What good is a photo enlargement if you can’t print it right?  The computer screen makes a poor digital photo frame for large images.  But there are options for printing especially very large digital photo enlargements.  Having sold Imagener and YottaPrint for the past 8 years we’ve become familiar with printing choices.  Following are all the output options we’ve ever heard of to print digital photo enlargements.

Take To Local Copy Shop Like Fedex / Kinkos

Most printing companies, photography shops or physical businesses that offer photo printing services like Fedex Office (formerly Kinkos) require that images be a minimum of 300 DPI or dots-per-inch.  Less than this and printing companies simply won’t accept your digital photo because individual dots will be visible when the photo is enlarged.
Girl with photo of kitten
Click here for instructions on how to find the resolution of a digital image on any Windows PC computer.

To see why printing companies require this minimal dots-per-inch resolution, let’s compare printing a low resolution photo to enlarging a low resolution photo.  Photo enlargement and digital photo printing have similar demands.  For acceptable quality when enlarging pictures, the images need to be at least 200 DPI, but 300+ DPI is also recommended just as it is for digital photo printing.

Before computers and digital cameras the only way to enlarge photos was with a huge machine that looks like a giant microscope called a photo enlarger.  They’re still very much used today and they’re very expensive.  To enlarge a photo with a hardware photo enlarger, you would need a beginning photo that had a sufficient detail or content – which is the same as having at least 200 if not 300 DPI.  If you took a low resolution photo below 200 DPI to a hardware photo enlarger you would not get a satisfactory result even though the equipment is expensive and sophisticated.  It would simply enlarge the images dots and “space between the dots” and the result would be that you could easily see the dots with the naked eye, even if the low resolution image looks great before enlargement.  No hardware device or software can enlarge or print what simply is not there. Make sure your images are at least 300 DPI to have a company enlarge and print them.  If you have a camera that can take even higher dots-per-inch resolution images, you should use the highest DPI settings.  Enlarging and printing photos each demand high resolution – to do both to the same image means 600, 900 or even higher DPI wouldn’t hurt.

Send To An Online Photo Printing Company

There are many online photo printing companies that offer photo enlargement and printing services.  As was the case in the previous printing option, most of these companies will require that the image uploaded be at least 300 DPI and some impose a file size limitation as well.  Incidentally, if you use an online photo printing company, try to find one that has been around a while, or that has a brand name you recognize.  There are a wide variety of digital photo printers and each uses different wide format printer or plotter equipment that all have varying quality.  Companies that endure in this business keep their technology up-to-date and their equipment serviced.

What should you do if your photo is less than 300 DPI and you still want to use an online printing company?  There is a technique using Imagener we wrote about in a newsletter entitled “Forcing Resolution Into Images” where you can take a digital photo with a certain size and lower-than-300-DPI property and force it to be 300 DPI at the same size in a two-stage process.  Click here to read the newsletter.

Project On A Wall To Paint

To some it may sound silly, but using an overhead projector a digital photo can first be printed at its physical size – the size it is on disk – then placed into an overhead projector to both enlarge it and project it on to a surface for an artist to paint.  This isn’t really “digital photo enlargement printing” but it is producing the output of an enlargement from a digital source so we included this option.  This can be expensive depending on the artist and this method has limited applications and interiors it would make sense in but it has the advantage of producing a realistic work that also looks like art.

Print Photo Enlargements Yourself

For most people, digital photo printing at home is restricted to paper sizes and types the printer allows.  Photo enlargement printing is out of the question except for those with expensive large format digital printing equipment. It is possible to painstakingly print photo enlargements at home by “carving up” single page pieces of an enlarged photo and printing “panels” to be assembled into the enlarged version.  This is the way roadside billboards are assembled.

Kitten on BillboardBillboards have as many as 30 panels.  During 1872-1912, United States billboard standards were 24-sheet poster panels but today technology has reduced the number of needed panels to as few as 10.

“Assembling panels together” is more dramatic and seamless than you might imagine.  Once individual panels are assembled together, all the human eye can see is the entire image unless you stand very close to the surface.  How many times have you driven down a highway and were able to see the individual panels of a billboard?  Next time you look, try to see the 10 panels assembled together.  You can’t because images – even huge images assembled together in large panels – are perceived by the human brain in terms of content far before the minute details of a possible seam is perceived.

Our product YottaPrint prints photo enlargements in this way – the way billboards are printed.  YottaPrint works with any printer, large format printer or plotter that has drivers installed on a computer.  Read more about assembling wall murals or printing posters on the YottaPrint help page here.

Printing photo enlargements either using a company or on your own gives you the advantage of being able to display a photo enlargement that is personal to you.  This way, you have a more enjoyable enlargement than having chosen a stock image from a wallpaper or poster store.  No matter which method you use for your digital photo printing, because you are both enlarging and printing on hard media (such as paper or canvas), make sure you start with the highest resolution image you possibly can.