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Printer Resolution

The video monitor and the scanner have no problem making any RGB color at
any pixel, but printers cannot do that. The printer is a very different kind of
device, and has very sophisticated ways to kludge a rather crude image.
First, B&W printers
B& printers do !"T print shades of gray. They use black ink or black toner, and
they can print only Black. To simulate gray in graphics, they print halftones. ith
a magnifying glass, you can see halftones in the images in any book, maga#ine
or newspaper. $alftones are arrays of dots arranged in a grid, say %x% or &x& to
represent each image pixel as a shade of Gray. 'or dark gray, more grid dots are
black. 'or light gray, more grid dots are white. ()ore modern methods used for
color in maga#ines vary the si#e of the dots instead of the ratio of light*dark dots.+
The printing graphics software and driver can specify different halftone grid si#es
for different effects. 'or example, a good laser printer might print %,, dpi, or it
might print -.& shades of gray, but it cannot do both at the same time. /f a larger
grid is used, more shades of gray are possible, but less resolution is possible.
'or example, some grid si#es for a %,, dpi printer are0
-x- shows . shades (black or white, %,, dpi 1ine art+ 22
22 -x- is not halftones, it is simply called 3line art3 mode.
%x% shows 45 shades of gray, reducing image resolution to %,,*% 6 -,, lpi.
5x5 shows 7, shades of gray, reducing image resolution to %,,*5 6 &7 lpi.
&x& shows %7 shades of gray, reducing image resolution to %,,*& 6 57 lpi.
-,x-, shows -,- shades of gray, reducing image resolution to %,,*-, 6 %, lpi.
This book is not about prepress, but to 8uickly mention lpi, the printing industry9s
term for resolution is lpi (1ines :er /nch+, a measure of printed image resolution;
like detail. )aga#ines typically use -44 or -7, lpi images, newspapers are often
&7 lpi, and highest 8uality art books .,, lpi. < 3line3 is one row of grid cells.
'or prepress, or commercial ink press printing, color or grayscale, the rule of
thumb for scanning resolution is
=caled dpi 6 (lpi x -.7+ x (printed image width*original photo width+
That is the obligatory formula for prepress, we see it everywhere. 1pi is lines per
inch, used to create screens for commercial ink press printing. -.7 is a minimum,
and often we see it as (lpi x ..,+ as the upper limit for commercial re8uirements.
.., is the upper limit of usefulness, not a goal. $owever, editors do often ask for
4,, dpi (the theory being that it is better to have too many pixels than too few+. /f
scanning for an imagesetter to create a screen for maga#ine publication, the lpi
formula above is very valid.
)aga#ines -44*-7, lpi ; scale to ..7 to 4,, dpi.
!ewspapers &7*-,, lpi ; scale to -7, to .,, dpi
But most of us are probably not doing that. !ormally we don9t know any lpi
specification for our home and office printing >obs, and lpi is not applicable to
them, because our ink>et printers work with a different error diffusion dithering
technology anyway. $owever, reasonable dpi guidelines for scanning for printing
will be offered later, so we do know a ballpark number for dpi for our printed
This formula9s ratio of (printed*original+ si#e also applies to our home scanning
resolution re8uirements. /t is needed because if we scan a 4,, dpi image, but
later expand the image on the printed paper to twice the original si#e (twice the
inches+, we would then have only -7, dpi in the larger image on paper. hen the
printer expands the image, the pixels are farther apart than before. =o to double
the printed si#e, and yet maintain 4,, dpi for the printer, we should scan at %,,
dpi to allow for the si#e increase, so we still have 4,, dpi in the expanded result.
That9s why the formula above has the multiplier of (printed si#e * original si#e+.
The standard rule for prepress is that we must scan for the capability of our
specific output device, using scanning resolution dpi 6 lpi x -.7. The extra 7,? is
to accommodate the printer driver9s resampling when it rotates the halftone
screen (hypotenuse at @7 degrees is -.@-@ length+. < .., factor may give slightly
better 8uality, especially for grayscale images, but most say -.7 is plenty. .., is
an upper limit, a maximum, not a re8uirement or goal. The right range is -.7 to
..,. 1asers and ink presses do use halftones and lpi, but ink>ets use a different
dithering method.
$owever, one big problem with lpi is that we cannot find lpi mentioned in our
printer9s specifications, ink>et or laser, because lpi is not within the hardware.
/nstead lpi varies however the graphic software and printer driver choose to use
the hardware. /t is a software issue, to create the halftones above.
There is much uniformity in commercial practice, in that those images are
typically sent to .@,, dpi imagesetters to generate screens for publication, and
these are very single purpose with known standard lpi re8uirements. )any
maga#ines use -44 or -7, lpi, for which scanning at -44 lpi x -.7 6 .,, dpi is fine
for many cases, but many editors will habitually ask for 4,, dpi. -7, to .,, dpi
images are enough for printing in newspapers at &7 or -,, lpi.
But at home, we are at the mercy of many different software packages, and we
all have a different printer and driver too. This makes it pretty difficult to use the
(lpi x -.7+ formula, simply because we do not know it. Aou can however
sometimes see this lpi value in your printer driver or image program options. 'or
example, :hoto/mpact indicates &7 lpi for my $: %,, dpi laser printer. That
doesn9t mean the printer is &7 lpi, it only means that :hoto/mpact intends to
generate &7 lpi images for it, which is the right ballpark for %,, dpi. But therefore,
&7 x -.7 6 -.& dpi would be a good safe resolution to use, and / typically shoot
for -7, dpi grayscale images for it because -7, dpi scans well.
That &7 lpi suggests %,, dpi * &7 lpi 6 5 cells per inch, therefore a 5x5 halftone
grid, with the resulting possibility of 7, shades of gray, which is bearable on a
laser printer. The printer specs say %,, dpi and -.& shades of gray, but it cannot
do both numbers at any one setting. Typically a middle of the road compromise is
used. Bsing higher lpi for more resolution detail limits the smaller cells to fewer
tones of gray, which is detail too. :erceived resolution depends on both factors.
The overall significance of this halftone grid is that the printer must use several of
its dots to simulate tones of gray to represent each one pixel in the image. This
greatly reduces the printer9s real image resolution capability to a fraction of the
printer9s advertised dpi. :rinter ink dots and image pixels are simply very different
things. "ne gray image pixel re8uires many printer ink dots.