The Pitfalls Of High-Resolution Graphics In Product Labels

Here at Wizard Labels, we receive literally hundreds of artwork files from customers every day – some are perfectly prepared and we can effectively send them directly to press, others not so much. One of the most common mistakes we see is the whole “high resolution must be best” assumption.  Let’s explore this in more detail, as it seems perfectly sensible until you understand what happens to your files.

For the purposes of illustration, take a look at the image above. Given such a beautiful (and detailed) subject, the natural tendency of many designers is to embed such images into their labels at full resolution (e.g. 1200 DPI or even higher) – because “more dots means better printed results”, right?  Well, actually no… and here’s why:

After MUCH experimentation on our leading-edge HP-Indigo digital presses, we have conclusively proven that the best resolution for achieving the highest quality printed image is actually 300 DPI. That may sound counter-intuitive, but the only thing you achieve by using higher resolutions than the printing technology can realistically make use of is MUCH bigger files.

For example, if you design a label at (say) 3” high and 4” wide, even when using beautiful life-like images in the design, here’s what happens. If the embedded graphic is inserted at 1200 DPI, it’s quite likely (and very common) for that single art file to end up at 40 or 50 Megabytes in size. However, down-sampling the exact same image to 300 DPI reduces the same file to maybe 3 or 4 Megabytes.  Why is this important? Well, there are several reasons:

  1. Large files take much longer to transmit from you to us, meaning you could be wasting valuable time during artwork uploads. Waiting for 20 files at 50MB each to upload equals 1 Gigabyte, and uploads are always much slower than downloads. Meantime you’re watching the spinning ball and getting frustrated.
  2. When we eventually receive those files, they’re more time-consuming for us to open and prepare for press – which slows us down too. When our goal is to get proofs sent out within a couple of hours, a single order using over-size files can impact everybody.
  3. Even if neither of the above were true, large files are simply impractical when we go to press. Sending those 20 x 50MB files to the press at once (which digital printing is perfect for) can actually crash the system, because these presses are driven by normal computers just like yours – and we’ve all experienced the horrors of hanging computers when we overload them.
  4. Last (but certainly not least), the bottom line is that there is nothing achieved by using images any higher than 300 DPI, because the printed result will NOT be any different. By all means find the most beautiful images you can for inclusion in your label designs, but once those 1200 or 2400 DPI images are embedded in the design then you should down-sample each of them to 300 DPI before saving the final version of your artwork. We can absolutely assure you that if we printed the same files side-by-side, one with the images at high-res and one at 300 DPI, you will not be able to tell the difference – even under magnification. Both will be photo-quality, both will be crisp and beautiful (assuming the original image is of course) – and it only takes a moment to achieve.

Here’s how to down-sample high-resolution images to 300 DPI in Adobe Illustrator. After the image has been placed (embedded) and sized as desired:

– Select image

– Menu “Object”

– Select “Rasterize…”

– Set to 300 dpi and “transparent”

… and you’re done. If you’re interested, compare the file-sizes of two versions (one high-res and one down-sampled) – you’ll probably be amazed by how much difference this one step makes. Now, we get lots of files created in many other software products than Illustrator, but any design tool worth using will have some way to define the resolution of an image – and once you’ve worked out how to make that happen it will (and should) become second nature when embedding images.

Note – if we receive unusually large artwork files and we discover that high-res images have been embedded, our normal practice is to “bounce” the artwork (i.e. we request that you take care of the problem and send fresh files to us). That’s because we believe it’s always easier (and less risky) for the original designer to make adjustments than to have our folks quietly messing with your designs and possibly breaking something unintentionally.

So, remember the rule – use 300 DPI for all embedded images and the results will be optimal for whatever images you use. We can’t guarantee perfect results from inferior images of course, but you will get the best possible results at that setting.