What is the Best Canvas Resolution for Digital Art?

Best resolution to choose for your digital canvas.

We’ll help you determine the best resolution to choose for your digital canvas. The amount of detail in a how to digital paint is defined by the resolution of the canvas you’re painting on. The higher the resolution, the finer the detail in an image. An image with low resolution lacks fine detail. Typically, you’ll want to favor high resolution over low resolution, but things get a little more complicated when you’re dealing with large canvasses.

First let’s consider the distance at which someone will be observing your artwork after it’s printed.  While small and medium canvasses are typically viewed at arm’s length, large canvasses are often viewed from far away. The billboard you see by the side of the road is an extreme example of a large canvas. Believe it or not, billboards are printed at a very low resolution. So, why is that? It’s because the farther you are from an image; the less resolution is required to see that image clearly. Because billboards are not intended to be viewed up close, it would be a waste of ink to print billboards at a high resolution. Notice how blocky this low resolution image looks when we view it up close.

Now, try to zoom out or move away from the image. It suddenly becomes a lot clearer. This is because as you move away or zoom out, the pixels in the image converge or get closer together, making it more difficult to see each individual pixel. As you get closer, the pixels spread out and become more noticeable. Let’s look at some real world examples of printed artwork in my studio. This is a 90 by 40-inch multi-photo collage.  While it’s fine to appreciate the amount of detail up close, in order to see the whole image, you have to step back quite away. This is the distance most people will view this artwork from. The intended viewing distance is from far away, not up close. Small and medium canvasses, however, are typically viewed at arm’s length.  Since the viewer will be very close to your canvas, you’ll want to make the image crisp and clear.

Reasons not chose a high resolution

In addition to that, there were several other reasons why I didn’t chose a high resolution. For example when all you need is a skin color palette you will be okay with a small canvas. It’s important to note that resolution and the image dimensions are really describing the same thing, the number of pixels in an image. The number of pixels determines the size and the resolution of the image. This image is 4,464 pixels wide by 2,736 pixels tall. Since I chose 62 inches for the width and 72 pixels for the resolution, there will be 72 pixels for every inch of the artwork or in other words 72 times 62 is 4,464. So, even though this image is currently at 72 dpi, I could lower the dimensions and that would create some extra pixels that can either get thrown away or converted into resolution.

Unfortunately, resizing is a one-way street. It’s easy to scale an image down because all you have to do is convert the pixels from inches to resolution or simply throw them away. However, enlarging requires adding pixels. And, since pixels equal detail, the computer’s not capable of adding something that’s not there. You, as the artist can add detail. The computer cannot.

Since this tutorial is focused mainly on resolution as it applies to canvasses while drawing in Photoshop, I won’t go into a whole lot of detail about how resolution works when resizing images. So, if my original was only 62 inches and I printed it at 90 inches, why does the print still look good? Well, again it comes down to how far you are from the print while you’re viewing it. At a distance, you don’t notice that the computer inflated or multiplied the pixels to make the print dimensions larger. However, if you look really close, you can see the image is a bit blurry and there are some aliased or jagged edges in the piece. That’s what happens when you enlarge. For a canvas this size, it’s less noticeable from a distance, but for a smaller image that will be viewed up close, blurriness and aliasing will stick out like a sore thumb. So, if high resolution looks the best and it’s the most flexible for reduction and enlargement, why wouldn’t you just paint every image at a high resolution? To answer that, we need to look at some of the pros and cons of high versus low resolution to help you understand how resolution affects more than just your print size and quality.

So, if we start with the pros of high resolution, we know that we can scale high resolution artwork down without compromising the image quality, that the resolution can be reduced easily without degrading the image quality, that a high resolution image looks clearer and has more detail. A high resolution image prevents aliasing in fine lines, curves, and diagonal lines. And, a high resolution image looks great when you zoom in. The cons, however, are very important to consider. A high resolution image takes up a lot of memory which slows down your computer and your software. It takes a lot longer to process effects, and a high resolution file takes up more space on your hard drive. And, because a high resolution image is so large and memory-intensive, it’s also more likely to crash or become corrupted.

As we mentioned earlier, the fine, up close detail of a high resolution image gets lost at a distance while you’re zoomed out or while the image is down-scaled, and it also takes a lot more time to paint a high resolution image. That’s more detail that you have to add. And then last, but not least, a high resolution image requires more ink when printing. Now let’s take a look at some of the pros of working at a low resolution. A low resolution image takes up less memory which is less demanding on your computer and software. Effects also take less time to process on a low resolution image and the low resolution image takes up less drive space. Because a low resolution image is less memory-intensive, it’s also less likely to crash or get corrupted. Low resolution images are easier to share on the internet because they’re smaller.  And low resolution images take less time to paint. And, of course, since there’s fewer pixels in a low resolution image, it uses less ink when you’re printing. Now, let’s talk about some of the cons of working with a low resolution image. We know that a low resolution image cannot be scaled up without compromising the image quality and that the resolution cannot be increased without degrading the image quality as well. A low resolution image has less detail and it promotes aliasing and fine lines, curves, and diagonal lines. And, of course, a low resolution image looks horrible when you zoom in or enlarge it.

How resolution affects your artwork

So, now that we’re more familiar with how resolution affects your artwork, you can see why I didn’t make my 62-inch wide painting at 300 dpi. It would have crashed my computer. And, just like the billboards you see along the roadside, a lot of the detail I would have added would have been lost while viewing the painting from a distance.

It’s important to note that there isn’t a magic resolution that works for everything. But, there are some guidelines that’ll help you choose the best resolution for your painting. As a general rule of thumb, use a lower resolution for large canvasses and a higher resolution for small or medium canvasses. For something like an eight by 10 or 11 by 14 canvas, I use 300 dpi. For anything at or above 24 by 18 inches, I use 150 dpi. If you want a higher quality result, you can choose 240 dpi for large canvasses and 600 dpi for small or medium canvasses, but again, the detail you’ll be adding is not noticeable to most people. Also anything for the web needs to be 72 dpi because that’s the standard for most screens. However, this is quickly changing as high dpi displays become more common. It’s not unusual to need to format your artwork in a variety of sizes and resolutions.

When scaling down the dimensions or resolution of our artwork, make sure to save copies of your work so you don’t overwrite your high resolution original. So, that brings us to the end of this tutorial. For more reference checkout and or

I hope this digital painting tutorial has helped you make better decisions when choosing a resolution for your canvas.

If hope you found this information helpful!