Knit and Crochet Ever After

Formatting Photos For Self-Publishing

This post is going to talk all about photos.

However, instead of talking about how to compose good photographs (you can only read “use natural lighting” so many times before your eyes start bleeding), this post is going to go in depth on formatting pictures for different applications. I’m going to explain how and why to make your photos the correct size and PPI(I will explain this abbreviation in a bit) depending on what kind of self-publishing you are going to do. First I’m going to talk about the why, then I’ll get into the how.

What exactly is PPI?

PPI stands for points or pixels per inch, and if not set correctly can change your crisp clear photo into a pixelated mess. Quite simply, it is the number of pixels that are placed in your photo per inch. So, if my photo was 20 PPI, I would have 20 pixels in one square inch of the photo.

Why is that important?

Each pixel is a small dot of color. Picture a square inch of paper and putting 20 dots of color in that inch. You will have to convey the design with just those 20 dots of color. The result will not give you much detail.

Now, picture putting 300 dots of color in that one inch. Those dots would be much smaller. Not only are they smaller, but now you have 300 different options for color. Your design will have much more detail than the 20 dot design.

See how blurry and pixelated a 20 PPI photo looks.
See how blurry and pixelated a 20 PPI photo looks.
I still don’t get why this is important.

Each picture you produce for your book whether ePub or print will have a specific PPI that you will need to use. Knowing the best resolution (or PPI) for your project will save you time and space (in your project file).

Why should I care if my file is big or not?

One important reason is money. Got your attention now huh? Certain distributors such as Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) will take out of your profits an amount directly related to your file size. They call it the transfer fee and they charge about $0.15 per mb (megabyte) when you choose the 70% royalty (I will explain all that good stuff about royalties in a later post).

Not only will you put more profits in your pocket, but editing a smaller file is much quicker than a larger one. Having to load a 3 GB file as opposed to a 3 MB file is night and day. Especially when using a complicated editing program like Adobe InDesign.

So what do I choose for PPI?

It depends on what you are doing.

Print is easy, your pictures must be at least 300 PPI for the pictures to not look blurry when printed (and to not be rejected by most print houses).

But I’ve noticed that when I send my 72 PPI pictures to Snapfish, they print out fine.

Good point, this is where it gets a little confusing. When you take a picture on a digital camera, the camera has a set amount of pixels to assign to each picture (that is where your megapixel amount comes in). For instance, a 5 MP (megapixel) camera will usually tell you that you can print a good 8×10 print with your camera set to its highest setting. If you were to open one of the pictures you took in Photoshop and looked at the image size when your photo is set at 72 PPI you would see that the inches are way bigger than 8 x 10.

Look at how many inches I get out of my DSLR when I'm set at 72 PPI!
Look at how many inches I get out of my DSLR when I’m set at 72 PPI!

The reason this happens is because of all the pixels your camera has to dole out. You could either print a blurry 63 inch picture, or when this file is sent to Snapfish, or your home printer, it gets converted into a 300 PPI image by reducing the size to bring all those pixels into closer proximity to make a crisp clear picture. How that actually happens and how the printer makes the pixels the correct color in the correct place is of course magic — or at least that is how I believe its done since I have no idea how that part actually happens.

Unfortunately, you can’t just stick all your pictures in your project at 63 inches and 72 PPI and have the printer figure it all out. You must put your photos in at the size you want them printed on your page which means you have to know how to convert a 72 PPI image to a 300 PPI. Good thing you’re reading this post because I explain all that below.

If 300 is good then 3000 is great! Right?

Not really. 300 is what is usually required by most book printers (including Amazon Createspace), upping your PPI to 3000 will not increase the resolution or crispness of the picture, it will only increase your file size. So save space and stick with 300 PPI.

What size should my ePubs be?

There are some common standards, but they are changing slightly with the invention of HD displays on things like the iPad and Kindle Fire HD.

Most people will tell you to set your PPI at 72. Before the iPad and other HD tablets were invented, the best your computer monitor could display was 72 PPI (and that is still pretty true today). iPads with their Retina display and other similar products have upped the digital quality to about 120 to 130 PPI. So to truely get the best resolution on one of these devices, your images would need to be set at this PPI. You can check out a whole rundown of PPI by device on this Wikipedia page.

Okay, back to confused, what should I make my ePubs then?

The real honest answer — it’s up to you.  Though, I am seeing alot of people start to set their PPI to 96. I say if you have just a few images, up them to 130 to cover all devices and computer screens. If you have a photo heavy ePub and file size is a big concern, stick with 72 PPI. The difference on the newer devices is minimal to most people.

What about PDFs that are for viewing and printing?

If you’ve ever printed a photo from the internet and wonder why its clear on screen but fuzzy when you print it, you’ve probably printed a 72 PPI picture. Your home printer, like a professional printer likes 300 PPI pictures because that’s how many dots it sprays per inch. When you have less, it fills in the dots with whatever color is around the 72 dots it sees and makes the picture look less crisp.

So it’s up to you to decide if you want to set your photos up for viewing or printing. If you think most people will print your pattern, or PDF, make your photos 300 PPI. If you think most people will be viewing your PDF online, set it up for 72.

What I do personally with my single pattern PDFs is make any nonimportant pictures 72 PPI and any important pictures (like a stitch chart or instructional picture with small detail) set at 300 PPI. I would set everything at 300, but I’ve found that people like smaller files whenever possible.

Okay, I’m convinced I need to do this, now how do I do it?

This is a pretty easy process once you have it down, but the first important step is to decide if you are making the picture for print or ePub.

If you are making both, you will need two files of the same photo since they will have different PPIs.

If you have a DSLR camera you can usually shoot in RAW or Fine quality which will get you in the 200 to 300 PPI range right off the bat, then you can make a duplicate copy and change the PPI to 72-130 for the ePub from the original.

Wait, what? I have to have a special camera?

No, not at all. If you don’t happen to have a DSLR that has the options of RAW files or large/fine format, you can use your standard digital. Even most standard digital cameras have a menu where you can change the quality of the photo you take, just make sure it is on the finest, or largest megapixel quality before taking your pictures. Then you can do less work on the back end.

Okay, figured out what PPI I need, now what?

First, keep an original unedited photo. That way you always have the original that can be edited again.

Now, open up a photo editing program. It needs to be a decent one that has the option to change PPI to make life as easy as possible. I recommend Photoshop Elements if you don’t want to spend a lot of money and regular Photoshop if money is no option. I’ll be using screenshots from both Photoshop Elements and Photoshop to illustrate where you make the PPI changes.

Special Note: Most of this PPI business is most important for print, so if you are only interested in ePubs you can usually forgo all this extra PPI work and use the free program (like Microsoft Paint) your computer came with to change just the dimensions of your photo. Follow the instructions below about how and why to change the size of the photo for where you want to put it.

Load up the photo you need to edit into the program. Then click on the Image tab in your toolbar, then click on Resize Image (or Resize -> Image) or Image Size (depending on what program you are using) and you should get a popup that looks similar to this (other versions of Photoshop might look slightly different).

This dialog box is from Photoshop Elements 9

Before you crop or do anything, you should change your PPI, especially if you are changing it to 300 PPI. That way you have the maximum number of pixels available to you while re-sizing.

What do you mean “maximum number of pixels”?

Once you crop the image, the pixels that you chop off disappear — they no longer can work to your benefit. For example, if you were to crop out 50% of your picture before you change PPI, instead of having 4592 pixels to rearrange into your photo, you will instead only have 2296. Having more pixels when changing PPI ensures your photo will look its best. Plus in your next step you will be removing pixels so starting with as many as possible is a good idea.

So looking at the dialog box above you will see that the PPI is currently set at 72 PPI. I want to change it to 300, so I make sure that the “Resample Image” box is unchecked (I’ll explain this box in more detail later) and I simply type in 300 in the box labeled “Resolution” (make sure the drop down is set to pixels/inch as it is in the picture above and below.

See my overall pixels are the same (look up in the pixel dimension box) as before, but my inches are now reduced.  BTW: This dialog box is from Photoshop CS5.5
See my overall pixels are the same (look up in the pixel dimension box) as before, but my inches are now reduced.
BTW: This dialog box is from Photoshop CS5.5

Hit OK and you have now changed your PPI. Follow these same steps no matter what PPI you want to change your photo to.

Now you can get ready to crop your photo.

If you need to remove parts of your photo you will use the basic crop feature. I won’t go into detail about this, I will focus on “cropping” inches off of your photo for placement into your project.

You’re confusing me again. There are two types of cropping?

Yes. There is cropping with the crop tool in any photo editing software. This type of cropping can remove unneeded space in a photo or get a close up. For example, the photo I’m using in this post has been cropped to show just the face and hat of my little model.

The second type of “cropping” is removing unwanted inches from a picture that is ready to be published.

Why don’t I just leave it as is? Why do I need to take off inches?

File size can be dramatically affected by removing unnecessary inches off of your pictures. Using the dialog box above, my picture states it’s currently 15 inches wide by 10 inches high. If I only need to fill a 4 inch square on my page, I’ve got 9 extra inches of pixels I could reduce my picture by. Each less pixel is file space saved.

Why can’t I just put the picture in the document and use my sizing handle to make it smaller. Why do I need to change it before I put it in?

The reason you don’t want to insert your picture and then re-size with the handles in your word or design program is because the program will still save the picture at the original size you put it in. So Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign will save the file as 15 inches wide, but display at the size you make it. It’s just wasted space that is taking profit away from  you.

So how do I change the inches?

First, figure out what size you want your picture to appear on your page.

For example, if you are making a standard 8.5″ x 11″ PDF and want a photo to sit in the upper hand corner of the first page. Figure out what size you want that photo to be. 4″ wide? 6″ wide? 8″ tall? You don’t have to pick the exact measurements (as in 4″ wide by 6″ tall), but you should choose a maximum width or height to begin with. Your photo may dictate the other measurement (this will make more sense in a minute).

I’ve decided I want my picture to sit on my page at 6 inches wide. Since my photo is in landscape orientation (the width is bigger than the height), I will let Photoshop figure out what my other dimension will be.

I pull up my Image Size popup again. This time I make sure my “Resample Image” box is checked. This box allows me to change the inches of my picture while keeping the same PPI. If I left this box unchecked, when I changed the inches, all my pixels would try to fit into the new dimension and my PPI would jump to an insane number like 1200 PPI. This would my make file size the same as if I didn’t change the inches, so be sure to check this box.

I also want to make sure my “Constrain Proportions” is checked before I change my inches. This will make Photoshop automatically adjust my height or width to match the proportion I originally began with. For example, if my original picture was 4 x 6, by checking this box, I can just enter 3 inches in for my width and the height would automatically adjust to 2 inches.

After I make sure these two boxes are checked, I change my width inch to 6 as shown below.

See how Photoshop automatically changed my height to 3.993, this is why I say to choose just one of your measurements. Let Photoshop adjust the second to get the perfect fit.

You can see that my pixel dimension has changed. The overall pixels has been reduced, but I still get 300 PPI. I click OK and my photo will not be the perfect size for my document and the smallest file possible. All I have to do is save it and put it in my document.

Super Important Note for ePub makers: 

When you save your photos, DO NOT put spaces in your file name. For example, if your file name is “Scarf Close Up” save it as “scarf_close_up”. If you have spaces in your file name when you go to validate your ePub (will cover in another post), it will be rejected and you will have to go back and change all the file names so there are no spaces and re-link them all to your project. Ask me how I know.


So here is a rundown of what I covered today for easy reference:

  • Save an original, unedited file of each of your photos
  • Before you do any editing of your photo, change it to the PPI you need for what you are making (make sure “Resample Image” is unchecked)
  • Crop and edit photo as desired
  • Change size of photo to fit exactly where you need it (check “Resample Image” and “Constrain Proportions” boxes before changing size)
  • Save photo with no spaces in the file name

The next topic I will cover will be RGB photos vs. CMYK photos and the how and why’s about choosing one format over the other.

See Previous Topic: Print Books vs. ePubs

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