Today’s Question: I’m looking for information about the best way to enlarge digital files for printing. While I have an Epson 3880, I can “only” print on 17” x 22” paper, which is usually good enough but I’m looking at a couple of images for larger printing, hence my questions.
I have Photoshop CS6, Lightroom 5, and onOne software’s Perfect Photo Suite Premium 7.5, with its Perfect Resize application. My camera is the Nikon D800.
Which of these do you prefer, or is there another program that’s better?
Tim’s Answer: First off, I’ll point out that even though you’re “only” able to print at 17″x22″ with your current printer, your camera provides tremendous resolution that translates into very little enlargement required for that size. Specifically, the Nikon D800 features a native capture size of 7360×4912 pixels. Printing at 360 pixel per inch (ppi) resolution for a photo inkjet printer, you have a native output size of just over 13″x20″. So you’re starting with a relatively large image size to begin with.
In situations where you want to print large, you’ll naturally need to enlarge the image. My general rule of thumb is that an image of high quality can be printed a double the width and height (four times the area) of the native capture. In your case that means you can very comfortably achieve output sizes of around 26″x40″. And, of course, if the viewer will not be examining the print too closely, considerably larger printed output is possible as well.
When it comes to actually performing the enlargement, these days I’d have to say that the differences between different approaches have gotten to be rather minimal. What that means is that all of the various software tools have gotten so good that any of them are really more than adequate. Photoshop has improved perhaps the most recently, to the point that I would probably give it a slight edge over the other options. Perfect Resize from onOne Software is excellent, and in some cases will even perform better than Photoshop. Your results will vary with different images, and frankly it can be very difficult to evaluate the differences among the different software because they are generally quite subtle. I generally find Lightroom doesn’t perform as well as Photoshop or Perfect Resize when making significant enlargements.
Within Photoshop I prefer the Bicubic Smoother option in the Image Size dialog (Image > Image Size) for significant enlargements. You can also leave the option set to Bicubic Automatic, and Photoshop will make a determination of the best algorithm based on the extent to which you’re resizing the image.
Tim Grey publishes the free Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter (www.asktimgrey.com), where he answers questions from photographers on a wide range of subjects. He also publishes the Pixology electronic monthly magazine (www.pixologymag.com), produces a wide variety of video training courses, and speaks at events around the world.