I run a site where multiple photographers upload and sell their photos to my users. Some of them just want to buy a JPEG, some of them want to buy a JPEG to print.

You and I both know that a 6000x4000 72dpi file is essentially "identical" to a 6000x4000 300dpi file, but

a) users don't always b) more importantly, some online printers don't seem to.

I've come across more than one printer who requires photos to be 300dpi, even though simply changing a file's dpi metadata makes no difference to the image data.

If I were to set the dpi EXIF of all photos bought on the site would I end these headaches for people?

Would it cause any problems anywhere else? Do some computers/phones/softwares treat 300dpi images on a screen differently to the "standard" 72dpi image on a screen?

I don't believe there SHOULD be any problem with doing this... but I wanted to tap into the collective knowledge here to double check.



1 Answer 1


You understand the situation (that dpi number does not affect the pixels), and in this situation (before considering actually printing the image), always setting 300 dpi is a good politically correct action that will please those that don't understand what it means (or doesn't mean). Digital image size is specified by dimensions in pixels, not by inches.

Video screen applications (computer monitors, phones, TV, etc) pay no attention at all to the dpi number, since inches have no meaning to video systems. Because video screens are dimensioned in pixels, and they show pixels, and inches are of no concern.

Photo paper is dimensioned in inches, but if you send the image to a print shop and specify 8x10 inches, they will print it 8x10 inches, and will compute their own necessary dpi number to do it. They will necessarily ignore any dpi number it already says. They do what they have to do.

The 300 dpi number will only be used by users clicking the Print menu at home WITHOUT doing any other size altering decisions. But everyone knows we have to instead make it fit the paper.

The shops and editors that demand "300 dpi" (without specifying print size to determine necessary pixels) are just trying to poorly say they want lots of pixels, possibly as explaining to users that don't know what dpi means anyway. They should be smarter, and explain the actual requirements.

Assuming a 6000x4000 pixel image, then 300 dpi simply means it will say 20x13.3 inches. Meaning, it is a large image. Conveys something different than if it said 3x2 inches. But we all know we will have to make it fit the paper. We have to know the paper size to do that.

dpi in images is an arbitrary number, normally always ignored, but 300 dpi is as good a number as any. 300 dpi is less likely to confuse those that don't know it does not mean anything yet.

Setting dpi is quite important to scanners, to determine the resolution of the area they scan.

But digital camera sensors are each a fixed resolution, and cameras originally did not put the dpi number into their images, because they knew dpi has no meaning until we decide the size we wish to print. But Adobe (Photoshop) has the notion to show missing or blank dpi numbers by instead making up and showing a false 72 dpi number (monitor screens used to be near 72 dpi resolution, back in the day). But camera sensors became much larger, and this false 72 dpi override caused the print size to show a few feet size, instead of just letting it be blank or unknown. So in defense, cameras had to start including a dpi number, maybe 180 or 240 dpi, arbitrary, but more than 72 dpi, so that Adobe would not show a ridiculous default print size of a few feet. That tends to make us think the dpi number has some meaning, but of course, it does not (not until we actually print it, when of course, we then do what we have to do, which today often involves resampling smaller).

  • \$\begingroup\$ So, in summary, you support my plan to mark all emailed-out files as 300dpi? :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Codemonkey
    Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 18:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the last part is wrong. EXIF specifications mentions a specific DPI as the value to be put in by the camera. \$\endgroup\$
    – TomTom
    Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 20:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, sure, I said it was good to mark them all as 300 dpi (whatever that might be interpreted to mean). \$\endgroup\$
    – WayneF
    Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 1:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Video screen applications ... pay no attention at all to the dpi number." While most don't, a number of development environments now do (or can) account for hi-res screens such as the Mac Retina displays. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 9:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Video screen software (Retina displays, etc) responds to screen dimensions in pixels, but no video software attempts to show a 2000 pixel image that is marked 250 dpi to be 2000/250 = 8 inches size. \$\endgroup\$
    – WayneF
    Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 15:39

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