you’re going to output your pdf file (digital or litho) & who is going to print it as to whether you use jpeg or eps within your document. You should always consult your printer as to which one to use – they should know what their output device can successfully handle. RGB (red/green/blue) are the colours of light which is why they are used onscreen – they display millions of colours, CMYK (cyan/magenta/yellow/black) is used in print – they reproduce thousands of colours. So what you see on screen will be reduced to fit CMYK colour space if you use RGB file formats – resulting in some flat reds, blues and greens – you may also find that the output printer can’t colour separate them correctly. If you’re going to be colour editing it’s essential you have a calibrated monitor and that you preview your work in the colour space that you are going to be outputting in otherwise you could have a shock! :-)

      • Meghan 22 Nov 2011 / 12:44 PM

        Hi Rivar-Ridge,

        You are correct that this is dependent on how you output your file and what printing method you are using. For MagCloud, all publications are printed on HP Indigo digital presses, which use a 4-color process (CMYK). Therefore any RGB images will be converted to CMYK on the press for printing, a switch that can result in some flattened reds, blues, and greens as you note, due to differences in the color gamut between these two colorspaces. This loss will occur regardless of whether this conversion is done on screen or on press, therefore we encourage MagCloud users to leave their images in the original colorspace with the color profiles embedded in their PDFs to guide the color conversion at the point of printing on the digital press, and thereby ensure the most accurate color output for this method of printing.

        For more information about exporting PDFs for printing through MagCloud, please see our PDF Guides:


  4. Nick B. Gervin 29 Nov 2011 / 3:14 PM

    Do I want my images to be saved in CMYK or RGB before placing them into my PDF?

    • Meghan 13 Dec 2011 / 11:52 AM

      Hi Nick,

      This depends largely on what program you are using to create your PDF, and what colorspace your original images are in. If you are using Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress to create your PDF, you should save your images in their original colorspace and follow the instructions in our PDF Guides ensure the best output by embedding your color profiles in the PDF.

      If you are creating your PDF in a different program like Microsoft Word or Publisher, or Apple Pages, you’ll want to save your images based on whether they were CMYK or RGB to begin with. If they were CMYK to begin with, they should be saved as CMYK. If they were RGB to begin with, saving them with an sRGB colorspace will give you the best output.


  5. Jeremy 11 Feb 2012 / 8:22 AM

    I’m ‘placing’ images of various dpi into an InDesign document – how do I know what dpi they are within the document?

    EG: Does InDesign automatically resize image to its equivalent at 300dpi (like pulling a 150 dpi image into a 300dpi in Photoshop)

    • Meghan 13 Feb 2012 / 11:21 AM

      Hi Jeremy,

      InDesign will maintain the dpi of the original image you place into your document. For example, if you place two images into InDesign, one that is 72dpi and 720 pixels wide and one that is 300dpi and 3000 pixels wide, when both images are set to 100% in InDesign they will both be 10″ wide in the document. Therefore, best practice is to adjust all images to 300dpi prior to placing to InDesign. Just be sure that your imaging program is not resampling your images as you do this. You want the pixel width of your image to remain constant – only the number of pixels per inch should change. For example, if you have an image that is 300 pixels wide, so that it is 2 inches wide at 150dpi, it should be 1 inch wide when changed to 300dpi.

      If you have any further questions on this, please use the contact form on the MagCloud site to reach out to our support team. It will be easier to provide more specific examples on this via email than via blog comment.


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