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Megapixels for Digital Photo Printing

How many megapixels (MP) are necessary to produce a high quality digital photo print? Though several factors affect print quality, this page focuses on image resolution, providing answers for questions such as:

  • How many megapixels do I need for a 4x6", 5x7", or 8x10" print?
  • When buying a camera, how many megapixels should it have?
  • What are the acceptable resolutions for various print sizes?
  • What are the minimum megapixels required for posters?

If you are not familiar with the term megapixels, you may want to start with our How Many Megapixels Do We Need? article.

Recommended Image Resolution

Before we can answer the question of how many megapixels a digital camera should have, you must decide what print quality is acceptable to you. A digital image is composed of pixels; the denser the pixels, the better it looks on paper. Pixel density is measured as pixels per inch (ppi).

Print sizes up to 8x10"

Common photo print sizes like 4x6", 5x7", and 8x10" are generally viewed at an arms length, requiring a higher resolution image for satisfactory results.

  • 100 ppi - Poor to Fair
  • 150 ppi - Fair to Good
  • 200 ppi - Good to Very Good Recommended
  • 300 ppi - Excellent

Poster size prints

Prints larger than an 8x10", also called poster size prints, are intended to be viewed from a few feet distance. Because of this, a lower resolution image will produce good results.

  • 75 ppi - Poor to Fair
  • 100 ppi - Fair to Good
  • 150 ppi - Good to Very Good Recommended
  • 200 ppi - Excellent

Camera Sensor Shape

The shape of the camera sensor, also know as the aspect ratio, has a bearing on megapixel requirements. The sensor is the device behind the lens which records the image; it is synonymous with film in traditional cameras. The two most common sensor shapes are the 2x3 and 3x4.

To determine sensor shape, divide the larger number of the camera's maximum resolution by the smaller—this gives you the aspect ratio. For example, if a camera has a maximum resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels, the aspect ratio is 2048 ÷ 1536 = 1.33.

  • Aspect ratio of 1.50 = 2x3 shape
  • Aspect ratio of 1.33 = 3x4 shape

Camera Requirements for 200 ppi Prints

To determine how many megapixels a camera should have, select the most common print sizes you intend to create and look up the camera megapixels in the last two columns of the table below.

Note: The megapixel requirements in the table assume that the only cropping performed on the images is to fit the print shape. If you plan on doing significant cropping, increase the camera megapixels accordingly. For example, if half of an image is cropped away, twice as many megapixels are required for the original image. See Cropping Digital Photos Into Shape for details.


Table is showing numbers for 200 ppi.
Show: 75 ppi | 100 ppi | 150 ppi | 300 ppi

Print
Size
Image
Resolution
Camera Megapixels
2 x 3 Sensor 3 x 4 Sensor
2" x 2" 400 x 400 0.3 0.3
2.5" x 3.5" 500 x 700 0.4 0.4
3.5" x 5" 700 x 1000 0.8 0.8
4" x 6" 800 x 1200 1.0 1.1
5" x 7" 1000 x 1400 1.5 1.5
8" x 10" 1600 x 2000 3.9 3.5
11" x 14" 2200 x 2800 7.3 6.5
12" x 18" 2400 x 3600 8.7 9.7
13" x 20" 2600 x 4000 10.7 11.9
16" x 20" 3200 x 4000 15.4 13.7
16" x 24" 3200 x 4800 15.4 17.2
20" x 24" 4000 x 4800 24.0 21.3
20" x 30" 4000 x 6000 24.0 26.8

Table is showing numbers for 200 ppi.
Show: 75 ppi | 100 ppi | 150 ppi | 300 ppi

Pixel Loss Due to Cropping

You may have noticed that if you multiply the image resolutions in the above table, the results don't always match the camera megapixels. For example, an 8x10" print at 200 ppi has dimensions of 1600 x 2000 pixels. If we multiply the two numbers, the result is 3.2 million pixels. However, the camera requirements are 3.9 and 3.5 MP's. The difference is due to the loss of pixels after cropping the original image into the print shape.

The table below summarizes the percentage of pixels lost for common print sizes.

Print Size Pixel Loss due to Cropping
2 x 3 Sensor 3 x 4 Sensor
2" x 2" 33% 25%
2.5" x 3.5" 7% 5%
3.5" x 5" 5% 7%
4" x 6" 0% 13%
5" x 7" 7% 5%
8" x 10" 17% 6%
11" x 14" 15% 4%
12" x 18" 0% 13%
13" x 20" 3% 16%
16" x 20" 17% 6%
16" x 24" 0% 13%
20" x 24" 20% 10%
20" x 30" 0% 13%