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good canvas size for digital art

Quality Display: What Is A Good Canvas Size For Digital Art?

Choosing a good canvas size for digital art is far more complicated than picking out a canvas size for a traditional painting.

Moreover, it comes with additional points to consider than simply how much space you want.

An image that appears just fine on your device’s screen may not come out well when printed out.

Yet, we’re not even talking about compression loss, formatting, or non-responsive website layouts here,

We’re just talking about plain image sizing and clarity!

Having too low resolution can affect your image immensely.

It ends up with jagged-edged or what some people call “pixelated.”

That is, it lacks the sharpness and clarity we’ve come to consider the best digital image quality.

With that said, there are also downsides to a canvas size that is too large.

You could end up with a distorted image.

These are the considerations you need to keep in mind for digital prints.

Why Do You Need To Worry About Canvas Size?

Professional digital artists may often be given specific resolutions by a client, such as when designing art to be integrated into a game.

This is certainly not always the case.

What if you’re new to digital art, trying it as a hobby, or trying to hone your skills in general? 

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the meta of what you “should” be doing as an artist and the variety of configurable options available on image editors like Photoshop.

But, if your current goal is to learn, improve, create art recreationally, or display your present creations, you might find fixation on the finer details to be tangential to your actual goals. 

After all, analysis paralysis is a real thing.

It’s understandable when you’re new to art.

Having to fuss with the configuration details when working on or preparing to get something printed may sometimes feel like far too much effort if your aim is not to showcase your artwork.

You might just be wanting to “Get The Thing Done”.

Ultimately, think about what your specific goals are when it comes to choosing a canvas size.

So in terms of how much you need to worry about canvas size, ask yourself these questions: 

  • How much does canvas size actually matter?
  • How much do I need to worry about this for my own purposes?

The answer to these questions is, predictably, “it varies”. 

First, you will need to think about exactly where you will use your art and how (through what medium) it will be displayed or accessed.

Factors For Consideration

  • Are you publishing your image to a website?
  • Are you planning to print your art?
  • What medium are you printing it onto?
  • Are you printing continuous tone images, such as photographs, or are you printing bitonal images such as line art? 

To better answer the questions, we first need to understand how exactly terms, like “resolution”, “canvas size” and “pixel density” come into play.

While you likely have a general sense of these terms, it is important to properly understand what exactly canvas size is.

We should know the terminology surrounding this notion and what exactly the effects are of changing it.

This clarification is essential.

As the terms surrounding image sizing and quality are very frequently misused.

The words used to figure out your desired digital canvas size can be somewhat confusing, specifically researching the ideal canvas size for your own artistic needs.

You may have likely spotted multiple articles or comments on Reddit using the term canvas size interchangeably with [image] resolution or image size.

You have also likely seen how frequently the terms DPI and PPI commonly refer to the same thing (they are not), and a quick google search shows frequent mistake occurrences of both of these terms for resolution.

Be aware of the frequencies of these misuses.

As they can and do frequently cause a fair amount of miscommunication!

What Are Canvas Size, Image Size, And Resolution?

Resolution is the length and width of an image or display measured in the number of pixels.

For this article, we use it to refer to image resolution.

For example, your screen’s resolution might be 1920×1080 or full HD (FHD). 

In this article, however, we use the term resolution, unless otherwise specified, referring to images’ resolution.

Image size is often erroneously used interchangeably with the term “resolution”.

Although technically, it refers to the pixel’s actual number, the length in pixels multiplied by the width.

Canvas size is the canvas’s resolution in the number of pixels, which you will often configure upon starting your project.

The difference here is that you generally want your image to be the same size or smaller than your canvas size.

So if you have a smaller canvas size than the image size, you end up avoid cropping out part of your image.

A larger canvas size, allowing for whitespace around your image, maybe useful when fitting a frame.

Or simply when you do not want your image to extend across the whole page.

Aside from this distinction here, we will be referring to resolution and image size interchangeably.

And in this example, for simplicity’s sake, having the canvas size of our hypothetical image utilizes the image size and resolution.

These two are treated as a single entity once your editing is complete and you wish to export the image as a finished product. 

But it is essential to keep in mind that the two may also be of different sizes. 

How PPI And DPI Relate To Resolution?

As we have mentioned, resolution is often confused for PPI and DPI, although this is not correct.

Resolution, as we’ve discussed, refers to the actual length and width of the image.

Whereas PPI and DPI refer to density

The relationship between these will become clear in a moment as we break down what specifically these two concepts are and how they also differ from each other.

Pixels per inch (PPI), also known as Pixel density, is the number of pixels within one inch on display.

A higher PPI means a denser distribution of pixels per inch of the display.

DPI when printing, you will want to consider the dots per inch, i.e., DPI. 

As mentioned previously, these two terms are often erroneously used interchangeably.

However, DPI is more generally refers to the dots in a printed image.

On the other hand, PPI refers to the pixels in a digital screen. 

Thus, in this article, we refer to printed “pixels” as dots.

And we will be using DPI to refer to the dot density of a printed image.

Finally, PPI refers to the pixel density/PPI on a digital screen.

high-resolution means that you can print or display higher quality and clarity (determined by the PPI/DPI).

This means that if you have a sufficiently high-resolution image on a lower resolution device (like your average laptop screen), that image will display clearly and of enough high-quality on a higher PPI/DPI screen or printed medium.

Your screen’s resolution will generally have a lower native PPI than that of an industry-standard printed image.

This is why you’re more likely to detect the pixels on your on-screen image than the printed one, as the former will be further apart.

Industry Standards And Constraints

When it comes to printing, it is industry-standard to use 300 DPI.

Therefore, your image export will have to account for that.

Having an appropriately high-resolution print at a specific size and quality can be significant.

You should also consider the resolution of an image of a digital medium.

The pixel density of either the screens displaying it or how it will display once printed, or both, depends on how the image will be utilized.

Screens will also have different native resolutions despite the myth that they are all 72 PPI that was never universal and haven’t been since the 80s.

Ideally, you would want this resolution set at the beginning and potentially scale down rather than attempting to upscale.

Which more often will decrease the image quality as there is less resolution detail to work with. 

While high-resolution might be touted as important in general, particularly with screens becoming ever sharper, you might find that you’re just fine with something visible but not ultra-defined for your purposes.

As a result, you can also find a convenient guide of standard digital canvas sizes for multiple purposes to keep in mind.

Namely, from the common social media platforms if you wish to display your art, to recommendations for web and device resolutions, to various poster sizes.

Having read this, if you are new to digital art, particularly to the printing of digital art, you might work with a larger canvas and image size rather than all this bother.

Wouldn’t it just make way more sense to play it safe?

Is Bigger Always Better? 

It turns out there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing” even in image clarity.

Rendering a high-resolution image can be very performance-intensive on your computer.

It requires far more powerful (and in some cases expensive) hardware to prevent your whole artistic experience from becoming immensely frustrating and laggy.

If you are working on a device with its own screen rather than doing your processing on a computer, there would be some challenges to your hardware constraints.

So, you want to be sure of what sizing constraints you require in your art and which are unnecessary for your purposes before you fork out your hard-earned cash on an expensive new device or, in some cases, even a new laptop.

As a result, it’s worthwhile to consider not making your canvas unnecessarily big.

Moreover, it can cause your device or computer to reduce its processing down to an agonizingly slow crawl.

The human eye can only detect so much detail.

In fact, unnecessarily high-resolution can slow down your performance and potentially causing immensely frustrating experiences of lagging line drawing, performance-intensive computer lag, and potentially even the risk of crashing your image editing software or even your whole computer.

As a result, you want to be sure that additional strain on your system if it’s essential.

Furthermore, unnecessarily large images on the web will drastically slow down the browsing experience.

So you might need to consider this if your images are destined primarily for web consumption and not (or not exclusively) for print.

If destined for both, then you definitely want to ensure that the web image is of the quality you want to export.

Other Constraints With Digital Media Sizing

Firstly, printed media has cited 300 PPI as the “industry standard”.

This number does vary other factors besides surface area, and the texture or type of medium will also make a difference.

For example, the image itself may also play a role.  

Bitonal images such as line drawings, photocopies, and sometimes handwriting often require a far higher pixel density of 12000ppi to preserve the necessary clarity when printed. 

Publishers and printing houses also often have guides or can advise on the requirements for different printing types.

Another thing to look out for that may throw a curveball on all your careful calculations (or even ballpark estimate) is compression.

Some file types will automatically compress your image, rendering your careful planning all for nothing.

So be careful what file format you save in.

For example, saving a file as a JPEG will compress it upon saving, losing some original image quality.

Saving multiple times on the same file will thus significantly degrade your original image over time.

Finally, in the worst-case scenario, where you have an existing image with a smaller resolution than you require, all is not lost.

Photoshop does have some ways to upscale an image and recover some of that quality through interpolation.

Although this is more of a salvaging situation, your results in terms of image quality recovery may vary.

Ideally, you would want to have the resolution set correctly, to begin with.

While they can make up some of the quality, resizing technologies still have their pros and cons.

Somehow, very often, those that interpolate resolution still lose some image quality.

That is why you’ll have pixels, but you’ll also have a loss of clarity at scale.

Final Thoughts

Make sure you know the DPI of your target medium, if printed or digital, the PPI and native resolution of the devices your image will be displayed on.

Determining the minimum resolution is significant to the medium of printed image display.

By contrast, your editing devices and PC’s performance, whether the images require optimization for the web, will be limiting factors.

The factors can be severe if not impossible to work with.

As a result, you will seldom want your image to be larger than the maximum standard sizes for the mediums on which it will be displayed or printed.

Image editors do have ways to upscale an image and gain some quality through interpolation.

However, these don’t yield sure results always.

Therefore, it is more reliable and generally preferred to have the resolution set correctly from the beginning. 

A good canvas size for digital art can help you create the right outcome you always want.

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