These two acronyms are often used interchangeably although they do have different meanings.
This guide will use only PPI (Pixels Per Inch) to describe resolution.
Image editing programs like Adobe Photoshop can give you resolution information and allow you to change the resolution of an image. One would change the resolution of an image particularly for printing purposes, because the quality of the print is dependent on the resolution of the image.
1. With Photoshop open, go to File > Open and select your image.
Tip: You may right-click and save the tiger image below to use it as a practice image.
2. Go to Image > Image Size
3. An Image Size dialog box will appear like the one pictured below.
(Image Caption: Image Size dialog box.)
4. To change only the resolution, uncheck the Resample Image box.
This lets Photoshop know that we do not want to add or subtract any pixels to the photo. Adding and subtracting pixels is what happens when we resize images (to enlarge or shrink them). To change resolution we are NOT changing the number of pixels in the photo, but changing only how many of those pixels will be displayed per inch. This will become clearer as we continue to alter our image's resolution.
5. In the Resolution field, type in your desired resolution.
You will notice that when you type a value into the Resolution field, the values of the document's width and height also change.
6. Click OK to accept the changes.
Congratulations! You have successfully changed the resolution of an image!
In this example, we had an image with a 300ppi resolution. I wanted to print this image in a professional publication and the image needed to be at least 600ppi. The Pixel Dimensions have stayed the same because we did not add or subtract any pixels to the image. However, note that the Document Width and Height decreased by half when the Resolution doubled. Our image started at 10" x 6.667" at 300ppi and became 5" x 3.333" at 600ppi. This means that in order to print at 600ppi and retain full-quality, I can print this image only as large as 5" x 3.33".
What happens if we decrease our resolution from 300ppi to 150ppi?
As you may have guessed, our Document Width and Height doubled when we halved our Resolution. We started with a 10" x 6.667" at 300ppi and went to a 20" x 13.333" at 150ppi image. Now my image will print larger, but the quality will be much lower.
What does it all mean?
It's a game of give and take!
We notice that the pixel dimensions never change. We started with an image at 3000 x 2000 pixels (px) and ended with the dimensions still being 3000 x 2000px. This is important to remember, because when we change resolution we are changing only how many pixels will be displayed per inch of the image, not how many pixels make up the image.
Imagine you and a friend each having a bucket full of 5000 seeds to plant in a field. You must use all 5000 of your seeds by planting them in 1 inch squares in a field. Now imagine that you are allowed to plant only 150 of your seeds per inch and your friend is allowed to plant 300 seeds per inch. Both of you have the same number of seeds, but it will take you twice as much surface area in the field to plant all of your seeds.
Here's the math to make it more clear:
Sample Image is 3000 x 2000 px
600ppi: 3000 pixels / 600 pixels per inch = 5 inches
2000 pixels / 600 pixels per inch = 3.33 inches
300ppi: 3000 pixels / 300 pixels per inch = 10 inches
2000 pixels / 300 pixels per inch = 6.667 inches
150ppi: 3000 pixels / 150 pixels per inch = 20 inches
2000 pixels / 150 pixels per inch = 13.33 inches
72ppi: 3000 pixels / 72 pixels per inch = 41.67 inches
2000 pixels / 72 pixels per inch = 27.78 inches
In this example, our image has been sent to print from a laser printer on standard 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper.
72ppi: The document size is so large that it cannot fit onto an 8.5 x 11 sheet and is clipped. The print quality is extremely low, leaving the image looking very blurry or "soft".
150ppi: The document size is still too large for the 8.5 x 11 sheet and the quality is mediocre and makes the image look acceptable, but isn't very desirable.
300ppi: The image almost fills up the entire sheet of paper and the print quality is very good with crisp, sharp details.
600ppi: The image is substantially smaller than the other files, but the quality is extremely high.
Which one to choose? The 72ppi and 150ppi images are too low of quality to produce a high-quality print, so they're out. The 300ppi and 600ppi images both looked very crisp, but the 600ppi image was way too small. For this example, the 300ppi image would work best because of it's larger print size and high quality.
The key to printing images is to find the best resolution that will produce both the size and quality you need.
Web images work differently than printed images. With printed images, we must pay close attention to resolution to ensure we get a high-quality print.
For web images, we must focus on the pixel dimensions. Look at the two images below - one is 300ppi and the other is 72ppi.
(Pixel Dimensions 300 x 200; Resolution 300ppi)
(Pixel Dimensions 300 x 200; Resolution 72ppi)
Both of these images display at the exact same size even though their resolution varies. This is because the pixel dimensions are what really matter when working with web images. Notice that the pixel dimensions of each image are the same and therefore both images will display at the same size even though they have differing resolutions.