How Printer Resolution Is Measured

The print resolution has become one of the first bits of the specification we check when looking to buy a new printer.

Look at the majority of printer listings on any major website, and you will see the printing resolution displayed prominently high up the page as a way to entice you to take a closer look at what a particular printer has to offer.

It is said that the higher the DPI of a printer, the better the image quality produced or the sharpness of the text that is printed. This is often the case, but there can be other factors that affect how good the final print is as well.

But for now, let us focus on the DPI topic and take a look at why we value it so much.


All your printed documents are made of tiny little dots. A higher dpi means more dots on the page.

For example, a printer with 4800×1200 dpi has more dots per inch than a printer with a 1200×1200 dpi. Equally, a 9600×2400 dpi printer has many more dots per inch than the 4800×1200 dpi, as mentioned above.

But how important are these figures?

Small images and text don’t actually require a high dpi. In fact, you’d be getting a lot of ink wastage if the dpi is high for such work.

This potential for wastage from a higher dpi printer is the main reason why you will find office printers that are used for document work coming with a dpi of 600×600, 1200×1200, and 2400×1200. You won’t usually find them higher.

However, for printers designed for photo printing, the entry-level dpi is 4800×1200, with high-end models going higher.

But even for photos, if you have a high-resolution image, a low dpi printer can do a very good job. In fact, you will find that most portable printers print with a 300×300 or 600×600 dpi.

2. Choosing A Resolution

As a general rule of thumb, remember that the further away an image will be viewed from, the lower the resolution can be.

If you are printing something to be held in your hand, suppose a photograph, then always go with 300dpi resolution. Anything below would look awful. If the photograph is being displayed at a distance, then you can use a lower resolution since you can get away with the detail.

And so, for a billboard poster, you can even use a lower resolution. Usually, posters that are viewed from 6ft are printed at 150dpi. You should never go below 150dpi because this is the lowest resolution used for offset printing, even when it comes to giant posters.

3. Resolution and Size

The resolution will not determine the size of the image, but the size of the image may determine the resolution you choose to use.

A tiny print may have the same resolution as a large print, or a large print may use a lower DPI because of the viewing distance.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that a printer with a higher DPI is a printer that can print bigger images.

4. Understanding The Measurement

So what does a resolution of 1200×600 actually mean?

What are the number on the left and the number on the right?

This 1200×600 dpi resolution means that the image we are printing is 1200 dots high and 600 dots wide.

If we switched it around to 600×1200, it would mean the image was 600 dots high and 1200 dots wide.

5. DPI & PPI

DPI and PPI are often measurements that get confused. These are actually two different things, but you will often find people talking about DPI when they mean PPI.

DPI is the measurement of dots on a printed image, whereas a PPI is the pixels per inch for a digital image. IE. Something displayed on a screen.

To show the actual difference, a 300DPI print image is the equivalent of 118.11 PPI.

Final Word

All the numbers you see can often look confusing when buying any bit of electrical equipment, but DPI needn’t be one of them anymore.

Just remember that DPI refers to the dots per inch of a printed image and that there really are only limited circumstances where you need to print anything at a resolution higher than 300dpi.

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