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Can I use a photo taken with my phone on the cover of my next printed brochure?

Clients often ask if we are able to use photos taken on mobile phones for print brochures, folders and more. While there are rare occasions these pictures will work, Atlas recommends you invest in a professional photographer. Printed, corporate materials, such as brochures or folders, are presentation pieces that represent you and your business. How they look will leave a lasting impression on the recipient. These images should support, emphasize, and/or underscore what is written, not detract or fall short on the intended impact. Additionally, smartphone images have limitations on size, resolution and focus that could negatively affect your marketing material.

Image size does matter, but let’s begin with the basics. Photos are made of a grid of thousands of square pixels to form one larger image. A pixel is a single block of color. When photos are blown up, you can see the individual pixels. You may have seen the abbreviation “ppi” – it stands for pixels per inch, a measurement of the density of pixels in a square inch. The more pixels per inch, the higher the photo resolution/quality. In general, professionally-printed materials need a much larger ppi as opposed to digital images.

Specific ppi densities are required for various printing methods. In order for printing ink dots to form a smooth surface on paper or other substrates, there needs to be more pixels tightly packed together to ensure a smooth, visual color transition, typically 300 ppi. For printed items viewed from far away, like billboards, a lower ppi number can be used (usually around 100 ppi). Digital images are more forgiven, thus an even lower ppi number can be used (more like 72 ppi).

3 versions of image resolution Here is the same image at three different resolutions.


How do you know if an image is good enough to print professionally? As stated above, 300 pixels in a square inch will produce a quality image. For example, to print an 8” x 10” image at 300 ppi multiply the printed image width and height in inches each by 300 pixels. The result is 2,400 x 3,000 pixels, which is the size image you need to print an 8 x 10 at 300 ppi. Another example: a 9 x 12 folder would need 2,700 x 3,600 at 300 ppi. What happens if the image is close in size? If you are within 10%, it should print fine.

To add, the terms hi-resolution and low-resolution are somewhat misleading. The resolution typically refers to the number of pixels that occupy a square inch. The more pixels, the more saturated the color in the box, the clearer the image will look. Hi-resolution typically assumes images are of good printing quality, while low-resolution is the opposite. However, you may have a low-resolution image that happens to be very large. In that case, the image could be “resampled” to adjust it to the correct pixel per inch size for printing use.

While newer mobile phones do offer better camera resolutions in larger formats, if images need to be blown up or cropped, then enlarged to fit a larger space, they will not be viable. And, even if an image is large enough, it may not be ideal for other reasons. When asked specifically about using mobile phone photos for printed materials consider the following:

  • Is the image in focus? Often mobile phone cameras have limited capabilities when it comes to focusing on one area making images feel flat vs. dimensional.
  • Are the lighting and color dynamic enough for the purposes of the piece? A designer could edit color, contrast and more in photo editing software to enhance a mediocre image. Professionally shot images use lighting and other photographer techniques help build contrast and can intensify certain colors to enhance the image.

Whenever a photograph takes the visual lead, it represents your brand. To ensure that photo looks great, consider investing in a professionally shot image, including stock images. When in doubt, ask a professional designer for thoughts on the image. Often a stock image can be purchased for a nominal fee to support the messaging. If a specific photo is desired and a photo shoot is not possible, the designer can offer suggestions to use the image at the appropriate size.

Author: Denise Dolgos, Creative