The Fine Art of Digital Printing: What is a Sharp Digital Print?

You can think about print sharpness in two ways; there is acceptable sharpness and then there’s perfect sharpness. Acceptable sharpness is when you look at the print and think to yourself, “Gee, that looks nice and sharp.”  For most people, an 8 x 10 print looks nice and sharp so long as it has 250-350 ppi of real detail. That’s acceptable sharpness.

Perfect sharpness is when the print is so sharp that even if you doubled the resolution and put the two prints side-by-side, you could see no difference. Put that 300 ppi  print next to one that conveys 600 ppi worth of detail (that requires both a very high resolution file and a very good printer) and most of you will see a difference; you’ll sense that edges are sharper and fine detail is more nicely delineated.

Figure 1: 1) A photograph like this demands as much sharpness as I can get from it in a print.

A high percentage of the population with good vision, viewing 8 x 10 prints under good light at normal close viewing distance (the kind of distance you’d look at a photograph you really cared about) can even distinguish a 600 ppi print from 1200 ppi. It’s subtle but many people can see it.  To reach truly perfect sharpness you’d have to get up to 1500 ppi worth of detail rendered in the print.

Today, that’s impossible. No digital printer can do that, and the files would be huge–– 200 megapixels at least.

So, forget about perfection. You can’t get there from here.

That means that improving print sharpness and resolution is not a pointless exercise. It will produce a picture that looks sharper to viewers.

Figure 2: A photograph like this depends very little on exquisite sharpness; what attracts the viewer's eye is the rendering of tone and color.

I’m not saying you have to do this. It depends upon the photo… and the photographer. Back in the days of film, most photographers were happy working in 35mm, some of them  routinely printing as large as 16″ x 20″.  Other photographers couldn’t tolerate anything less than a contact print from an 8 x 10 negative

There is no one right answer to the question, “What is acceptably sharp,” and ignore anybody who tells you that there is.

Next column, though, I’ll tell you how you may be able to figure out how much sharpness matters to you.


1 Comment
   printing Toronto said on May 7, 2012 at 10:01 am

Sharp digital printing is a substitute of digital printing because its a quality working and a next level of digital printing. Its a new way of printing.

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