Are you looking to print your photos, but you’re not sure what photo print sizes to use? Are you struggling to determine which picture size is right for you?
You’ve come to the right place.
Because in this article, I’m going to clear up everything related to print sizes–what they are, what’s feasible given your image dimensions, and whether you need to consider common aspect ratios when printing. I’ll close with a list of common picture sizes, so that you get a sense of the options available to you.
So if you’re ready to discover everything you need to know about print sizes…
…then let’s get started!
What Are Photo Print Sizes?
Photo print sizes are a list of possible sizes you can print your photos.
In fact, you’re probably familiar with some standard sizes already–options such as 8×10, 4×6, and 5×7.
Note that print sizes are generally given in inches, so an 8×10 print is eight inches on the short and and ten inches on the long end.
Also note that photo prints have no clear orientation. An 8×10 print can be eight inches tall and ten inches wide (for a landscape-style result) or ten inches tall and eight inches wide (for a portrait-style result).
Why Print Sizes Matter
When it comes to printing your photos, paying attention to photo print sizes is essential.
This is for a few reasons.
First, if you’re creating paper prints and you plan to mat and frame them, most of your options will be designed to complement standard print sizes.
If you print an 8×10 photo, you’ll be able to easily find a mat and a frame that fits these dimensions. But if you print off your photo without considering its size, you may end up with non-standard dimensions–and you won’t be able to find frames or mats that fit your shot.
(Note that there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” mat or frame. Mats and frames are designed for specific print sizes, and if your photo deviates even slightly from this, you’ll run into issues.)
Second, most printing shops don’t allow for custom-sized prints. So when you place a printing order, they’ll want to verify that your image dimensions match up to the dimension of the print you requested.
If you order your print online, you’ll often be prompted to choose your “crop,” which involves cropping your photo to fit a standard print size. Worst-case scenario, they’ll crop the file for you–which is rarely a good idea, because this will ruin the composition.
So now that you understand why you should pay attention to print size, let’s take a look at a few practical aspects of printing, including how to calculate the expected print size given your image pixel dimensions.
Inches vs Pixels: Converting Image Dimensions Before Printing
Digital images are sized in pixels.
So an image straight out of your camera will often be something like 6000 pixels on the long end and 4000 pixels on the wide end.
The precise dimensions depend on your camera sensor, with full-frame and APS-C cameras offering one set of dimensions, Four Thirds cameras offering another set of dimensions, and so on.
Of course, the dimensions of your photos aren’t set in stone, thanks to the power of cropping. But the original dimensions do offer you a starting point, so it’s wise to check your image files for your straight-out-of-camera sizes.
Anyways, here’s the big question:
How do image dimensions get converted into print sizes?
Say you have that 6000 pixel by 4000 pixel image. At what sizes can you print it?
Well, in the simplest case, that depends on one factor:
You see, the larger you print your images, the more you’ll degrade the print quality.
(This should make intuitive sense, because as you print larger, you force a set number of pixels to occupy a larger area.)
A standard metric for good quality prints is that you should aim to have at least 300 pixels correspond to each inch of your final print.
So if your photo is 300 pixels long by 300 pixels wide, you can safely print a 1×1 picture. But anything larger will start to cause quality issues.
Fortunately, most cameras offer images far larger than 300 pixels by 300 pixels. The example I gave above–with a 6000 pixel by 4000 pixel photo–is pretty standard, and printed with 300 pixels corresponding to an inch of the final print, you’ll get a 20×13.3 output (not bad at all, right?).
Now, while 300 pixels per inch is the recommended correspondence between digital images and printed images, you can always go higher than this. So if your image file allows for a 20×13 print at 300 pixels per inch, you can easily push the dimensions to 10×6.5 (which would have a 600 pixel per inch correspondence), or to 6×4 (which would have a 1000 pixel per inch correspondence).
(In practice, you’ll often just want to resize your image to include fewer pixels, because the image quality gains from 300 pixels per inch to 400 pixels per inch and beyond aren’t very noticeable, but you get the point.)
But going lower than 300 pixels per inch will hurt your final print–in most cases, anyway.
How Big Can You Print Your Photos?
The 300 pixels per inch printing rule is one you’ll often hear cited. But do you really need to pay attention to it? Are you really limited to 300 pixels per inch?
You see, while 300 pixels per inch is on average a good guideline for paper prints that are designed to be viewed up close, you can often drop the pixels per inch when printing via other mediums, such as metal.
And some prints aren’t designed to be viewed at close distances. You may not want to view a wall-sized print up close, which means that you can safely reduce the pixels per inch count to a much lower value.
Ultimately, the resolution you choose is up to you. While more pixels is generally better when it comes to printing, you can definitely create lower-resolution prints that look truly stunning.
So don’t feel limited if your camera isn’t 50+ megapixels!
What Are Aspect Ratios in Photography?
You should now understand that your ability to print is limited by the file size of your image.
But there’s another limitation you should be familiar with:
The aspect ratio of a photo refers to the ratio of the long side to the short side. Modern full-frame and APS-C cameras offer a 3:2 aspect ratio, whereas Micro Four Thirds cameras offer a 4:3 aspect ratio, etc.
So with a standard 24 MP full-frame camera, you’ll end up with images that are 6000 pixels by 4000 pixels, or 3:2.
Aspect ratios are important because the aspect ratio of your print will match the aspect ratio of your file. A printer cannot stretch or compress a photo–so if you send a 3:2 image to print, it’ll come out at 3:2.
This isn’t as limiting as it might sound, because there are plenty of print sizes that correspond to a single aspect ratio. For instance, a 1:1 aspect ratio allows you to print at 4×4, 5×5, 6×6, and so on, while a 3:2 aspect ratio allows you to print at 3:2, 6×4, 12×8, and so on.
But you cannot take a 1:1 file and print it at a 3:2 size, and vice versa.
So are you stuck with the aspect ratio of your original files (which in turn corresponds to the aspect ratio of your camera’s sensor)?
The power of cropping allows you to convert your files to any aspect ratio imaginable.
However, you’ll end up changing the composition in the process, plus cropping reduces image quality, so you should only use cropping sparingly.
Should You Print Using Common Aspect Ratios?
Certain printing aspect ratios are far more popular than others.
For instance, you’re probably familiar with the 5:4 aspect ratio, because it’s used for 8×10 and 16×20 prints.
You’re probably also familiar with the 3:2 aspect ratio, because it’s used for 4×6 and 8×12 prints.
Technically speaking, you can print at any aspect ratio you desire.
But this isn’t feasible, unless you have a great print lab or use your own printer.
Because most print labs will have a set group of sizes you can order from, and these won’t include weird sizes such as 2×16 (for a 8:1 aspect ratio) or 3×11 (for a 11:3 aspect ratio).
You’ll also run into significant problems if you try to mat and frame your 3×11 print; you’re not going to find the right mat or frame on a shelf somewhere. Instead, you’ll need to do a custom order, which costs in money and time.
So I do recommend you print at common aspect ratios. Before sending a file off to the printers (or before printing an image yourself), look at your image.
Consider the common print size aspect ratios–and figure out which aspect ratio most closely corresponds to your existing photo.
Then crop your photo, just slightly, to align it with the aspect ratio you’re after. It’ll save you a lot of headache in the long run.
As for the standard picture sizes:
List of Standard Picture Sizes
Here are the picture sizes offered by pretty much all printing labs (and for which you can generally find mats and frames):
Many labs offer far more sizes than these, but the specifics vary, so I’d recommend checking out the website of your preferred lab.
What Photo Print Size Is Best?
As you can probably guess, there’s no real “best” photo print size.
Different print sizes work for different photos, so you certainly shouldn’t aim to print at a specific size over and over again.
That said, there are reasons to choose one size over another, depending on the type of image you’re printing..
For instance, a square aspect ratio will often provide your photos with a more simplistic, minimalistic feel. The viewer will take in the image all at once, rather than wandering through the frame–which is helpful if your image is designed to be appreciated as a whole.
Landscape-style aspect ratios emphasize the horizontal lines over the vertical lines, which means that long buildings and sweeping scenics do well with wider rectangular aspect ratios, such as 3:2.
And portrait-style aspect ratios emphasize vertical lines over horizontal lines. This is why you’ll often find headshots and full-body portraits printed out using rectangular aspect ratios flipped vertically (e.g., the 3:2 aspect ratio mentioned in the previous example, just flipped on its side).
You’ll also want to pay careful attention to your overall print size. If your shot has lots of tiny details, bigger prints will do a better job of capturing the viewer’s attention–whereas an image that relies on a large subject for impact might do just fine as a 5×7 print.
Photo Print Sizes: Final Words
Determining the right photo print sizes for your images can be a daunting task.
But now that you understand aspect ratios, pixel to inch conversions, and standard print sizes, you’re well-equipped to print your photos–and get the size that works best for you.
So go pick some image sizes! And don’t be afraid to experiment with some interesting aspect ratios, if need be.
There are a few common photo print sizes, including 5x7s, 4x6s, and 8x10s. These are standard sizes that you can order from pretty much any printing lab (including the kiosks at your local grocery store!).
It’s a good idea to print in a common size for one big reason: framing. If you hope to frame your photo (and you should generally frame paper prints if you want to protect them and increase their lifetimes), then a non-standard print size will result in a lot of headache. You won’t be able to find mats or frames for your prints, and you’ll either be forced to make them yourself or do custom framing (which is very expensive!). If you’re using a non-paper print medium, then you’re free to print at whatever size you like, because framing isn’t necessary–but most printing labs will offer a core set of sizes, and it’s generally cheapest to stick to these, anyway.
There is no one standard size! However, 5×7 prints are very, very common. These days, 4×6 prints are pretty common, too, because there are several apps that offer free (or cheap) 4x6s. If you’re looking for print sizes that you can easily find frames for, I’d recommend a 5×7, an 8×10, or an 11×14.
Printing a picture to an exact size involves carefully indicating image dimensions before hitting the Print button. You’ll want to crop your image to the proper aspect ratio, then input the proper PPI numbers. Note that many labs will allow you to do cropping or adjusting at the last minute when you place an online order, but it’s much better to get this done beforehand; that way, you ensure you don’t make any mistakes and you get the exact result you’re after. So pay careful attention to the print size you’re planning to use, and make sure you crop and resize to nail the ouput.