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What is PPI vs. DPI? In this article, we'll take a look at DPI vs. PPI and explain what they are. The key here is resolution; it's all about image quality. 

1. What Is Resolution?

What is PPI, and what is DPI? Before we answer questions like "What does DPI stand for" or "What does PPI stand for", let's start at the beginning: Resolution. DPI and PPI are measurements that refer to resolution.

So what is resolution when we're talking about image quality? Resolution refers to the level of clarity and detail in an image. It's an attribute that can be measured in both printed and digital imagery. Generally speaking, the higher the resolution, the more detail your image has—or the more sharpness.

Image source

Is Resolution Only for Printing?

No, resolution also applies to digital imagery. Different digital displays may have different resolutions. The Apple iPhone is an interesting example. The original iPhone had a much lower PPI (pixels per inch) than the newest of iPhones—which are much higher resolution. Think about an older computer monitor in comparison to a new one. Newer monitors tend to have a more crisp, clear display. This is because they are displaying at a denser, higher-quality resolution.

What Are High Resolution and Low Resolution?

The phrases "high resolution" and "low resolution" refer to the density of the resolution at hand. So, for example, an image with higher resolution would have a higher value. 

  • 300 DPI would be a higher-resolution image.
  • 72 DPI would be a lower-resolution image.

Note that they do not necessarily equate to "high resolution is good" or "low resolution is bad"—it is a gauge, and different circumstances can warrant different resolutions.

What Is a Good Resolution for Printing?

Generally speaking, 300 DPI tends to be a popular choice for printing high-resolution work. However, the answer very much depends on what you are printing. For example, printing on a very thick, glossy piece of photo paper is very different from printing on a very thin piece of newsprint.

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Stock photography from Envato Elements

You would likely want something like a fine art print to have a very high DPI so that it's a beautiful, detailed print. Billboards, on the other hand, typically have a much lower DPI as they are seen at a distance—you wouldn't need the extra density to serve its purpose.

What Is a Good Resolution for Digital Work or Design Files?

For my raster art and design work, I tend to work at a high resolution, like 300 PPI (or higher). This way, I know I have a high-resolution image that I can scale and use in a variety of ways if I need to.

Displaying images on a screen, however, is not the same as print—your monitor, for example, can only display a certain number of pixels, whereas a printer can (typically) print more or fewer dots per inch. Generally speaking, you can scale down easily, but you can't scale up easily. That's the nature of Raster Imagery—it's composed of a fixed number of pixels. So if you scale up (or make the image larger), your work will get blurry to compensate.

For example, let's say we have a low-resolution image—250x250 pixels—and then scale it up to 500x500 pixels. Take a look how how distorted the result would be. We lose a lot of clarity and crispness.

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An example image. Image source
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The example image scaled up

However, if we go the other way around, there is no loss of quality because we're scaling down (or making it smaller), rather than trying to create more pixel data than was originally there.

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An example image
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The example image scaled down

2. What Is DPI? 

So what does DPI mean? DPI stands for "Dots Per Inch".  This is a measurement for printing purposes. So, for example, your printer can print at a certain number of dots per inch. More dots per inch mean a higher-quality image with more detail. 

What Are "Dots"?

Think of the "Dots" in Dots Per Inch as the number of dots that a printer can place in an inch on a medium, like paper. So, for example, if the printer only put one dot down per inch... it wouldn't be much of an image, now would it? DPI directly affects the level of detail that is produced when you print out an image or document.

You're viewing this on a screen, so this isn't an entirely accurate representation—but here's a general idea of what it would look like to have a very low DPI image versus a higher DPI image:

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Lower DPI example
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Higher DPI example. Image source

3. What Is PPI?

So, then, what does PPI stand for, and what does it mean? PPI stands for "Pixels Per Inch".

Looking at digital displays, like your computer monitor or smartphone, the higher the PPI, the higher the pixel density. This can mean more detailed imagery, as the pixels themselves are closer together. Lower PPI, on the other hand, would have larger pixels, so the imagery would look less detailed. 

PPI is particularly important for input resolution, like when you're working with a camera or a scanner. You'll want to be aware of the PPI that your capture device uses when capturing an image. Scanning an image at 100 PPI would be much lower quality than 1200 PPI. That high-quality image would contain more pixel data per inch.

What Are Pixels?

Pixels are individual points or dots that make up digital imagery. This would include photographs, graphics, and many kinds of content displayed on digital screens. Pixels are not normally viewable to the human eye because they're typically quite small. Pixels can represent different colors and values, which make up the images we see on our displays. 

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An example image, as you might normally view it on a screen. Image source
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Zoomed in to look at some of the pixels that make up this image

This is why higher-resolution images can result in greater detail and clarity—that higher PPI is more pixels per inch. 

4. What Is the Difference Between DPI and PPI?

What is PPI vs. DPI? Are they interchangeable? It might be easy to assume that something like 300 DPI vs. 300 PPI would be the same—but it isn't necessarily. Remember, the context matters a lot here.

  • DPI is the dots per inch printed on a medium like paper. This will matter when working with a printer or selecting your print settings, if printing on your own.
  • PPI is the number of pixels per inch that make up your imagery. So, for example, it's how many PPI your scanner can capture—the level of detail and pixel data. This could also apply to how many pixels your device can display. For example, some modern Apple technology offers very high-resolution displays that are quite pixel-dense, as opposed to an older monitor from the 2000s, which would be much lower in resolution.
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Designs for digital and print have their differences. Template design from Envato Elements.

So, as general advice, design at a PPI appropriate for your proposed outputs—working higher than you need can be advantageous. When printing your work, make sure you're clear on the optimal DPI for your job. Generally speaking, it's better to have larger files available than smaller files because, when working with raster imagery, scaling up is often not an easily accessible option without that added pixel data.

5. Some Practical Examples of DPI vs. PPI

300 DPI vs. 300 PPI (PPI vs. DPI conversion)

Is DPI the same as PPI? No—remember that they vary, even if they have similarities. Both DPI and PPI are about content per inch—but the scenario is not necessarily the same. 

When in doubt, I recommend working at the highest practical PPI—because you can always scale down if need be (again, I would rather my work have an excess of pixels than not enough!) 300 DPI is a generally popular choice for printing a variety of projects.

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Poster Design Templates from Envato Elements

For example, let's say I'm working on a digital illustration. I might want to use this in a variety of ways: I might want to share it online, and I might want to sell prints of my work. With anything I intend to print, I tend to work at a minimum of 300 PPI, while also being mindful of the size of my document. So, if I work at 11" wide by 14" high, that's 3300 x 3900 pixels at 300 PPI. In contrast, if I were working at 150 PPI, that would only be 1650 x 1950 pixels—fewer pixels per inch.  

Resolution and Purchasing Equipment

Resolution can really matter when you're purchasing equipment designed to capture or print out work. While this is not an extensive guide to buying said equipment, here are some introductory concepts to keep in mind:

  • When you're looking at cameras and scanners, you'll want to make sure the capture quality is as high as you can afford. This is how many pixels per inch (PPI) the device can capture. Cameras, in particular, will often share this information via Megapixels. 
  • When you're looking at printers, take a look at their printing capabilities with regard to dots per inch (DPI). A consumer-grade printer, designed for basic home printing, will likely have lower DPI capabilities than a professional quality printer. 

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