Q: My candy shop needs a brochure, and the designer I chose asked for my logo, text, high resolution photos and captions. I tried to be helpful by arranging all that in a Word document so she could see what goes with what. Now she wants me to resend the logo and photos as separate files. Can’t she just pull them from the Word document?

A: Do you remember the scene in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory when Wonka shrinks that TV-crazed kid and puts him into the television set? The boy insists that he’s fine, even though he’s only a few inches tall.

Think of Word as Wonkavision. When you place a high-resolution photo into a Word document, the program automatically shrinks it. You can’t see this because the photo appears to be fine, but Word has reduced the amount of digital information in the photo, making it low resolution. There is nothing a designer can do to change that photo back to high resolution again. Even a taffy-pulling machine will not fix it.

The designer needs photos in their original file format, usually JPG. (No shortcuts, folks: Pulling a photo from a Word document and changing the extension from .doc to .jpg doesn’t work.) If you really want to be helpful, write a descriptive file name for each photo as a clue to the designer about its subject. OompaLoompasBeingOminous.jpg, for example, is much more helpful than 648789.jpg. Then, in a Word document, list your pictures by file name with the captions you want for each.

Q: Well, then can I just pull the pictures that I already have from the company website?

A: Not unless you want your candy to look like it’s from an old-fashioned commercial instead of fresh from the wrapper!

Web photos won’t work in print. Digital photos are made of tiny squares called pixels. For a photo to look sharp in print, each square inch must be densely packed with 300 pixels. (That’s why you’ll hear designers talk about needing photos at 300 ppi.) A Web image has only 72 pixels per inch. If you take 72 pixels and spread them out to fill a space meant to hold 300, you create “gaps” in the image information. This might be interesting if you were an impressionist painter, but not if you’re a graphic designer. The computer compensates by filling the gaps with colors that approximate those in nearby pixels. The result: a ragged, blurry photo.A conversation about photo files, sizes, and resolution

On the plus side, this effect has given our language some colorful words. Photos like these are said to be “pixilated” or “bit-mapped” (pixels are sometimes called “bits.”). It even inspired Hollister designer Georgette Klotz to dress as a pixilated photo for our annual Halloween celebration!

 Okay, then I’m going to re-use a small photo from our old brochure as the big image on our new brochure. Our photo is smaller than the designer wanted, but she can just make it bigger, right?

A: If you don’t have the original photo you received or purchased – only the photo as it was used in the brochure – then no, she can’t make it any larger.

The correct way to do pre-press production work on an image is to reduce the file size to exactly the size needed for display in the actual final dimensions. For example, the original photo may have been 8×12 inches. In the layout, the photo was used at only 2×3 inches – only one-quarter the size of the original. So during pre-press production, the designer would have reduced the file size substantially. From then on, that “knocked down” version of the photo can never be used larger than 2×3 inches.

Designers should always save the original photos, but not all of them do. Be sure your new designer is following this best practice, so that in the future you don’t have to re-acquire a photo to get it at the size you need for a different use.

Also, before re-using a purchased photo, re-check the original terms of purchase. Some stock photo rights are sold for one-time use only.


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