Printing photos

Megapixels and print size

Written by Gail Bjork

Learn about the minimum amount of megapixels you need for specific print sizes.

Suggested number of megapixels for high quality prints

Digital camera and photoIf you print large photos and want to maintain fine detail, set your camera to it’s highest megapixel and quality settings.  You can always crop or reduce an image size after it’s taken. However, enlarging a low resolution image can result in a print that is pixelated  and individual pixels become visible.

Below are the suggested number of megapixels to use for common print sizes. If you crop images a lot, increase the minimum suggested megapixels. While it’s rare today to find a digital camera with less than eight megapixels, if you crop resolution will drop. Some cameras automatically reduce the size of an image if you switch to certain modes, such as high ISO.

Max Print Size Minimum MP Resolution
4 x 6″ 2 megapixels 1600 x 1200
5 x 7″ 3 megapixels 2048 x 1536
8 x1 0″ 5 megapixels 2560 x 1920
11 x 14″ 6 megapixels 2816 x 2112
16 x 20″ 8+ megapixels 3264 x 2468

It’s important to point out that print quality depends on a number of factors, such as the visual quality of the original image and the type of printer, ink and paper used.

If you plan to do your own printing, get a photo printer and use high quality photo paper to obtain the best results.

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.

6 Comments

  • Hello.
    I actually found a pretty convenient iPhone app for this purpose. It gives the largest printable image based on desired quality and pixels per inch. So far, I’ve found it a good quick reference. It’s free, easy and simple. Photo Rez Sizer. Check it out.

  • If you scan a printed image, you will get higher resolution, however you will not get a better image quality and/or better details than the one been scanned… You should keep all print resolution from 1” to 20” at 300 dpi… as the size increase for printing, you will no longer need hi- resolution cause you will need to get further distance to appreciate the bigger image… so, bigger image, less resolution

  • I find all of this confusing as to pixel sizes and print sizes.  Also, the information on various sites and software vendors dealing with photo resizing is inaccurate more so as to pixels vs. how the pictures actually print. With that said, if you have Microsoft Powerpoint = a way around resizing your photos without any damage to the resolution. You can increase the DPI using your photo image software, then open the picture in powerpoint as if you were working on a slide package. Now click on format picture and just change the picture size. Leave aspect ration alone and relative to original picture size alone. It’s not perfect and when you come back to view the picture and then hit format picture again, one will see a small increment. Simply menaing it’s not showing 5.5 buy rather 5 by 5.11. Don’t worry it works very well. Also, I find that increasing some of the pixels gives room for cutting pictures to fit frames.  The problem is with these dumb manufactures making odd size frames vs. 4 by 6. What a headache!

  • My best advice would be to rescan the images at or near the desired resolution. If it’s not possible to rescan, you may find some of these software programs helpful to increase image resolution. You may find this article helpful, too.

    You may also want to ask this question directly at Shutterstock. They can give you the best help and advice about meeting their requirements.

  • How does one inexpensively (without Photoshop, etc.) increase the Megapixals 3 times (from .9 to 4MP) for photos shot on film, digitized with a scanner and stay within the enlargement rules of sites like Shutterstock?
    Are currently using a WindowsXP (HP Media-2003machine and have used Microsoft Office Picture Manager and a Macbook with I-Photo.
    Marie