Information : about dpi, ppi, image formats and Zazzle


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I shared my Pinkie t-shirt on my CactusCatz blog.  Crystal asked how to make something on Zazzle and asked if she could do a gif.  Since an explanation is too long for a comment reply, I thought it would be great to answer her here.  Also since a lot of people only take pictures with their phone, I talk about 1080pixels x 1080 pixels which is the size some phones do.  I hope this helps you, Crystal

Topics on this post:

  • What Images can you Upload on Zazzle?
  • What is DPI or PPI and why should I care?
  • Size matters
  • But I really want to use my phone photos!
  • Quick video tutorial on uploading to Zazzle

What Images can you Upload on Zazzle?

  • AI (Adobe Illustrator) : good, supports transparency and vectors
  • PDF : good, supports transparency and vectors
  • PNG : lossless compression, supports transparency
  • TIFF : no compression is probably better
  • GIF : lossless compression. The gif has to be a single-image gif, not an animated gif with multiple images.  Makes sense, right?  Can’t have an animation on a mug.
  • JPG, JPEG : lossy compression

Things to note: Lossless compression is better than lossless compression.  Compression makes files smaller obviously.  Lossy compression compresses to an approximation of the original data so there is data loss.  If you open a jpg, make a change, save it and then open the saved jpeg and repeat.  After awhile, you’ll notice artifacting.  Little pixels of color in places they don’t belong.  It’s like using a copy machine and then copying the copy.  The copy is never as perfect as the original and each copy of a copy of a copy will deteriorate a little.

Generally speaking, no compression is better than compression because the image is the same size as the original.  Compression means the image is smaller so some data is thrown out and has to be reconstructed when the image is opened.

Being able to have a transparent background as in a png is helpful because then it doesn’t matter what color the fabric is behind the png, the image floats on top of it.

So for putting images on other things, if your camera takes pictures in jpg format, check to see if you can change the settings to noncompressed TIFF.  The images will take more space so you will have to put your photos on your computer more often to clear space but they will be better to use for printing whether photographs or on mugs and shirts.

What is DPI or PPI and why should I care?

DPI is dots per inch / PPI is pixels per inch .  You know how you look at a magazine picture very closely you see dots?  If you could blow up images on monitors, you’d see the same little dots. Little dots of Red/Green/Blue or little dots of Cyan/Magenta/Yellow/Black because that’s how printers print.  Your little pixels per inch becomes little dots per inch squirted on whatever when printed.  It depends a lot on how your image is going to be viewed what dpi/ppi it needs.

Monitors and web browsers : 72dpi

Our computers show us everything at 72 dpi. However, printing things in real life, 72 dpi is not good.  That’s why when you print an image from the web, it looks all pixelated coming out of your printer.

Home printers : 175-200 ppi

Most of the time when you print something from your home printer, 175ppi is just fine.  The images will be better at 300dpi but most people aren’t likely to notice much of a difference.

Photographs : 300 ppi

If you’re sending something to be printed up as a photograph, 300ppi is a very good number.  You should get a good photograph with that.

Zazzle recommends these dpi for their various products

  • 150ppi for apparel, aprons, bags, hats, mousepads, and ties.
  • 200ppi for mugs, drinkware, calendars, cards, keychains, magnets, postcards, and all stickers.
  • 300ppi for custom postage
  • 300ppi for photo enlargements/prints, and posters

I’ve tried 150 ppi on a keychain — it came out fuzzy.  Now I just do 300 ppi on everything.  Being higher than you need is fine.  Being lower comes out fuzzy or pixelated.  Interestingly enough, even though Zazzle says 150ppi for apparel is fine, in the Amazon Merch program you have to send in your t-shirt design as 300dpi.  And it’s better to have a good print then to return something because it looks fuzzy.

Size matters

original image, jpg 780×1170

original image expanded to 300 dpi (but it only shows at 72 dpi here). Since it’s bigger, could only show a piece of it. Can’t really see the differences at this size which is at 24%.  But you can the fruit is a little changed, with a little orange in the yellows now.

same 300 dpi but zoomed in at 100%. Looking at a section so you can see how the expansion made the image not as crispy as original. Have to crop as a 300dpi pic at 4500 pixels won’t fit on the page

What does that all mean?  Let’s give a concrete example:

Your phone takes a great photo of your dog and it is a jpg the size is 1080 pixels x1080 pixels.  On your phone it looks great.  Your phone is a monitor so it’s only 72ppi.

At 72ppi, your 180 pixels will print at 15 inches x 15 inches.  That’s big enough for a t-shirt.

So you change the pixels to 300ppi to upload to make a shirt without making any other changes.  Now your same picture is 3.6 inches x 3.6 inches.  It has shrunk 416%!!!

Why?  because you are using 4x more pixels in an inch then you did before.  Suddenly your big picture is too tiny to fill up the front of a t-shirt.  You will have to blow up the picture 400% to make it bigger — and if it’s a jpg, you’re going to see artifacting and/or pixelation.

Some graphics are easily expandable because they have large areas of the same color.  Gif and Png can use lossless compression because many of their images are graphics with large areas of the same color. It makes expanding doable.  Vector graphics are great for that — you can size them for any size because they are filled with one color in specific areas.

But I really want to use my phone photos!

There are a few ways to handle your 72dpi jpg photos

If you’re going to blow your image up, it’s a good idea to bring it into an image program, save it as something with no compression like a Photoshop file or a noncompressed Tiff file and then expand the image.  You will get less pixelation and artifacting that way.  There are some free graphic programs out there that you can use.

Make it arty.  Topaz Labs has a free application call Topaz Studios.  Bring your image into the program.  Blow it up in the program to the size you want.  Let’s say you need your 1080 pixelsx1080pixel image from your phone to be 4500pixelsx4500pixels for a shirt.  Change the size to 4500 pixels.  You’re going to see it is pixelated and/or blurry.  Use one of the Painting filters to make it look like a painting.

Make a grid.  If you have several pictures you want to do at 1080pixelsx1080pixels at 72ppi which converts to 3.6 inchesx3.6 inches at 300ppi, then 4 rows of 4 pictures which white lines between to frame and separate the images to put on your t-shirt.  Each picture is 3.6 but since you have 4 across and 4 down, you fill up the front space of your t-shirt nicely.

Make a mug.  Your original at 300ppi is 3.6 inches high which looks good on a mug which is 4.5 inches tall.  You can put the picture on one side and text on the other.

What I suggest

Card, Size: Standard (5
Card, Size: Standard (5″ x 7″)

If you’re worried about how your resized image will print, start with uploading your photo pic to make a postcard.  Postcards are smaller and cheaper and you’ll see how  the Zazzle process works and how your picture will print.  Be aware that when you print on a different object, there will be some subtle color differences because different inks and printers are used for different objects.   When you order something, pay attention to shipping costs.  Zazzle is a bit high in my opinion unless you are in the Zazzle Black program.  Pay attention to what is on sale — if you go to the home page, you will see the sale categories near the top about 10% of the way down.  Almost always there is a 15% discount code.  Copy and use that at checkout.

Note:  Zazzle Black costs $9.99 a year and gives you free shipping for a year.  Black Zazzle has a free one-month trial period.  If you’re going to order more than one thing, it’s worth it.  My experience is postcards ship fast, t-shirts ship slow and mugs are somewhere in-between.  Honestly shipping experiences vary a lot at Zazzle.  My friend and I ordered a keychain on the same day and I got mine two weeks before he got his.  Good thing he’s a patient man.

Quick video tutorial on uploading to Zazzle

Here is a video tutorial I did on how to upload an image for a keychain on Zazzle.  The process is the same for anything.  Keychains are small so I didn’t need a big picture.  With t-shirts, I needed a bigger picture.


For anyone reading this, if you’d like me to do a tutorial on something I mentioned like “make it arty : resizing and making a pic arty in Topaz Studios”, just let me know and I’ll do it.  Also let me know if this was helpful


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