Part 1: Initial Thoughts on Photoshop (What Is DPI?)

Welcome to the first part of our Photoshop guide. In this part, we discuss Photoshop in general and discuss what DPI is.

Photoshop, for a lot of people, is synonymous with image manipulation. After all, how often have you heard or read the phrase, “Photoshopped”? Wouldn’t it be great to know about the software in general? That’s what this guide is all about.

What Photoshop is Good For and Where There Are Better Alternatives

Before we jump into specifics, you probably should know what are general strengths and weaknesses with Photoshop. Generally speaking, Photoshop is more about taking an existing image and manipulating it. We’re talking about making touchups, adjusting the lighting, or putting goofy things into the picture.

Alternatively, Photoshop can also be used for painting something from scratch. For the latter, you’ll probably want to use a drawing tablet. We’re talking about making elaborate digital paintings complete with layers of colour and shading.

Now, if you are creating something like a simple logo or stationary art, you could pull that off with Photoshop. However, I would personally recommend using something like Illustrator. Already, we have a nice beginners tutorial on Illustrator already up, so I would recommend checking that out for graphics design.

Another aspect about Photoshop is the fact that it is proprietary and paid software. If you don’t already have the software and can’t afford big flashy expensive software, then I would recommend trying to learn a program like GIMP. That program is also an image manipulation software, but it is free and open source instead. Some people aren’t a huge fan of the layout, but at the same time, it’s going to be a heck of a lot better than something like MS Paint.

What Is DPI?

There are a couple of terms you’ll see thrown around when it comes to Photoshop. One of those terms is “DPI”. DPI stands for Dots Per Inch.

When you look at your screen, chances are, you’ll just see text, windows, pictures, movies, and other things. Every part of your screen is actually a series of dots on a giant grid. I don’t recommend getting that close, but if you look closely, you’ll see that every bit of your screen is just a series of squares. When it is all combines far away, you don’t see the dots, but rather, what the end result picture is.

For example, here is the Freezenet logo:

Just looks like a regular picture, right? Well, let’s zoom in to see what it actually looks like super close up:

Now, you can see that it’s really just a series of squares with different colours in each block. That’s basically what your screen is doing. So, DPI denotes how many of those dots are crammed into a single inch. The more dots you have, the higher the quality of the image.

What DPI Should I Be Using?

You won’t like the answer, but the answer is: depends on what you are doing. Let’s say you want to create a website with various logos and assets. In that case, I recommend 72 DPI.

72 DPI is generally the screen resolution of your average computer monitor. Going any higher may not enhance your average web viewers experience. You can go higher, but there are two problems with this: Bandwidth and load times. The higher the quality your image is, the larger the file becomes.

If everything is set to 300 DPI, then your users could see load times increase (which is obviously not good). Additionally, you’ll also use up much more bandwidth (depending on your traffic and your web hosting plan, this also isn’t necessarily good). Think of it this way: if you have a 1MB image on your home page, what happens when 25,000 people visit your home page? The math isn’t quite like this, but you are looking at somewhere around 25GB of bandwidth loading that one picture. That’s not counting whatever else you have on the site. So, it’s something to think about if you are contemplating putting high quality images on your site.

Conversely, if you are going to be, say, printing posters, then it makes no sense to set your pictures to 72 DPI. If you print pictures at 72 DPI, then you run the risk of seeing that blocky look on paper. That is almost always going to look unprofessional. So, for print media, it is recommended that you print at 300 DPI so you get that clean crisp look.

Can I Convert Images to the DPI That I Want?

Again, this depends on what you are doing. If you are starting with an image that is 300 DPI, then it’s absolutely possible to convert it down to 72 DPI. This is because details are being removed to make the image smaller in size and lower in quality.

Conversely, if you have an image that is 72 DPI, then you can’t easily convert it up to 300 DPI. The only exception is if you are going to make that picture much smaller in print. The reason it’s not easy to go from 72 DPI to 300 DPI is because that data that makes the image high quality is already lost. Ideally, you’ll want to obtain a high quality image first (either already in 300 DPI or a vector image that can be recognized by an Adobe product).

If you try and place the image on paper anyway, it may look OK on screen, but you’ll probably end up with that blocky look again.

All this is something to keep in mind – especially if you are going to use Photoshop for print media.

We hope that helps give you an idea of what Photoshop is about and how image resolutions work. If you are ready to start learning, then feel free to click through to the next part!

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