If you’re new to photo printing, different print sizes may be a bit confusing to you. One that you’ll regularly come across and should know about, however, is 4×6 – which is the most commonly used throughout the industry.
While it’s easy for beginners to think that any picture will look good when printed in a 4×6 format, the reality is quite different. You could end up with poor results if you miss one or more aspects.
This article will cover everything you need to know about the 4×6 size for photos. You’ll learn about its origins, tips for getting the most out of your prints, and more.
The Origins of the 4×6 Print Size
The 4×6 photo size dates back to the 20th century when the first 35mm cameras burst onto the photography scene. It was easy for the printing industry to choose 4×6 as a standard as it was the same aspect ratio as 35mm film (also known as 135 film) introduced by Kodak in 1934. Each 24x36mm frame on a 35mm film roll has an aspect ratio of 1:1. 5 (or 3:2).
These dimensions quickly became the go-to for the printing industry; they were soon the standard for everything from postcards to photo albums and more.
The 4×6 photo size had (and still has) several other advantages; cost-effective production is perhaps the largest.
How Big a 4×6 Photo in Different Units of Length?
Before we continue, it’s worth noting that 4×6 photo print sometimes isn’t strictly four inches by six inches. Instead, it often measures approximately 4” x 5 7/8 “. These dimensions were adopted by the photography printing industry based upon the viewfinder angle of most digital cameras.
Ignoring the slight discrepancy you may find, though, here is how to covert the 4×6 from the Imperial system (on which its name is based) to the metric system: In centimeters, the 4×6 size for an image roughly translates to 10x15cm. As for precise millimeter dimensions, 4×6 photos are 101.6×152.4mm.
What is the Best Resolution for Printing 4×6 Photos?
If you want to achieve the best possible results when printing your photos, resolutions are arguably the most crucial area to consider. It would be best to consider where people will see your picture, though, because you can get away with a lower resolution in some scenarios.
As a general rule of thumb, 1200×1800 (or 1200×1788) is the minimum resolution that is recommended for 4×6 prints as it will provide 300dpi (dots per inch). A resolution of 1024×768, or photos produced by a 0. 8-megapixel camera, will also provide good results.
If you have a low-resolution photo, however, an image size of around 480×640 will be passable at 115dpi, but you’re pushing a fine line if you go lower than that in most cases.
If others will view your picture from further away, you can get away with using resolution at the lower end of the scale. You will need to choose a larger resolution for images that you can hold and/or see from close range (which is what they will usually do when viewing a print this large).
Generally, higher resolutions can improve your photo prints up to a point, while lower resolutions may cause pixelated, blocky results.
What Aspect Ratio is a 4×6 Photo?
As stated earlier, 4×6 photos have a 3:2 aspect ratio. This means the image you have taken is 3 units wider than it is across (for photos in landscape orientation) or 2 units wider for portrait orientation photos.
3:2 was the default aspect ratio for older 35mm cameras, and that remains the case for most DSLR and mirrorless cameras today. However, some manufacturers — such as Olympus — use 4:3 instead.
If your camera has a 4:3 aspect ratio, you’ll have to deal with a cropped image at both the top and bottom if you print a landscape photo and on the left and right edges if you print a portrait image.
Do Smartphones Use the Same Aspect Ratios as Most Cameras?
Many modern smartphones use the 4:3 aspect ratio by default, which is 16:9 when you take pictures vertically. Remember that cropping will be in your photograph.
There are generally options that can be toggled in your settings to shoot photos in other aspect ratios if you would like your images to naturally print well as 4×6 prints without being cropped. While smartphones like the iPhone do not offer the 3:2 aspect ratio (the only options are 1:1, 4:3, and 16:9), there are apps you can download for shooting in 3:2.
The simpler option is to stick with the default aspect ratio and crop the photo in post-production.
Tips for Shooting, Cropping, and Printing in 4×6
If you don’t use a 3:2 aspect ratio, you can still maintain a good quality image if you want to print 4×6. Here are five ways to do this.
1. Get the Photo Right in a Technical Sense
If you get the technical aspects of your photo right, everything else – from editing to resizing – is much easier. If you have to reduce blur, use slower shutter speeds and a tripod.
You should also shoot in RAW, as doing so will allow you to keep more detail in your picture.
2. How does the photo look on your computer screen?
When you’ve finished editing your photo, you’ll need to take a finer look and ensure that everything looks ready to print. Checking the picture’s quality at 100% is a wise idea.
If your photo looks good at 100% on your computer screen, you shouldn’t have any nasty surprises when you receive the printed version. It is possible to look at photos zoomed in on your computer monitor and see blurred or other imperfections.
3. Keep Important Photo Aspects Closer to the Center
As we mentioned earlier, image cropping is inevitable with some cameras. If you include crucial picture components close to the edges, you’re playing a risky game and might not get the most ideal 4×6 printing result.
Keep the most important parts of your photo closer to the center where possible. You can stand away to achieve this, and using a wider-angle lens will also do the job.
4. Use Photo Editing Software for Cropping
When preparing your picture for a 4×6 print, you should use photo editing software to crop the image. The tool you use doesn’t matter too much; software such as Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, and Capture One all have the necessary features you need to get your photo ready. Even mobile apps contain cropping features.
Crop tools also often have an aspect ratio locking feature built right in, allowing you to resize the crop box while it maintains a 3:2 ratio.
Cropping a photo yourself can help you ensure that your resulting composition is exactly as you want it to be.
You’ll also need to consider pixels per inch; a resolution of at least 300ppi to 500ppi will cover you in the majority of situations.
5. Consider Paper Quality
While you can follow some general guidelines for printing 4×6 photos, things will differ depending on the paper you choose. You should use a better quality printing paper.
If you use lower-quality paper, you might not notice too much difference if your resolution isn’t as high as recommended.
You Are Now Ready to Print a 4×6 Photo
This guide was created to serve as a starting point for printing 4×6 images. If you’re new to photo printing, printing out photos as 4×6 prints can be an easy and affordable learning experience before moving on to other sizes and mediums. 4×6 prints are simple to understand, and you can transfer everything you learn to other sizes later.
You have a lot of control when it comes to printing 4×6 images. Your camera will often take photos with the correct aspect ratio, and getting things technically correct will reduce your workload significantly.
Now that you’ve read this guide, all that’s left for you to do is start getting your creations transferred to 4×6 pieces of photo paper.
Image credits: Stock photo from Depositphotos