If, like most couples, you’ve decided to create your own wedding invitations and stationery, pull up a chair because I’ve got some info to help you take your invites from pleasantly passable to OMGTheGreatestInvitesEvahr.
Since most of us aren’t graphic designers, turning to pre-designed images can be an easy way to add impact to invites, save-the-dates, table cards, websites, signs, and favors. The Web is chock full of free (or wonderfully cheap) gorgeous, clever, and on-trend images that will fit nearly any theme or style. You want two blue penguins holding hands for your save-the-dates? No problem. An intricate Moroccan-inspired geometric print for DIY letterpress drink coasters? Piece of cake. A lovely blue mason jar for your invites? Easy peasy. No need for custom graphics or enrolling yourself in art school; there’s probably something out there that’s perfect (or nearly so) for your needs.
The problem with using clip art is that most freebie and cheap-y graphics are designed for web use, not print. Graphics designed for use on the web are typically lower resolution than what is needed for printing. For computer monitors, 72 dpi (dots per inch) is perfect because it keeps the file size small for quick web loading while offering a clean, clear image for the user. When using clip art for your printed projects, it’s important to use images that are 300 dpi or above otherwise the printed image will look pixelated (jagged), blurry, and muted.
Let’s take a look at how this translates to a real life project.
Here’s a screen shot of an MS Word document I’ve created with two versions of the same graphic. On the left is the higher print-friendly 300 dpi version of the graphic. On the right is the 72 dpi web-friendly version. On the screen you’ll see that they look identical: crisp, clear, vibrant.
But when the page is printed (click image to see a larger version), what you see on the screen is not what you’ll get.
See the difference?
One of the most commonly asked questions we get about DIY invitations is “Why do my graphics look blurry?”. This is why, my friends.
How do you know if an image you’re about to buy or download is print-ready? Ask the artist/person offering the graphic before you buy or download or, if it’s from a free download site, just download it and check the resolution in an photo editing program like Photoshop, PS Elements, or Paint Shop Pro.
So, what if you’ve found the perfect image but it’s a low-resolution 72 dpi graphic? Unfortunately, there’s no way to make a low-res graphic into a high-resolution print-perfect one. Sorry! If you have the choice to buy a high res or low res image, always get the higher-res one. You can always scale down for web use but you can’t scale up.
Also worth noting: not every graphic that appears on the web is free for personal use. Images on the web are not automatically public domain and the creator of the image always has copyright law on her or his side.
(BTW, this image used in this example is Wedding Floral Clip Art, Wreath Heart by Graphic Market. Best $5 I spent this week. It’s so preeeetttty!)