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Cropping Photos and Artwork for Printing
By James M. Theopistos

"I am ordering a print of the file I uploaded and when I select the print size I want, the entire image is not selected. It looks like some of the image is outside of the size I want. Why is that?"

On occasion we receive this question as a call or e-mail.  This scenario is one in which many photographers coming from film tend to be somewhat familiar with, especially if they have spent time in the darkroom. For artists who are new to printing and trying to come up with various print sizes of their original work, it may be something unexpected.

We call the issue of only part of the image being printed "copping". It is the result of the actual image not being of the same aspect ratio as the selected print size. In simpler terms the image is more or less rectangular than the intended print size. At FinerWorks we use a method which prevents the image being distorted called "crop to fit". I have also heard it referred to as zoom to fill, zoom to fit, fit to fill amongh other descriptive phrases. The point is in the art and photo printing industry this means the image will be enlarged until it fills the area to be printed. I would say this tends to be the default standard most art and photo printing services use since the alternatives usually result in undesired consequences as we will see below.

Like many artist's I am more of a visual person so let's look at the following illustrated example. Here I submitted an image for printing an 8x10 but the preview shows the top and bottom of the image would not printed. This is because the actual images was not 8x10. Instead it was 8x12.

The good news is if you are insisting on a print size which is different than your image size and don't want to try a different size, our online print setup tool and previewer allows you to move the positioning of the cropping area with your mouse. This makes it possible to choose what parts of the image you want to preserve. In this instance I decided I want to preserve the top portion so I just had to drag the crop area to the top.

"So why not simply match the image to the print size?"

In the original scenario one alternative to cropping would have been to distort the image to match the 8x10 print size. Obviously the results would not be something most people would want since it squashes the image. I don't think anyone would want that especially if it is a picture of your mother-in-law since it would make her look fat.


Another alternative would be to zoom out the image so the entire image fits in the area to be printed. I can rarely think of any instances in which someone would want to do that either since it leaves extra margins on two sides of the image. We don't offer that as an option simply because when we did in the past we would have people select that as an option but find it just did not look right when they went to frame their print to order it as a stretched canvas. 

So in short, if you don't want to have your image cropped and your image does not exactly match the same size as your print, you will get some cropping. How obvious depends on how close image size and the print size can match.

Is there a way to determine what my image size is?

If you are familiar with software  like Photoshop, it is failry easy to do. Conduct a search online for sizing images in Photoshop or your favorite image editing program and you should find plenty of tutorials on doing so. If you are able to do some basic math then it is even easier. First you need to know how may pixels your image is in width and height. Let's say your image is 3744 pixels x 5616 pixels (Width x Height) which is what the image at the very top measures at. And let's again assume you want to order an 8x10. To find out what your image size is in relationship to this simply use the following formula with "X" being how wide you want your print to be:

Image Width = X
Image Height  = (File's Pixel Height /  File's Pixel Width) x Image Width

When we plugin the actual numbers this is what we get:

Image Width = 8
Image Height  = (5616 /  3744) x 8
Image Size Results: 8x12

If your image is wider than it is high (landscape aspect) simply reverse the formula with "X" being the height:

Image Height = X
Image Width  = (File's Pixel Width / File's Pixel Height) x Image Height

So what about other sizes? Do the same concepts apply?

Yes, no matter what size on you will want to be aware of what size your image is in relationship to the size of the print you are ordering. If you find there is a mismatch between the two and you need to preserve as much of the image as possible, my suggestion is to try  selecting a different print size, one which preserves as much of the image as possible.

Category: An Artist's Guide to Digital Printing
Created: Monday, July 25, 2011, Last Updated: Monday, July 25, 2011


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About James Theopistos Aside from being an enthusaistic promoter of the visual arts field as it relates to individual artists' success, he also serves as the acting Chief Development Officer for, an online color print lab for artists and photographers.
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