From Camera to Upload - Workflow

Updates: 11th-Nov-07 added Pixel Dimensions, table of contents.

Pixel Dimensions
Aspect Ratios

So you’ve come to Red Bubble and like everyone else you want to upload some of your images. But how should I go about getting my camera’s images ready to upload?

Firstly, most people have compact cameras and most of these create compressed JPEG (pronounced: Jay Peg) images in the 4:3 ratio. So I will start from this assumption.

Your camera has settings for quality such as: fine, superfine, medium etc. This controls how much JPEG compression is applied to your camera’s images once a picture is captured.
The highest setting such as superfine has the least amount of compression applied to images so the image quality will be the best possible. The resulting file size will also be the largest of all the compression settings.
This is due to the fact that JPEG is a ‘lossy’ compression. Lossy compression removes data from the image and it is never replaced. So minimal compression means less of your image is thrown away resulting in a better quality image but more information to save.

Three popular image editing software programs use a lossless compression for their native file formats:
Adobe Photoshop – PSD (e.g. imagename.psd)
Corel PaintShop – PSP

Lossless compression, removes data on saving but replaces it on reopening, so you can work on a file indefinitely without loss of quality (or information).

Pixel Dimensions
Along with the compression settings your camera will have pixel dimension options. These often start with 640 × 480 and move up to the maximum that your camera is able to take ie. if the camera is a 7mp camera then the maximum pixel dimensions it will take will be around 7mp. Why ‘around’ 7mp? There is actual pixels and effective pixels. The actual pixels may be 7,300,000 but the pixels that are actually used to create an image might be 6,850,000 or similar; these are the effective pixels.
The effective pixels could also be 7,100,000, rather than, lower than 7mp as above.
Camera makers just round off to the nearest mega pixel. Some camera makers state the actual pixels on the camera casing and advertising rather than the effective pixels which is misleading and dishonest.

If there is a possibility your photos will be uploaded to Red Bubble and you want to be able to get the biggest prints possible then you should set your camera to the highest pixel dimensions and the best quality.
On the other hand if you know you are only going to get 6″ × 4″ or 5″ × 7″ photolab prints then you can set your camera to the appropriate pixel dimension:

Print size…..Pixels…………….Megapixels…Camera Setting
6″ × 4″..........1800 × 1200........2.16................3mp
5″ × 7″..........1500 × 2100........3.15................4mp

To cover both sizes just set your camera to the 4mp setting. If you never get 5″ × 7″ prints then set your camera to 3mp.
Not sure how to tell how many pixels your camera settings are? Just multiple both figures: ie. 1800 × 1200 = 2,160,000 pixels which is 2.16mp.

How is the 1800 × 1200 pixels used by photo labs arrived at? 300DPI resolution is considered photographic quality so:

Why bother to set your camera to a lower setting than the maximum? The size of files. 7mp images are bigger than 4mp images, so if you are taking a lot of images you can fit more 4mp images on your camera’s memory card than 7mp images.
Memory cards are large and cheap so why bother? Eventually your images will be transferred to your computer and 7mp images take up more disk space than 4mp images. If you have plenty of disk space and don’t mind larger files then just leave your camera at its highest setting.
The benefit of larger images is you can crop them and still create a 6″ × 4″ photo prints, and you have the option of larger prints at a good quality.

Take a photo with a digital camera
Camera compresses image into a JPEG file
Camera’s JPEG file is transferred to a computer
JPEG file is opened in an image editor such as Photoshop.
JPEG file is saved as PSD, PSP or XCF depending on your software.

Now you have:
original.jpg – the original compressed JPEG file
original.psd (or psp, xcf) – the uncompressed version that is of the exact same quality as the original JPEG file.

The difference is: you can open the PSD, PSP or XCF file and resave it without loss of quality, but if you open the JPEG file in an image editor and save it (JPEG as default), then you are compressing the file again. Overtime the file will degrade in quality if resaved as JPEG each time.

PSD, PSP or XCF file is opened and adjusted for tone etc.
Image is cropped to from 4:3 ratio to 3:2 ratio (see section at the end)
Adjusted PSD, PSP or XCF file is ‘saved as’ another copy.

Now you have:

Call the adjusted file something like: imagename 2 or imagename final.

Adjusted PSD, PSP or XCF file is ‘saved as’ JPEG.

If you want to upload your image it must be in the JPEG format so ‘save as’ again but this time change the file format to JPEG and choose the least amount of compression (highest quality) setting and choose either Baseline (Standard) or Baseline Optimized (optimized colour and slightly smaller file size) for the Format option.
You can name the file whatever you like at this point such as the title of the image but just make sure you can track back to the original JPEG and the PSD, PSP, or XCF files if you need to alter anything later.
I suggest renaming the original JPEG and the first PSD, PSP or XCF file to match the final title of the ‘upload’ JPEG, name the original JPEG from the start, or keep a Notepad or similar type file with a list of the Red Bubble JPEG and their corresponding files with names and locations on your computer.

Now you have:

You are ready to upload the adjusted.jpg to Red Bubble to be made into products.

Aspect Ratios
As mentioned before, most compact cameras record their images in the 4:3 ratio but photo prints at a photolab or on Red Bubble are printed at the 3:2 ratio.
Something’s gotta give. Part of the 4:3 image must be removed by cropping (setting a dimension selection on an image and discarding anything outside this; like a biscuit (cookie) cutter and dough.

This example uses Photoshop but should be similar in other image editors. See parentheses for generic terms.

Marquee Tool (Selection tool)
- Style: Fixed Aspect Ratio
Enter height and width of 3 and 2. Transpose these numbers depending on portrait or landscape format.

Now you have a selection tool that will default to a 3:2 ratio.

Click and drag from outside of the image area (increase the document window if you can’t see any space surround the image area). E.g. click and drag from the right bottom corner outside of the image area until the selection (dashed lined box) won’t go any further.

Now you have a 3:2 ratio selection at the maximum size for this image. As we will have to crop the image we want to lose the least amount of the image as possible.

Your selection should be at the bottom of the image with a strip of image outside the selection across the top. If you crop the image now, that strip outside of the selection will be removed and you will have converted a 4:3 ratio image to a 3:2 image. But what if the best part of the image is at the top in that strip outside the selection? We have to move the selection.

Using the keyboard:
the arrow keys will ‘nudge’ the selection at small increments but if you hold down the Shift key and use the arrows and the same time, the nudge will be in bigger increments. You can then release Shift and use just the arrows to be more precise.

Once you have positioned the selection where appropriate you can crop the image.

For further information:
see my guide: Resolution, Pixel And DPI
Topics covered:
Terms Used
Digital Camera Resolution
Aspect Ratios
Screen Resolution
Scanning & Resizing Images
…100% Reproduction
…100% Plus Reproduction – Enlarging
…Less Than 100% Reproduction – Reducing
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