Aspect Ratios and print sizes : how they relate...

If you are relatively new to printing, 'aspect ratios' and print sizes are often a cause of confusion. The 'Aspect Ratio' is simply the measurement of the width compared to the height of a given image... 

Standard Print Formats

Below are three typical print sizes, 10 x 8, 8 x 6 and 7 x 5. However, if you are using a full frame camera or one with an APS C sensor, the 'Aspect Ratio' of the sensor is 3 : 2 and here in lies the source of the problem. 

If we were to print our picture in direct multiples of 3:2 (in other words maintain the aspect ratio) then it would fit perfectly in a 6 x 4 print or 12 x 8 print, but in order to fit into a 7 x 5 print some of the image will need to be cropped. The 8 x 6 print is more square than the 7 x 5 and hence more of the image would need to be cropped. The 10 x 8 is squarer still, so even more of the image would need to be 'lost'...

Cropping your images

In order to produce prints at standard sizes different to the original aspect ratio we are therefore forced to crop the image, however in programs like LR or Photoshop (and on most smartphones) cropping images is straightforward and there are often preset values to help us. You can also create your own crop settings that you might use regularly.

Modern cameras including smart phones generally have plenty of pixels to use, so 'losing' some of the image thru cropping does not mean you can't get a decent size print from your image.

Indeed, cropping an image in a particular way can often add to its impact and improve the composition. On the other hand, it may be that the image just doesn't suit a particular print format.

It is useful to bear this in mind when shooting your subjects, give the subject more 'room' within the overall image so that if and when you do have to crop to fit a given size, you don't lose important details (or cut someone's limbs off...). This then gives you the option to offer clients different format prints from the same image.


Landscape Photographers

For landscape photographers 'giving the subject more room' is not as straightforward. Generally the landscape photographer will want to fill the frame with the scene, and will often want  to print at larger sizes. So, following the 3 : 2 ratio, appropriate sizes might be 18 x 12 rather than A3 (16 x 12), 24 x 16 (A2) or for larger formats 30 x 20 or 36 x 24.

At we normally print from rolls of paper rather than standard sheet sizes. This allows us a much greater flexibility in selecting sizes. Unless instructed otherwise we will always try to print your image at the size selected for the longest edge. For example; if you maintain your 3:2 aspect ratio and want to print at A3 then the 'long edge' will be 420mm and the height will be 280mm. As we also cut bespoke mounts we just cut the 'window' to suit, so you don't need to worry about the exact sizing of your images for print.

Panoramic formats are popular with landscape photographers, stitching individual images together to create a wider view can create really striking images (its certainly one of my favourite things to do in post processing, especially now LR and PS allow you to create stitched RAW files, but that's a subject for another blog...).

Popular aspect ratios for panoramas or 'letterbox' formats would be 2:1 or 16:9, although there are no fixed 'rules' as to how you should crop your images. And remember, we can print virtually any size (and within reason cut mounts to any size), so if you don't see the exact size you would like on any or our product pages, just get in touch. 

This is an example of a stitched pano printed 60" wide on canvas, bonded to board and set in a box frame.


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About the Author

Hi, my name is Julian Wynne and I am a little obsessed with photography, image reproduction, colour management, and printing.

I have worked in the graphic arts and print industry for 25 years, including 10 years as Colour and Prepress manager for one of Europe’s largest Gravure publication printers.

I studied Colour application technology at Swansea University’s centre for printing and coating, completing my MSc with distinction in 2005.