As a graphic designer, I cannot tell you how often clients come to me with small 72 DPI images that they want me to “enhance”.
I personally blame the CSI television show.
We all know the scene – a detective stands over the resident tech expert and simply asks them to enhance a pixelated image. The techie presses a button and magically, the image becomes crystal clear.
If this is the effect you’re hoping to achieve on your blurry image, I have some bad news for you – not everything you see on TV is real.
There is no magic button. And you can only “enhance” an image so much.
There’s no amount of Photoshopping that’s going to transform a tiny little 72-DPI image that you found on Facebook and turn it into a crystal clear poster-sized print.
However, if you’re image only needs a little help, there are a few steps that you can take.
In this article, I will be answering the following questions about DPI and picture clarity in Adobe Photoshop and share a few of my favorite tips on how to get the most out of your low-resolution photos.
- What does DPI mean in Photoshop?
- How do I check DPI in Photoshop?
- How to make an image 300 DPI in Photoshop?
- Why your image is still blurry
- The best way to improve the clarity of your image (9 steps)
I am also going to be speaking in layman’s terms throughout the article.
I remember what it was like when I was new to this industry. And I know how intimidating this technical stuff can feel.
My goal is for you to walk away from this article feeling both more knowledgeable and more confident when it comes to the topic of resolution because it’s an important subject to master. Especially if you’re considering a career as a graphic designer or professional photographer.
What does DPI mean in Photoshop?
It’s important before we get into the “how to” to understand the basics of DPI. Namely, what it means and how it works.
DPI stands for “Dots Per Inch”. It refers to the number of printed dots contained within one inch of a printed image.
PPI stands for “Pixels Per Inch” and similar to DPI, refers to the number of pixels contained within one inch of a digital image as displayed on a computer screen.
Do yourself a favor and memorize those two acronyms. They will come in handy.
Resolution is the number of pixels assigned to each inch. On-screen, for things like web graphics, it is measured in PPI. For print, it is measured in DPI.
Every image has a certain amount of dots and pixels. The more dots and pixels an image has, the higher the resolution. The fewer dots and pixels an image has, the lower the resolution.
For instance, 72 is a standard web resolution (low resolution), 300 is a standard resolution for high-quality printing (high resolution).
Most home printers can only output a max of 300 DPI but some professional printers can handle even higher DPIs (upwards of 1200 or more).
Think of it like a piece of mesh or a knit
A piece of mesh or knit features a finite number of wires or threads. When the mesh is stretched, the space between those wires and threads expands to the point where you can see through the gaps. When the mesh is contracted, the gaps close and the material becomes more opaque.
Stretching the mesh may make the piece of fabric larger in diameter, but it doesn’t add new wires or threads or improve the integrity of the material.
When we attempt to upscale an image in Photoshop simply by increasing the DPI, it’s like stretching out a piece of mesh and asking the computer to intuitively “fill in” the gaps. Sure, you easily can make the document size larger. But it’s not so easy to make the new, larger document clean and sharp.
And Photoshop is capable of filling in those gaps. However, with only so much original data to work with – similar to our finite number of threads – it often does a poor job of doing so, which is why images that have been artificially upscaled tend to look blurry, pixelated and grainy.
Sure, technically you’ve “enhanced” the resolution. But you’ve basically asked Photoshop to play a guessing game on the types of pixels it’s adding. And more often than not, you won’t be pleased with the result.
How do I check the DPI of an image in Photoshop?
You can check the DPI value of an image in Photoshop by launching the application, opening your file and going to Image from the top menu and choosing Image Size from the dropdown.
The Image Size screen will display the width and height of your image as well as the image resolution, or DPI of your image.
How to make an image 300 DPI in Photoshop?
Technically speaking, as mentioned above you can make an image 300 DPI by going to Image > Image Size and changing the default resolution to 300.
However – and if you skipped over my mesh metaphor earlier scroll back up and read through it – more often than not, your image is just going to look pixelated and grainy.
Why your image is still blurry after changing the DPI
As stated earlier, if you’re simply upscaling using Image > Image Size in Photoshop, your image will look pixelated because Photoshop is trying to “guess” what kind of new pixels and dots to add to your image.
And spoiler alert – it’s probably not going to do a good job.
The best way to improve the clarity of your image (9 steps)
Obviously, your absolute best option when dealing with low res images is to simply replace the image with something that’s not low-resolution, or shoot a new picture if it’s a photograph.
But when reshooting isn’t an option, you can try these steps to improve the quality of your image.
Disclaimer: This only tutorial works best with medium-resolution images that only need a bit of help. You can try it on lower quality images, however, the painful truth is that there is really very little that can be done if the original is too small or too low-res at the start. Also, some steps may vary slightly depending on your operating system and version of Photoshop. For context, I am using Photoshop 2023 on a Mac.
Here are the steps:
1. First, open your image and click on Photoshop > Preferences > Technology Previews from the top menu.
2. Next, make sure Enable Preserve Details 2.0 Upscale is checked. It may already be checked by default.
3. Return to the top menu and select Image > Image Size.
4. Using the Image Size Dialog Box, enter your desired image dimensions (I recommend only upscaling by no more than 30% for best results). Set the resolution of your image to 300. Check the Resample Image checkbox and choose Preserve Details 2.0 from the dropdown. Adjust Reduce Noise to taste. Click OK.
5. Duplicate your working layer in the Layers Panel (right click, Duplicate Layer).
6. Select your new duplicated layer. Return to the top menu and select Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.
7. Return to the top menu once again and select Filter > Other > High Pass.
8. Adjust the High Pass Radius until you can see faint fine lines on your new layer (less is more here).
9. Finally, return to your Layers Panel. Select the top layer (the High Pass layer). Change the Blend Mode from Normal to Overlay.
Voila – you should now have a slightly sharper image than before. Don’t forget to save your work. Export as a .JPEG or .TIFF for best results.
If you found this article helpful, let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to connect with me on social media.