Guest blogger Andy Derrick explains the basics of digital images, and why they matter.
In the first article of this series, I talked about the power of a high-quality digital portfolio and how to start building one. A high-quality portfolio gives you access to hundreds of opportunities to promote your artwork that you wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s your foot in the door.
Once artists get their digital images, the next struggle is understanding and managing their images. All the technical terms and concepts can be overwhelming to the average artist who hasn’t been educated in the digital realm. In this article, I’ll break down the basics to exactly what the average artist needs to know in order to get the most from their digital portfolio without pulling out their hair in the process.
There are many different types of digital image files, but hands down the two most important for an artist to know and understand are JPEG and TIFF.
*Basic tip: Most of you probably know this, but for those that don’t— you can identify the file type by the ending appended to the name of a digital file when saved or downloaded. Examples of a JPEG and TIFF file name:
BlueSkyPainting.jpeg OR BlueSkyPainting.jpg
JPEG is the most popular format of image and what you’ll want to use for nearly all online uses. You’ll use JPEGs for promoting on a website, 3rd party sales site, social media and sharing through email. You’ll often use JPEG files when submitting to calls for art, as well (just make sure to read what the prospectus calls for.)
Why use JPEGs for online use?
JPEG files are excellent for online use because they can be compressed to reduce the size of the file.
File size is communicated in terms of kilobytes (KB) and megabytes (MB).
1 KB= 1,024 bytes
1 MB= 1,024 kilobytes
Don’t worry about memorizing those numbers— it’s just important to understand the relationship. The more kilobytes or megabytes, the more data a file contains and thus the larger the file.
Why does this matter online?
The size of a file dramatically impacts load times. So, if you have massive image files on your website, it will take a very long time for a webpage to load when a visitor is viewing your site. The ideal size for online use is anywhere from 200 KB to 500 KB. This will ensure images load quickly, leading to a much better experience for website visitors.
You also don’t want to share larger image files online because larger files can be used for reproduction. Essentially, if you share a large image file online, someone could download that image and use it to make prints without your permission. If you use the proper file size for web use, you have nothing to fear as they are not high-quality enough to create reproduction prints.
One more note on JPEG files
JPEGs are “lossy” file types, which simply means they lose quality and become more pixelated the more you open, edit, and re-save them. If you’re only re-saving them a few times then it’s nothing to worry about, but it’s something to keep in mind as you use the same JPEG image over a long period of time.
TIFF is nearly always the file format you’ll use for making reproduction prints. They differ from JPEG and other file types in significant ways that make them ideal for print and publication.
Why use TIFFs for reproduction prints?
TIFF files are significantly larger than JPEGs— again, this means they contain much more data and therefore are a higher quality version of the image. For online use, the smaller JPEG is able to adequately display an artwork on a computer screen, however they would be very pixelated and fuzzy if used for prints. On the other hand, a high quality TIFF file is perfect for reproducing your original artwork as a print.
Unlike JPEGs, TIFF files can be compressed without losing any quality, again making them perfect for printing.
You never want to use TIFF files online, because 1) they’ll take forever to load on a webpage and 2) they can be downloaded and used to reproduce your art without your permission.
The basics of image resolution
Digital images are made up of small squares called pixels. A common resolution term you’ll run into is ppi (pixels per inch), which refers to the number of pixel squares per inch of a photo when being viewed on a computer screen. The higher the ppi, the higher the resolution of a digital image— meaning it will have more clarity.
Image resolution is also communicated in terms of pixel width x pixel height. Each of the photos below are of the same image with different resolution. Notice how the image becomes more clear and less pixelated as the resolution increases.
9 pixels in width x 6 pixels in height
74 pixels in width x 48 pixels in height
940 pixels in width x 627 pixels in height
PPI for submission to art shows
Its common for gallery submission requirements to include a certain amount of pixels on the longest side. For example, they may require 1920 pixels on the longest side. This means your image should have 1920 pixel squares on the side of the image that is longest, whether that’s width or height for the particular image.
DPI for printing
Similar to ppi being pixels per inch on a digital screen, dpi (dots per inch) is used by printers to refer to the number of dots of ink per inch on a canvas, shirt, or other printed product. Digital images typically need to be between 200-300 dpi to make quality prints.
It’s important to understand these concepts so you can identify what capabilities your digital images give you. Can they be used for printing? For gallery submissions? For online sales? If not, you can use the above information and the first article in this series to make upgrades to your digital portfolio (we’ve built ArtSquare Portfolios to help artists with these exact issues— click through this link to sign up and get a free month from ArtsyShark on our “Emerging” portfolio plan).
Once you have professional quality images of your artwork and a basic understanding of the information above, you’re set to start taking advantage of all the online opportunities to connect with a global audience. In the third and final part of this series, I’ll dive into some of the actual strategies you can use to build an online presence and leverage your digital portfolio to sell more art— so stay tuned for that!
In the meantime, feel free to ask any questions in the comment section and I’d be happy to help in any way I can!”
Andy Derrick is the Head of Artist Community at ArtSquare. ArtSquare is a service helping artists get high-res images and they’ve created their portfolio service to make it easier for artists to manage their digital portfolio and take advantage of new opportunities for their art.