A how-to guide from the Royal Irish Academy and Digital Charity Lab

1. Images for screen and print are two very different things

  • You may be used to taking screengrabs and dropping them into presentations or blog posts. However, when you’re finding images for printed materials, you have to use a different approach.
  • Why? Because screen and print are different mediums. Really different.
  • Images are made up of thousands of tiny specks of colour
  • Screens use square pixels, and print uses round dots
  • For screens, you only need 72 pixels per inch for an image to look ok
  • But paper requires much more: 300 dots per inch 
  • Dots per inch is known as DPI for short
  • If you take a 72 dpi image and print it, it will look blurry and terrible
  • There are various tools that will let you check the DPI of an image, including tools that are built into Windows and Apple operating systems
  • But generally – if an image file size is very small (i.e., significantly below 1 megabyte in size), the quality probably won’t be good enough for print

2. Sending and sharing image files

  • When you have your high quality image, you need to send it as a separate attachment
  • Never send the image by putting it into a Word document or embedding it in an email, because these programmes will massively reduce the quality of the image. Always send the image as a separate file.
  • If you only have it in a Word document, then it won’t be good enough for print and you’ll need to track down the original file
  • If your image file is huge, you can use a file sharing service to transfer it. WeTransfer.com and Dropbox are really useful for this.

3. Just because an image is on the internet, doesn’t mean you can use it

  • When it comes to finding images to use in your project, you have to get permission
  • Never just grab images off Google Image Search
  • There are lots of stock sites where you can find professional quality images, and many museums and archives have digitised their collections. Some of these are even free. 
  • Just check the permissions for each image. They can be complex. You might not be able to use the image in certain media, or there can be a time limit on the use.
  • Using images without permission can lead to fees, or even court cases
  • Google have an Advanced Image Search tool, where you can search for images that have Creative Commons licenses

4. How to choose photos that look great

  • Some free stock sites use photos from amateur photographers, and they can sometimes be poor quality
  • Photos need to be clear, have good composition and a definite subject
  • Avoid pictures with lots of background clutter
  • When finding photos for online use, landscape layout will work better than portrait for most websites

Digital Charity Lab has a guide to finding high quality stock images.

5. You don’t always need photos

  • Literal isn’t always best: just because you mention something, doesn’t mean you need a photo of it
  • Look at other ways to represent concepts visually
  • Icons can be very effective, and there’s lots of free and affordable ones from sites like The Noun Project and Flaticon

6. Sometimes less is more

  • Sometimes one large image can have more impact than a lot of smaller ones
  • Resist the temptation to fill all your white space
  • White space is important: it frames and highlights your content, gives it room to breathe, and makes it easier to read

7. How to manage logos

  • Don’t clutter designs with too many logos
  • The logo is not the message. Your audience does not respond to logos, they respond to content.
  • There are other ways to get a brand across visually: such as colours, typefaces, icons
  • If you have to display logos of partners and sponsors, give them a dedicated page where they all get some space. The ideal treatment is to use the black and white versions of each logo. This will make the page clearer and more elegant than using a lot of different brand colours that may clash.

Royal Irish Academy
Thanks to the Royal Irish Academy for collaborating on and funding this guide.