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The Secret Art Print Resize - Resizing Digital Art

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

"Clown" abstract from 8x10 to 24x36

If you've bought one of my printable designs, you probably saw it marked as (say) "24x36 inch", and printed it at that size. If that's what you were wanting: great!

But have you wanted a particular size or shape print, that isn't shown? Well, you aren't stuck with the intended print size of a digital image. You can of course, print smaller. But you might not realize that the file you've bought, could be used to print slightly larger or in a slightly different shape.

If you're interested in the What and Why of this, keep reading. Otherwise, feel free to skip to the appropriate section.

Intended Print Size

My printable files are offered to you with a stated size and often, DPI. This is the intended (or designed) print size. What this means to you as a buyer, is that it is sharp enough (i.e. has enough pixels) to be printed at that size and with that resolution.

I aim for at least 200 DPI, preferably 300 DPI. This means that the image should print well on fine paper.

Dots Per Inch (or DPI) and Resolution

You'll often hear/see printers referring to DPI, or "dots per inch" (sometimes: dots per millimetre or DPM). This is a real measure of the potential fineness or resolution of a print, electronic display or other output.

Inkjet (or Giclee) printing puts very small dots of ink onto the surface. The fineness of the print (the DPI) depends on the size of the "jets" - and it's only as accurate as the machinery that's moving the jets around (the dots can be really sharp, but if they aren't in the right place......).

Electronic displays have a fixed set of dots. How closely they're packed is usually referred to as pixel density or DPI, and for most personal monitors, is around 72 to 130.

Context ("Situation, Situation, Situation")

Not every picture is meant for close inspection (how're you going with that old campaign poster of Donald Trump?). And if the viewer has to stand at a distance, it's harder for them to notice your expensively-printed artwork's resolution and quality.

We look at our computer screens from much the same distance all the time. And they're designed to be just good enough for that. But if the monitor is mounted at the top of a wall in a dentist waiting room, showing videos about mouthwash, you couldn't tell if the resolution was half as good. (Where I used to work, we had an outdoor display, about 4 metres - 12 feet - wide, for students to watch in an amphitheatre. The pixels on that were about as big as your hand! But it didn't matter!)

At the other extreme: Look at that photo of your loved one in your purse; if there was a hairline scratch on it, you'd notice, right? (Maybe not so much if the loved one is a cat).

Summary: Think about where the print is going to be, and how you want or expect people to see it, before deciding what print resolution you need.

How to Print Art Smaller

If you present pixels smaller, the DPI gets larger, which means the pixels get sharper. So the dots will be less (likely to be) visible. So for example, an image intended for 18x24 inches (3 to 4 ratio), will print just as well (if not better) at another 3 to 4 ratio, such as 15x20 inches. Things to consider

  • If the print is going to be looked at closely (e.g. an 8x10 on your desk), then the paper quality will make a difference. Use a smoothly-textured paper to ensure that the grains, threads or bumps of the paper don't show.

  • If there is fine and important detail in the picture, take care to preserve it by not reducing too much. Display the image on your computer, zoom out till the image is about twice as large on your monitor, as it would be when printed. If those precious details have disappeared, you might lose them when printing.

The short answer: there's usually no problem printing smaller than the intended size.

How to Print Art Larger

For prints other than fine art quality, 200 DPI (dots per inch) is a very good print resolution. This means that a print file made for 300 DPI can be printed 50% larger (300/200=1.5).

So if the 300 DPI digital file you've bought is meant for 24x36 inches, you can safely print it at 36x54 inches.

(If the digital file's intended print size has a DPI that's higher, great! You can print even larger. Here's how to calculate how much larger.

1. Divide <digital file intended print size> by <your larger size> 2. Multiply the result by 200. 3. If the result is at least 200, then you're good to go.

(If you like technical details, read my article "How Big Is A Pixel" for more).

Things to consider

  • If you're really wanting fine art quality (suitable for showing in a gallery) - well, you probably already know all this! But your DPI minimum should be more like 300 DPI.

  • Think of the context: if nobody's going to get their faces up close to the print (e.g. it's a big print above a deep sofa or above your bed), then the resolution doesn't need to be so high. You could probably enlarge by 75% or 100%.

The short answer: if you want print quality good enough for close inspection, don't enlarge more than about 50%.

How to Print Art with a Different Aspect Ratio (width to height ratio)

We're so good at knowing what things look like, that we can tell if something's just a bit off. So even a little distortion of a photograph or realistic drawing, makes it look wrong. So when printing, the shapes must be kept intact by keeping the width and height of the image in the same, original proportion: the Aspect Ratio.

A good thing about abstract art (and other non-representational art), is that its impact doesn't always depend on specific, accurate shapes of real things. So a bit of distortion may not matter.

Very little of my art is non-abstract. So it can often handle being resized in one direction; i.e. made wider or taller only, without keeping the Aspect Ratio.

The considerations about resolution (see above) still apply, however: if you go too far, you might reveal those pixels!

Things to consider

  • Geometrical abstract designs can sometime depend on known (especially symmetrica

l) shapes which can't be distorted safely (e.g. squares; circles; special symbols; patterns).

  • Shapes and lines in abstract designs do matter. Try out a resizing before committing to printing; the design might not be quite as effective after making it longer or taller.

Summary: Try it out, on abstract art (especially if it's not geometrical or patterned). It could work.

Summing Up

With a bit of thought and care, you might be able to make use of the flexibility I've built into my abstract art files (the high DPI), as well as the relatively "unstructured" designs, to print them in a size and shape that you prefer. It's your wall, so you decide the shape, size and quality you need.

I'm not "precious" about my designs, so if in doubt, contact me to ask!

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