Aspect Ratio & Print Dimensions: Sizing Your Photos for Print

Image size for print explained

Understanding Photo Aspect Ratio & Print Dimensions

A common misconception about printing images is that you can print any image, at any size, and everything in the image on your screen will appear in the print.  In other words, nothing will be cropped out of the image.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case, but there are workarounds!  First, let me explain the basics of aspect ratios and print dimensions

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Common Photo Aspect Ratios

4 x 6 Aspect Ratio

Most digital images, shot in camera and before any cropping occurs in post, have an aspect ratio of around 4 : 6 / 2 : 3.

I love to cook, so thinking about aspect ratio in terms of cooking helps me visualize what these numbers mean.  I think of 4 x 6 in terms of "four parts height, and six parts width.  I know it sounds silly, but this is one of those situations where whatever helps you work out the math in your head is totally acceptable, as long as you can visualize what the numbers mean.

Now, when this ratio is translated to print dimensions, a common size is 8 x 12 inches:

Understading aspect ratio for image printing

8 x 10 Aspect Ratio

This is where things get a bit tricky with printing:

Let's say your client wants an 8 x 10 print.  Well, part of the image is going to have to be cropped out, because 8 x 10 and 8 x 12 are different aspect ratios:

how big is 8x10 photo

Cropping Your Image for Print

As you can see above, cropping from the original, straight out of the camera dimensions results in losing some of the edges of the image.  This is because we are cropping from a 4 : 6 (or 8 x 12 aspect ratio) to a 4 : 5 or (8 x 10 aspect ratio).

5 x 7 Aspect Ratio

Another common aspect ratio is 5 : 7, which can conveniently be resized to 5 x 7 inches.  This aspect ratio is a bit less boxy and more rectangular than the 4 x 5 (8 x 10) ratio, therefore it is closer to the original image that you saw in your camera.  While you will still lose a small portion of your image, it will be less than with a 4 x 5 (8 x 10) crop. 

5 x 7 photo

Square Aspect Ratio 

Square prints are also quite popular nowadays, and the ratio for the square crop is 1 x 1 (equal parts height and width!): 

photo dimensions for printing

Keep in mind that you can also go larger with the print dimensions while keeping the same aspect ratio.

For example: our 4 x 5 aspect ratio (8 x 10) above can also be sized to exactly 16 x 20.  Nothing will be cropped, and nothing will be visible in the 16 x 20 that was not visible in the 8 x 10.  It will have the exact height/width ratio, it will just be a larger print:

how to size your images for printing

Adjusting Image Size Before Print

So, the best workarounds for cropping your image for print is to shoot with cropping in mind.  As you compose your image, just know that, if printing in traditional print dimensions, the edges of your image will most certainly not appear in the print.

Another great thing to do is crop the image yourself - before you send it to your printer.  It is much safer to crop your own images the way you want them cropped, rather than leaving them at the mercy of someone else. 

Do you have any questions or comments about how to size and crop your images for print?  Leave us a comment below - we would LOVE to hear from you!  And PLEASE SHARE our tutorial using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!

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