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Taking Digital Images of Art for Print or Web

Medinilla magnificaforblogDetail “Luminous Rain” by O.M.Braida©2013

“Those who are most comfortable with technology, by and large,
 are more likely to get noticed in the artistic world.”
by Colortrac June 4, 2013

Dear Friends:

Almost all galleries look at digital images, they do not look at actual artwork. The images are the only thing that you have to represent your work.  Below is a discussion about guidelines, terminology, scanners, cameras, and how-to videos.  Even if you hire a professional to capture your art digitally, it is good to understand the terminology.  This all gets rather complicated, so I am referring you to several sources who are experts in this category.  I’ve touched on the perimeter of this subject so that you will at least be familiar with the basic concepts.

Here are some four simple guidelines for how the finished digital image should appear to gallery owners:
1) Proper representation of actual color. This is of particular importance when representing plant species.  In the case of the London Horticultural Society Art Contests, the color of the art must match their color guidelines.

2) Proper exposure (not too dark or too light)

3) Artwork must be lined up so square or rectangular artwork remains square or rectangular in the image. (This has a lot to do with how you shoot the image. See #2 video below about tilting the camera.)

4) The background behind the artwork should be cropped out.  Especially important for botanical art that is situated on a white background.  Photography will gray the paper. It takes skill to remove this background using Photoshop.  Again, if you don’t know how to do this, then use a professional. But at the very least you need to understand what needs to be done.

 It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain
an idea without necessarily accepting it.  -Aristotle

Understanding Some Terminology:


In information technology, “lossy” compression is a data encoding method that compresses data by discarding (losing) some of it. The procedure aims to minimize the amount of data that needs to be held, handled, and/or transmitted by a computer. Digital images can appear beautiful to the eye and still be very “lossy” in their actual content. “Lossy” means that the image is saved in a format that is stripped of a major amount of content. The popular JPEG and GIF image formats are known as “lossy” formats because it is easy to decrease the substance of images down to the smallest possible size that still “appears” satisfactory. Images in these formats can appear substantially attractive to the human eye and still have a lot of their image information stripped out of them. This is done so that their file size is smaller and they load on web pages quickly.

A note here about TIFF and JPEG files.  Always save your files as TIFF.  From the TIFF file you make JPEG files or other files.  Every time you open a JPEG file it looses some of its pixels as stated above.  So always make changes and copies with the TIFF file and then save a new JPEG file.  Hence, a multi-megabyte file can be used at full size to produce a large print image, and a small kilobyte JPEG or GIF lossy copy can be made for a small image on a web page.

Why is this soooo important?  Well, if you intend to enlarge a section of your image and enlarge it for the purpose of displaying it on the web, then you best be sure to first create a large file of the “image detail” with high resolution (loads of megabytes) before your reduce it to 72 or 89 kilobytes for the web.  Otherwise, to enlarge a portion of a small kilobyte file so it will be blown up on screen will cause it to appear fuzzy, distorted, and generally hard to read.

So when we speak of formats, file sizes and resolution, here’s what we are talking about….


Megapixels measure the size of digital images, senors, and displays.  Digital images are made up of thousands of tiny, block-like elements called pixels. Computers display pictures because the screen is divided into millions of pixels arranged in rows and columns. A pixel is the smallest unit of an image and a screen element. Pixels do not have a fixed size since they depend on the dimension of the image. A file with 150 pixels-per-inch will have larger pixels than a file with 300 pixels-per-inch.  The greater number of pixels-per-inch (PPI), the clearer the image or resolution. Thus an image that is referred to as having “high resolution,” will have a greater number of pixels-per-inch than one that is referred to as having “low resolution.”  So, the term “resolution” refers to the amount of information contained in the image, or the number of pixels.  Therefore, the more pixels, the clearer the image will appear in print.  Also, the more pixels, the more space on your hard-drive or memory stick. It will show up larger on your monitor and when you print it. Megapixel refers to one million pixels. In digital cameras this indicates resolution capability. Thus the higher the number on the camera 4, 7, 10, 12, 17 indicates the number of image sensor elements.  This is especially important for macro shots often needed in botanical field work.


In computer graphics and digital photography, to “pixelate” or “pixilate” will cause an image to break up into pixels, as by over enlarging the image as discussed above. Therefore, when enlarging a photograph, first increase the resolution to avoid pixelating it. A pixelated image will blur and create unclear, pixel-like patches. This is often a technique used for purposes of censorship or to maintain the anonymity of the subject as in the police photos of suspects taken into custody.  But you don’t want this to happen to artwork displayed on your website.

“KiloBytes, MegaBytes, GigaBytes”

Bytes measure the size of digital files (such as photos, documents, etc.). Computer storage and memory are measured in units called kilobytes (KB) and megabytes (MB) and gigabytes(GB).  These units measure the amount of information, or data, stored on these devices and contained in digital files.  1KB = 1000 bytes; 1MB = 1,000 kilobytes; 1GB = 1,000 megabytes.

“Resolution & Spatial Resolution”

Resolution is the capability of sensor to observe or measure the smallest object clearly with distinct boundaries. Image resolution is the detail an image holds. The term applies to raster digital images, film images, and other types of images. Higher resolution means more image detail which may or may not mean more pixels. This is because there is something called “Spatial Resolution” which determines clarity.  Generally speaking, the more megapixels a digital image contains, the more megabytes (MB) it will consume on your hard drive.  File formats (JPEG, TIFF, etc) will also affect the size.

“…Screen (monitor, IPads, phones) have a display resolution.  It used to be 72ppi was the

resolution of a monitor. So any image you looked at on screen, needed to have a 72ppi

(or photoshop’s dpi) of this… today it’s going up…89ppi and even higher”

Andre Ribuoli, Master Printer


Thanks also to Photocore for the information:

Thanks Alex for the information:

With regard to working with low resolution files, please also read this article:

As for Scanners –

If you are not going to work from a photo uploaded to a computer for printing, then the requisite hardware to import and upload your images is a good scanner.  For the purposes of digitizing paintings and other art work, it is crucial to make sure that you have a scanner large enough to handle the piece without reducing image quality or damaging the original.  Back in 1998 I had to ship my artwork to California because they had the large, flat bed scanners. Fortunately for me and many other New York artists, a large, flat bed scanner became available in the same building as the one my Giclee printer resided.  There are many good scanners that can be used for home use.  But it is best to purchase one that is on the low end of professional quality, and if too expensive then the high end of the home-office quality.

Very good results can also be obtained with professional standard flatbed scanning of your artwork, with the print shop’s scanner being calibrated for specific requirements.  Remember to scan your image at as high a resolution as possible – for best results you’ll want 300 dpi output, 350 or higher for fine detail.  If you intend to take portions of your image and enlarge it, then you will want to scan it even higher, perhaps 600dpi.  In any case, you need what is called a hi-resolution scan of your image in order for you to work with it in different outputs.

Re-sampling a lower resolution file doesn’t give good results. Re-sampling means making a small file at a low dpi and enlarging its size and dpi.  You need a high resolution scan to ensure all the detail in your drawing is captured. Digital photographs can be particularly problematic, rarely giving enough detail for successful printing, though some of the more sophisticated models – 5 megapixels and above, with high quality optics – may produce acceptable results. If you are confident in your photographic skills, with access to good quality studio equipment, you can certainly take your own photographs, but otherwise, its best left to the experts. Remember – the final image can only be as good as the source data that the printer has to work with.

According to artist, Sarah McCormick, she states in her blog that, “It took a lot of research to find out which (reasonably priced) scanner would be best for watercolor paintings. Generally, the Epson Perfection series received good reviews from artists, so with some trepidation, I ordered the Epson B11B198011 Perfection V600 Photo Scanner.” The V600 is priced at $229.99 and offers a high 6400 x 9600 dpi resolution.  I own the Epson Perfection 3200 which has worked brilliantly for me. It has been discontinued, however, and replaced with Epson Perfection V500 (Priced $349.99) and offers a very high Maximum Resolution: 12,800 x 12,800 dpi .  You can read about here  Now keep in mind that the scan area is only 8.5 x 11 which means your artwork would have to be scanned in sections and brought together in Photoshop.  If you are looking for a larger flatbed scanner, the Epson 10000XL is a high performance professional scanner for photographers and artists, but it sells for $1,500 if you can find it.

As for Cameras –

So now, if you are not going to scan your work, then you may want to photograph it.  In that case you are looking for a camera and a tripod.

To obtain a good image and a large image file that will make decent size print, you need to get a good camera. If you are a botanical artist, then you might as well be sure your camera has excellent macro lens capability. Most galleries today prefer to view work on a web site, or images on a CD.
According to Mark David, photographer, “If you want the best possible image quality, then a bigger sensor is more important than huge megapixel counts. That’s the main advantage digital SLRs have over almost all of the compact cameras. But sure, if you’re working on high-quality professional gigantic print jobs, or large framed prints, then 20 megapixels or more will be great. And you’ll know if that’s you.”

Read Mark David’s blog and learn more about megapixels. He gives you excellent information and shows what happens when your image is large enough for reproduction – either on the web or in print.

How To Videos that explain how to photograph your artwork and the tools you will need.
1. How to Photograph Your Own Artwork by Bellevue Fine Art Repro
2. How to Photograph Your Art Tyler Stalman
3. How to Photograph Your Artwork Digitally by Skye Taylor
4. How To Photograph Your Artwork for Reproduction by American Frame
5. Photographing Artwork by Missouri Valley College Professor Dan Gemkow
6. How to Photograph a Painting by Mark Carder

If creating quality reproductions is what you are after, then for best results have your artwork professionally scanned or photographed and printed.

As for recommendations, I have two:

In New York, New York:
Andre Ribuoli, Fine Art Master Printer, Ribuoli Digital, 526 West 26th Street Suite 1021, New York, NY 10001
646.418.4030 –

In Sarasota, Florida:
Miguel Figueras, Fine Art Master Printer, Artfinity, 7222 21st Street, Sarasota, FL 34243. 941-752-1873


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