Pixels per inch (PPI) or pixels per centimeter (PPCM) are measurements of the pixel density (resolution) of an electronic image device, such as a computer monitor or television display, or image digitizing device such as a camera or image scanner. Horizontal and vertical density are usually the same, as most devices have square pixels, but differ on devices that have non-square pixels.
PPI can also describe the resolution, in pixels, of an image file. A 100×100 pixel image printed in a 1 inch square has a resolution of 100 pixels per inch. Used this way, the measurement is meaningful when printing an image. It has become commonplace to refer to PPI as DPI, even though PPI refers to input resolution. Industry standard, good quality photographs usually require 300 pixels per inch, at 100% size, when printed onto coated paper stock, using a printing screen of 150 lines per inch (lpi). This delivers a quality factor of 2, which is optimum. The lowest acceptable quality factor is considered 1.5, which equates to printing a 225 ppi image using a 150 lpi screen onto coated paper.
Screen frequency is determined by the type of paper the image is printed on. An absorbent paper surface, uncoated recycled paper for instance, lets ink droplets spread (dot gain)—so requires a more open printing screen. Input resolution can therefore be reduced to minimize file size without loss in quality, as long as the quality factor of 2 is maintained. This is easily determined by doubling the line frequency. For example, printing on an uncoated paper stock often limits printing screen frequency to no more than 120 lpi, therefore, a quality factor of 2 is achieved with images of 240 ppi.
The PPI of a computer display is related to the size of the display in inches and the total number of pixels in the horizontal and vertical directions. This measurement is often referred to as dots per inch, though that measurement more accurately refers to the resolution of a computer printer.
For example, a 15-inch (38 cm) display whose dimensions work out to 12 inches (30.48 cm) wide by 9 inches (22.86 cm) high, capable of a maximum 1024×768 (or XGA) pixel resolution, can display around 85 PPI in both the horizontal and vertical directions. This figure is determined by dividing the width (or height) of the display area in pixels by the width (or height) of the display area in inches. It is possible for a display to have different horizontal and vertical PPI measurements (e.g., a typical 4:3 ratio CRT monitor showing a 1280×1024 mode computer display at maximum size, which is a 5:4 ratio, not quite the same as 4:3). The apparent PPI of a monitor depends upon the screen resolution (that is, the number of pixels) and the size of the screen in use; a monitor in 800×600 mode has a lower PPI than does the same monitor in a 1024×768 or 1280×960 mode.
The dot pitch of a computer display determines the absolute limit of possible pixel density. Typical circa-2000 cathode ray tube or LCD computer displays range from 67 to 130 PPI, though desktop monitors have exceeded 200 PPI and contemporary small-screen mobile devices often exceed 300 PPI, sometimes by a wide margin.
In January 2008, Kopin Corporation announced a 0.44 inch (1.12 cm) SVGA LCD with a pixel density of 2272 PPI (each pixel only 11.25μm). In 2011 they followed this up with a 3760 DPI 0.21” diagonal VGA colour display. The manufacturer says they designed the LCD to be optically magnified, as in high-resolution eyewear devices.
Holography applications demand even greater pixel density, as higher pixel density produces a larger image size and wider viewing angle. Spatial light modulators can reduce pixel pitch to 2.5 μm, giving a pixel density of 10,160 PPI.
Some observations indicate that the unaided human generally can't differentiate detail beyond 300 PPI. However, this figure depends both on the distance between viewer and image, and the viewer’s visual acuity. The human eye also responds in a different way to a bright, evenly lit interactive display from how it does to prints on paper.
High pixel density display technologies would make supersampled antialiasing obsolete, enable true WYSIWYG graphics and, potentially enable a practical “paperless office” era. For perspective, such a device at 15 inch (38 cm) screen size would have to display more than four Full HD screens (or WQUXGA resolution).
Development of a display with ~900 ppi allows for three pixels with 16-bit color to act as sub-pixels to form a pixel cluster. These pixel clusters act as regular pixels at ~300 ppi to produce a 48-bit color display.
The PPI pixel density specification of a display is also useful for calibrating a monitor with a printer. Software can use the PPI measurement to display a document at "actual size" on the screen.
Theoretically, PPI can be calculated from knowing the diagonal size of the screen in inches and the resolution in pixels (width and height). This can be done in two steps:
1. Calculate diagonal resolution in pixels using the Pythagorean theorem:
2. Calculate PPI:
For example, :
Note that these calculations may not be very precise. Frequently, screens advertised as “X inch screen” can have their real physical dimensions of viewable area differ, for example:
Camera manufacturers often quote view screens in 'number of dots'. This is not the same as the number of pixels, because there are 3 'dots' per pixel – red, green and blue. For example, the Canon 50d is quoted as having 920,000 dots. This translates as 307,200 pixels (x3 = 921,600 dots). Thus the screen is 640×480 pixels.
This must be taken into account when working out the PPI. Using the above calculations requires the screen's dimensions, but other methods require the total pixels, not total dots. 'Dots' and 'pixels' are often confused in reviews and specs when viewing information about digital cameras specifically.
"PPI" or "pixel density" may also describe image scanner resolution. In this context, PPI is synonymous with samples per inch. In digital photography, pixel density is the number of pixels divided by the area of the sensor. A typical DSLR, circa 2013, has 1–6.2 MP/cm2; a typical compact has 20–70 MP/cm2.
For example, Sony Alpha SLT-A58 has 20.1 megapixels on an APS-C sensor having 6.2 MP/cm2 since a compact camera like Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V has 20.4 megapixels on an 1/2.3" sensor having 70 MP/cm2. The professional camera has a lower PPI than a compact camera, because it has larger photodiodes due to having far larger sensors.
Smartphones use small displays, but modern smartphone displays have a larger PPI rating, such as the Samsung Galaxy S7 with a quad HD display at 577 PPI, Fujitsu F-02G with a quad HD display at 564 PPI, the LG G6 with quad HD display at 564 PPI or – XHDPI or Oppo Find 7 with 534 PPI on 5.5" display – XXHDPI (see section below). Sony's Xperia XZ Premium has a 4K display with a pixel density of 807 PPI, the highest of any smartphone as of 2017.
|Abbreviation||Named pixel density||DPI|
|TVDPI||Medium High density||~160–213 dots per inch|
|HDPI or HiDPI||High density||~213–240 dots per inch|
|XHDPI||eXtra High density||~240–320 dots per inch|
|XXHDPI||eXtra eXtra High density||~320–480 dots per inch|
|XXXHDPI||eXtra eXtra eXtra High density||~480–640 dots per inch|
The following table show how pixel density is supported by often used image file formats. In the second column, length refers to horizontal and vertical size in inches, centimeters et cetera, whereas pixel refers only to the number of pixels found along the horizontal and vertical dimension. The cell colors used do not indicate how feature-rich a certain image file format is, but what density support can be expected of a certain image file format. Often-used image file formats that do not support pixel density are added for counter-example purposes.
Even though image manipulation software can optionally set density for some image file formats, not many other software uses density information when displaying images. Web browsers, for example, ignore any density information. Named pixel densities is used mainly for browsers and mobile apps. As the table shows, support for density information in image file formats varies enormously and should be used with great care in a controlled context.
|Format||Units of measurement||Raster/vector||Multi-page||Multi-size pages||Size in lengths for image or page||Density|
|AI||Length or Pixel||Both||No||N/A||Explicit for length. No for pixel||Implicit for included raster images|
|EPS||Length||Both||Yes||Yes||Explicit||Explicit DPI (PPI) for rasterized images, fonts or effects|
|JPEG||Pixel||Raster||No||N/A||Implicit when density is set||Optional PPI or PPCM, 2 bytes each for horizontal and vertical directions|
|Length||Both||Yes||Yes||Explicit||Explicit DPI (PPI) for rasterized images, fonts or effects|
|PNG||Pixel||Raster||No||N/A||Implicit when density is set||Optional PPM, 4 bytes each horizontal and vertical directions|
|PSD and PSB||Length or Pixel||Both||No||N/A||Explicit for length. No for pixel||Optional|
|SVG||Length or Pixel||Both||Yes||No||Explicit for length.* No for pixel||Implicit for included raster images|
|TIFF||Pixel||Both||Yes||Yes||Implicit when density is set||Optional PPI or PPCM, two 32-bit unsigned integers each for horizontal and vertical directions|
|Format||Units of measurement||Raster/
|Multi-page||Multi-size pages||Size in lengths for image or page||Density|
* Support in SVG differs. The standard supports the floats pixelUnitToMillimeterX, pixelUnitToMillimeterY, screenPixelToMillimeterX and screenPixelToMillimeterY for use in CSS2. Inkscape SVG supports density for PNG export only inkscape:export-xdpi and inkscape:export-ydpi. Adobe stores it even differently.
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