It’s easy to walk into an art store, see a canvas that will fit on that empty spot of the wall and know for certain that it’s the right size of canvas that you need. But, what about digital art? The canvas is the size of my screen, whether it’s small or large. It’s so easy to choose the wrong sizing and make a mistake. So, the question is, what’s a good canvas size for digital art?
The size of your digital art canvas should be the same size as your desired final product, whether for print or digital. Use an inch to pixel converter to determine your needed dimensions in pixels at your chosen DPI. The DPI of your canvas should be at least 150 for web work and 300 for print work.
It really is as simple as choosing a canvas that’s the size of your desired final product. So, if you eventually want to print an 8×10 print, make your canvas 8×10.
I know, I know it isn’t really that simple.
We have to think about DPI, which will change the size of your canvas, even if you’re still aiming for an 8×10 print at the end of the day.
Luckily, once you know a few basics, it’s a LOT easier to pick the right canvas size without even thinking about it. Let’s dive into what you need to know.
Quick Guide to Choosing a Canvas Size
Later in this post, we’ll talk about what you need to consider when choosing a DPI for your canvas and how it impacts its size. That said, if you couldn’t care less about how all of this works and just want a clear answer on what size canvas you should pick for your digital art, I totally get it.
Here’s a chart you can use. These dimensions are based on 300 DPI, which is generally considered to be the minimum DPI for print work. And, as we’ll talk about more in depth in the next section, choose a larger size if you’re not exactly sure what size you’ll want or need.
These are most of the standard print sizes, but if you need something different, check out this great Pixel-to-Print Size Calculator. Or, just don’t worry about it. As we’ll talk about later, as long as you have your DPI set correctly, you only need to know either your pixel dimensions or your inches in order to setup your canvas.
When In Doubt, Choose a Larger Canvas
Before we talk about the specifics of choosing the right canvas, it’s important to understand how much wiggle room you have. Yes, you do have wiggle room. We’ve all played around with images, scaling them up and down to fit our needs.
Even if you don’t pick the perfect canvas size, you’ll be ok as long as you get in the ballpark.
And, when in doubt, go bigger.
You’ll notice more quality loss when you scale a small image to a larger size than when you scale a large image to a smaller size. You still want to be in the ballpark, but be in the larger end of the ballpark.
Ok, another thing that’s important to understand is DPI. It’s really easy to get confused by DPI since it seems to magically balloon your canvas size. There’s a reason for it though and it doesn’t actually impact your canvas size in the way you would think.
Choosing a DPI and How it Impacts Your Canvas Size
DPI stands for dots per inch. As the name suggests, it tells you how many dots can fit into an inch of printed work (source). So, the larger the DPI, the more dots of ink will be in each inch of your printed final product.
In general, all printed work should be a minimum of 300 DPI, but you can go higher if you plan to print posters and larger pieces of work.
Your DPI doesn’t change the inch x inch dimensions of your canvas, but it has a direct influence on the pixels x pixels dimensions of your canvas. For example, if you size your canvas to 4×6” at a DPI of 150 and then change your DPI to 300, your canvas will remain 4×6”, but the pixels will increase.
Basically, your file will be larger and be higher resolution.
The reason this happens is because a canvas with a higher DPI relies on more pixels.
So, don’t freak out if you change your DPI and see if the pixels increase. This is normal. It just means that your canvas and resulting final product will be higher resolution.
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Even though programs will tell you your dimensions and DPI, there’s a neat formula that you can use to calculate DPI. It’s also a neat way to see the relationship between pixels, inches, and DPI (source).
Let’s say that you have an 8 x 10” canvas that is 2400 x 3000 pixels. Divide 2400/8 and you get 300. Your DPI for this canvas size is 300. Pretty neat, huh?
Ok, so even though we understand the specifics of inches, pixels, and DPI, we don’t really need to. That’s what technology is for!
Let Your Design Program Pick Your Pixels for You
As long as you know the desired size of your final product and maintain a minimum of 300 DPI, you can let your design program decide what your pixel x pixel resolution will be. As you saw in the chart above, your inch x inch size relates to a specific pixel x pixel size, so you’ll be fine as long as you know one or the other.
Pixels and inches are just two different ways to measure something. One will always translate to the other as long as the DPI remains consistent.
It’s much easier to know that you want a 8 x 10” print than a 2400 x 300 pixel canvas. As long as you have your DPI set correctly, your design program will pick the appropriate amount of pixels for the inches you need.
The reverse works as well. If you only know the pixels you need, your design program will turn it into the proper inches.
Personally, I just set my design to 300 DPI and just go with whatever number I already know. If I’m designing for the web, I use the pixels that are appropriate for a website. If I’m designing for print, I use the inches that I’ll be printing at. The rest just works itself out.
Be Careful of Your Design Program’s Maximum Size
Unless you’re designing a billboard, you most likely will never have to worry about creating a canvas so big that your design program can’t handle it. That said, it’s an important thing to keep in mind, especially if you design on a tablet or iPad.
It’s hard to give a firm limit on canvas sizes for varying programs because it will depend on your DPI. In general, many programs can tolerate a certain number of pixels per design. Remember that the higher your DPI, the more pixels you’ll need. This means that you’ll get fewer inches of space the higher your DPI is.
Again, this only matters if you’re maxing out your design program’s capacity.
It’s more likely you’ll run into this issue with an iPad or tablet program because there is only so much that these small devices can support. For example, if you’re using Procreate, you might struggle to get a 24 x 36” poster size at 300 DPI.
If you run into issues with maxing out your design program’s capacity, lower the DPI as much as you feel comfortable lowering it. While 300 DPI is recommended for print, anything above 150 DPI tends to print well. Talk with your printer and see how low you can get your DPI while still getting the best print results.
Again, it’s unlikely you’ll run into this issue, but it’s good to be prepared if you do.
Choosing the right canvas size for your digital art is more complicated than walking into an art store and picking the canvas that will fill the blank spot on your wall. With some practice though, it will come easily and naturally.
Simply choose your DPI and then size your canvas based upon what you’ll need as a final product. Luckily, with the magic of technology, our design programs will take it from there and deliver you the digital canvas that you need.