Tag Archives: image processing

Printing Digital Images – matching image and print sizes

Sizing your Photographic prints from digital images

Ever lost part of an image when you had prints made?  Wondered why?

One of the challenges you may face when printing digital images is getting the right size print from the original image file.  Many (most?) digital cameras have an image sensor that captures images at a 2:3 ratio.  What this means is that one side of the RAW image is typically 1.5 times the other side.  How does this impact prints?  If you want a 4×6 print (or some even multiple of the 2:3 ratio like 8×12, 16×24, etc.) then you will get a ‘full frame’ image.  If you want an 8×10 print then some cropping will occur (you will have to discard ~17% of the original image, usually from the top and bottom and/or sides.)

The photographic film print business relied on standard sized prints for years (and most of us are already accustomed to these print & frame sizes) but the arrival of digital images is both creating new print sizes as well as bringing some possible confusion into the mix.  Since most prints are destined for framing (esp. larger prints) then it makes some sense to simplify the matching of print to frame by using standard sizes for both images and frame mats.  Some terms:

  • Full frame image:  all of the image data is used
  • Cropped image: only parts of the image data is used
  • Print image size: what are the actual dimensions of the printed image vs the dimensions of the paper on which the image is printed; sometimes these are the same

Standard frame sizes usually include standard mat openings – when you print then you need to consider the size of the opening (unless you intend to cut a custom mat for each print – lots of work.)  It is simpler to use standard sized prints for standard sized mat openings.  In general you should subtract .5″ from each side of the print size to reach a mat size that will cover your print & paper size.  Note that by including/adding an empty border to your print you have additional control/options for the size of the image.

Pre-cut Mat

Mat Opening

Size of Print Area

Print Paper Size **

















** Print paper sizes will vary for custom prints; print paper size for commercial prints is usually the same as the print size, i.e. the image size of a full-frame 4×6 print is 4×6.  It is common to print with large borders on ink-jet papers, i.e. an 8×10 image on 11×14 paper would have 1.5″ left and right borders with 2″ top and bottom borders.  For large prints this allows space for an artist signature or other print-related information.

My solution when printing from Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is to increase the print size by 0.15″ based on the mat window opening.  So if the frame label in the store has a description like, ” 8 x 10 frame matted to 5 x 7″ I will:

  • start by cropping my original image to closely match my  destination print size, i.e. crop to 5×7 when printing 5×7, crop to 8×10 when printing 8×10, etc.)
  • size my print image layout to 5.15 x 7.15″ (or 8.15 x 10.15 when printing an 8×10)
  • select the ‘zoom to fill’ option (you will only ‘lose’ a very small portion of your image)
  • print on 8.5×11 photo paper
  • after printing, I will remove (cut) 0.25″ from each side of the print as well as removing 0.50″ from the top and bottom (make the print fit into the 8×10 frame.)
Image Print-SIZE & Matt Opening
Pre-cut Mat Mat Opening Size of Print Area Print Paper Size **
8×10 5×7 5.15 x 7.15 8.5×11
11×14 8×10 8.15 x 10.15 8.5×11
12×16 8×12 8.15 x 12.15 11×14
16×20 11×14 11.15 x 14.15 13×19

How does print size impact Image Capture & Editing?

As a photographer I consider the possible cropping scenarios when I capture images.  When working with a group I may add a fudge factor when framing the image in the camera (i.e. allow some space on the sides of the image so that a standard sized print can be easily cropped from the image.)  When I am preparing images for delivery to clients I may also crop the the images to standard sizes (i.e. creating full-frame image sizes of 5×7 or 8×10.)