Are you an artist or illustrator submitting artwork to greeting card companies? We get these requests, with artists wondering whether their style and our cards would be a good fit. The problem from our point of view is the huge file sizes of the images some artists send.
Avoid Large Email Attachments
Here’s a tip for artists and illustrators who want to put their work in front of a potential audience. Don’t email large images to a prospect. That’s because it’s not a good idea to fill up the recipient’s email space with many megabytes of email attachments. I don’t want my mailbox filled up with email attachments. And the only way to deal with it is to delete the emails. That is not good for the person sending the email who is hoping to establish a connection.
Kilobytes And Megabytes
Before I go into some solutions for reducing file sizes, a word about kilobytes (KB) and megabytes (GB). A megabyte is one thousand times the size of a kilobyte. The ‘byte’ refers to a quantity of information, and is a standard across all kinds of digital things.
The original RAW file of the sheep in this photograph is about 20MB. A JPEG saved full size with no compression is about 2.5MB. This image here is just 800pixels wide and it is arround 113KB. That’s about one twentieth of the full-resolution JPEG and about one one-hundred-and-eightieth of size of the original file.
It has smaller pixel dimensions that the original photograph that came out of the camera. That’s true. But then we don’t need a full-size image if we only have a computer screen to show it on. I really don’t need the full-size image if I am viewing it on a computer screen. Submitting artwork to greeting card companies at greater resolution gains nothing.
About ‘Lossy’ Compression
JPEGs are a lossy format. That means they compress the size of images by enabling the pixels to cleverly scan the pixels next them. And if they are the same hue, then to combine them when the file is saved.
I saved this 800×1200 pixel image at 45% compression. When I save at 45% rather than the no-compression 100%, the JPEG engine reads several pixels around each pixel. It is looking for similar colours and saves those as one bit of information. In other words, the more compression the less the resulting compressed image is faithful to the original. That’s why I rarely compress to lower than 40%.
We have established that if I am sending images by email I can send small images. However, there is a better way, and that is not to send the images at all. Just send me one or two small images so I can see your work. And tell me where I can see the rest if I am interested.
Get A Website For Submitting Artwork To Greeting Card Companies
One of the easiest ways to ‘park’ the images is to make a free website on WordPress Dot Com. Then upload the images there. Of course, the artist needs to know how make small versions of their images to upload to their website. If they have Photoshop they can use that to make small images for the web.
If you are in that position and you don’t have Photoshop or Lightroom, search Google for image-compression tools. One that I checked out and like is Image Optimizer. You can use it online or you can download the app. And you can choose the width of the finished image. that you want.
By the way, the Panting Ewe image is a heavily pregnant sheep. It is panting in measured breaths, waiting for labour to begin. She was one of about 50 ewes standing in a flock in a barn. They were all standing there patiently, looking as though they were coping with a rising tide of emotional upheaval. In fact it is not a coincidence that all the ewes were ready to give birth at the same time. In part it is down to sheep hormones. And you can read the story in the Product page for the Panting Ewe. Follow the link to the greeting card in which it is featured.
Uploading Images To A Website
I said above that I saved this photograph of a panting ewe as a 800×1200 pixel image at 45% compression. Let’s talk about that a bit more. I’ll use a website built on the WordPress platform as an example. But the rules are the same for any platform.
Let’s start with the complete frame of this photograph that I took at Masham Sheep Fair in 2009.
I used my Nikon D700 to capture this image of a Herdwick Ram. If you want to read about Herdwicks and how Beatrix Potter saved them, read this article Preserving The Herdwick Breed.
Millions Of Microlenses
The 12.1 million pixels in the Nikon D700 or the 16 million pixels in the Fuji are captured by that many million microlenses. The microlenses are laid out on a grid. And those microlenses and the wires that lead from the grid are more or less what makes up a camera sensor.
I think it is amazing that manufacturers can stick tens of millions of tiny lenses in a grid not much bigger than a thumb nail.
If I were to take a photograph to a printer and ask them to print it full size, they would print it at 300 dots per inch. Each dot is a squirt of ink or pigment that the printer sprays, lays, or fuses onto the paper.
There’s a reason for it being 300 dots per inch. When viewed from a ‘normal viewing distance’, an image printed at 300 dots per inch will look ‘continuous’ to the human eye.
At 300 dots to the inch, my photo of the Herdwick Ram will print at 4256/300 x 2,832/300 inches, which is 14.2 inches by 9.5 inches (360 x 240mm).
If I had taken the photo with my Fuji camera, then the print size would be 4896/300 x 3264/300 inches, which is 16 inches by 11 inches (400 x 260mm).
Definition Depends On The Viewing Distance
If I ask the printer to print bigger than that, it will work. But there will come a point when there are so few dots per square inch or square centimetre of paper that it starts to look blurry and lose definition.
You can imagine the kind of viewing distance at which someone might look at a photo that is 14.2 inches by 9.5 inches (360 x 240mm). If it was on the wall, the a comfortable viewing distance would be about three feet (one metre) away.
Let’s say, though, that I knew that the people looking at the photo would be standing much further back. For example, imagine they would be looking at the photo on the side of bus. And let’s suppose the print was twenty feet (6 metres) long. Then the printer could get away with printing at, say, 150 dots per inch or even fewer dots per inch instead of 300 dots per inch.
When you are close to a giant poster or to the side of a bus, you can see the individual dots. But from further away, your eye and brain rolls it all together sees one continuous image.
Artists And Their Daubs, Dots, and Splashes
When you think about it, that is the principle that any artist uses to paint a picture meant to represent something in the real world. Really, it is daubs, dots and splashes of paint. But from a distance it looks real. As we know, the Impressionists took the idea to the extreme, with large daubs that melded together from a distance.
Cézanne’s paintings are interesting viewed from a distance. Features that look flat take on a depth that transforms the paintings. And it’s all an illusion. I think Cézanne was pointing out that that is the way we see things, even in the real world. After all, if we were to use a microscope on our skin we would see it looks different to the way it looks to the naked eye.
Computer Screens Are Different
Computer screens are quite different. Each model has its own native resolution or pixel density.
72 dots per inch is usually taken as a good standard. And here is the crucial difference. Unlike with printing onto paper, you can’t cram or squirt more pixels onto the screen. The screen manufacturer might be able to when they build the screen, but you can’t.
The screen is built to a specification and you can’t make the pixel density higher. You can’t cram in extra pixels and make the image look denser. That means any ‘extra’ pixels are wasted. And each unneeded, extra pixel increases file size.
Uploading Images To A Website
Let’s think about file size and pixel size in the context of uploading images to a website. I’ll use a website built on the WordPress platform as an example, but the rules are the same for any platform.
One of the things you will know if you have a WordPress site is that you can specify the dimensions at which you want images to show.
Let’s say the media settings in the Admin panel in a WordPress site specify a pixel size of 900 pixels wide.
Uploading a full-size image of 4,256 x 2,832 pixels would not produce a ‘better looking’ image on the page because the extra pixels would not show.
And there would be a detrimental effect on the speed at which the site can load the images to present to the viewer. I will discuss how that works, in another article.
The idea though, is that you want to do is to create a small version of the original file at 900 pixels wide, and upload that. Submitting artwork to greeting card companies that way ensures the recipient will be happy – at least with the file size of the work.
When I said that the extra pixels wouldn’t show, that isn’t completely true. I can zoom in on my Mac laptop using Cmd+, but it is not something people normally do.
How To Create An Image 900 Pixels Wide
In Photoshop, I saved the image of the ram at 900 pixels wide using a setting that saves at an optimum size for the web. That is the image of the ram I uploaded here.
This is what I did to illustrate the difference between the full-size image and the web version. I took a crop 900 pixel wide of the full-size image of the ram. Then I made a 900 pixels crop of the small web version of the ram.
Let’s see what a crop of full size 4,256 x 2,832 pixels version of the ram looks like. And then a crop of the 900 pixels version.
Homing in on the detailed close-up and you start to see the image fall apart in the smaller file.
But this is the point. You don’t see the image falling apart when you look at the 900 pixel image you see above. So when submitting artwork to greeting card companies to look at on their screen, you don’t need to send a large image thousands of pixels wide. It’s just not necessary.
The Wonder Of JPEGs
So now the question is how to save a JPEG at a certain pixel size and a certain file size in kilobytes or megabytes.
The thing about JPEGs, and the reason they are so popular, is that they can pack an image into a small file size. They do this by recognising similar nearby colours and mapping them. Then they pack themselves up, including the instructions for how to unpack the colours. When the JPEG is opened to display it on a screen, it unpacks itself.
I think it’s amazing to think of a JPEG packed away in a tiny file, waiting to be asked to unpack itself so that you can view it on the screen – and doing that time and time again, on demand.
There are many different applications for creating JPEGs. The one feature they generally share is that they allow you to save different quality JPEGs. What that means is that you give mapping instructions, telling the application to work on an individual pixel level or on larger blocks of similar coloured pixels.
The finer that mapping, the bigger the file size and the more faithful to the original image the JPEG will be.
If you are going to get your photo printed on paper and the printer wants a JPEG, then you would give the printer a top-quality JPEG – one that you saved at 100%.
The unconverted 4896 x 3264 pixels RAW files from my Fuji are about 33 megabytes. If I make a full-size JPEG at highest quality from one of them, it will probably come in at around 10MB. It depends on the image, because the JPEG engine has to work with adjoining pixels.
How The JPEG Engine Works
Think of a photo of a yellow balloon against a blue sky: The JPEG engine will find lots of similar neighbouring yellow or blue pixels, so it will be able to make a very small file.
Now think of a complex scene of a tree in a wood: With the many complex hues of nature, the JPEG engine will have fewer neighbouring colours to work with, so the resulting file will be larger.
Saving JPGS at Lower Quality versus Higher Quality
Let’s wrap up by looking at how big in file sizes the three images on this page are. The first image is 82KB; the second is 143KB, and the third is 61KB. And that makes sense. The first image has a large area of plain black in it, so that is easy to compress. The third image has little detail, so it too is easy to compress. The second image, however, has lots of fine detail all over the image, so the file size for a given compression is bigger.
The file size would be smaller if you saved at a lower quality. But big file sizes don’t matter when you are sending a JPEG to a printer. That’s when you want the best quality printed image possible.
But on a computer, you can send a lower quality image with a smaller file size. And the viewer will not be able to see the difference on the screen. That’s because, as I said, you can’t cram more pixels per square inch onto the computer screen. Any ‘extra’ pixels are wasted.
How Much Compression
Typically, I save at around 40% compression. I used to save at greater compression, maybe 30% of full size. And I used to try to keep all images to less than 40KB. With modern internet connections those days are gone. And in a way that is what causes problems. People upload huge files that are many pixels wide, and the system copes. So they don’t see the way the system is groaning under all that load.
They would however achieve the same results visually and much more efficiently. All the need to do is upload small files of an appropriate number of pixels. That’s the way you should be submitting artwork to greeting card companies.
Herdwick Ram Greeting Card
As I mentioned above, we wrote an article about the Herdwick breed and how it was saved by Beatrix Potter. Beatrix Potter is the internationally known children’s story writer and illustrator, and creator of the character Peter Rabbit.
The good news if you like the image is that we have it available as a card. It shows a Herdwick ram in profile showing its magnificent horns.
To go to the product page, just click the image of the ram or follow this link to the Ram greeting card.