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Techniques to dramatically scale an image

Is there any way that I can increase the size of these google images without ruining the quality? I'm starting with high-resolution images, but when expanded to 36" x 36", the images that I have tried are pixelated and look to be poor quality. Are there any programs that can help me? Or is there a way within the Adobe Master Collection to do this?

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"these google images" = what are 'these' images you are referring to? –  DA01 Dec 28 '12 at 21:17
    
You realize that many "google images" are not free to use, right? You may be in violation of copyrights if you're simply grabbing images from Google for use. –  Scott Dec 28 '12 at 23:36
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marked as duplicate by Alan Gilbertson Dec 29 '12 at 17:50

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

3 Answers

I would try applying a halftone effect to the images for a print that large. On its own, Illustrator does not handle halftones very well (raster only, no vector).

There is a plugin for Illustrator called Phantasm CS that could help you. I have not tried it but I believe a tool called Vectoraster would be able to achieve this effect (OS X only). If you are looking for a free solution, you can try using The Rasterbator, but a little more leg work might be involved.

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It is to be expected.

The nature of digital data is that there is only so much data there.

For images this means you only have the pixels that are there available. If you scale up these pixels will be scaled as well and it will at a certain level look pixelated.

There are techniques to compensate for some of this, such as interpolation. There are also more recent techniques that is able to do a pretty good job converting it to vectors first (see this link for example).

You can always obscure the pixelation by camouflaging it with something else, but it will still be pixelated or somewhat look altered.

In the end however, these pixels needs to be re-created somehow by actual pixels or the illusion of such, and it's in the hands of the algorithm (and artist) how well the result of this will end up to be.

The better approach is to get hold of a high-resolution image for big prints. The pixelation is a tell-tale sign for that 'this might not work' and 'extra work ahead' :)

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This question has essentially been asked before here and here.
Nonetheless, I'll take the opportunity to expand on the issue.

It won't be exactly the same effect but... Illustrator's Live Trace will allow you to enlarge to your hearts content.

Disclaimer: Depending on the photo, producing a nice photographic effect with Live Trace can result in a very big Illy file.

Adobe's help doc on the topic is a good primer.

The ever-insightful Pariah S. Burke did a quick little write-up for MacWorld that might also help. The article is 3 years old now but the principles still apply. Here's Pariah's self-portrait with various settings:

enter image description here

Experimenting with the settings dialog is the key to getting good results with Live Trace. Every photo or piece of art has it's own sweet spot and there are a lot of variables in there.

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