I need to do a poster, 8m width by 3.7m height, consisting of photographic elements that will be seen from varying distances. I've talked to the printer and they can do it at 150ppi's.

The issue here is how to work it. Using this calculator I've came to:

poster measurements
= 47244px vs 21850px

memory requirements
memory required = (number of pixels in image ) X (number of bytes per pixel )
47244 x 21850 x 3 (24 bits) = 3096844200 bytes = 3GB

And I'm working on a 3GB computer that, understandingly has to page some information to virtual memory, so it would take some time, however it keeps crashing.

How do professionals work this out?

  • 2
    You talked to the printer? Could you teach me how to do that? :p – paddotk Jun 25 '12 at 13:50
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    @poepje you just pick up the phone... Drukkerij is printer in English. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Printer_(publishing) – Frankie Jun 25 '12 at 15:11
  • Haha, I know, I was only joking. What I meant was that the machine is called the printer, I didn't know that companies could also be called that :) – paddotk Jun 25 '12 at 15:18

I'm not really certain what the question is... How to work with large files?

You need as much RAM as a machine can hold and you can afford. 3GB is scraping the bottom anymore. Especially for large files.

A 64Bit operating system and Photoshop running under 64bit helps.

A separate drive (not partition) to use for scratch space will also help speeds.

A good video card with 1GB of RAM on it. Photoshop utilizes the GPU a great deal anymore.

"Professionals" tend to immediately add RAM to almost every system. An adequate minimum would be about 4GB anymore, but even that can quickly be chewed up.

Faster processors and multiple processors also help quite a bit. Generally professionals aren't buying the low-end model of any computer. If anything, more professionals buy the high-end models, especially if they are working on print, flexo, or media other than, or in addition to, web and screen delivery.

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  • appreciate the input. Specially the part on "scratch space". Google'ed it and it's something similar to virtual paging, that's exactly the sort of "tricks" I was hoping for. I was also considering something along sharding (concept copied from databases where you split them in several smaller pieces) is this used by the industry or does "scrath" provide it as a transparent layer? Thanks. – Frankie Jun 23 '12 at 0:14
  • Not certain you can "shard" the temp storage used by apps like Photoshop. And if you could, I'd imagine that would actually be detrimental to speeds. Adobe apps write to scratch space always. A nice, fast, separate drive is really all that's needed. – Scott Jun 23 '12 at 0:29
  • when I referred to sharding I was thinking about actually splitting the image into several parcels where you would work separately, but in a semi-automatic kind of way (not actually having different files). I would assume there are people who have to work on 100 meters and above images and throwing RAM at it will scarcely be the solution. That said the "scratch" methodology seams to be the "de facto" approach. Going to wait a bit more and if no magic bullet comes along accept your answer. Thanks! – Frankie Jun 23 '12 at 2:15

As others have noted, buying more RAM is rarely a bad idea when working with images, particularly very large ones.

However, another way to approach the problem would be to design your poster in a vector graphics editor such as Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape. As vector graphics are scalable, they can be rendered at any size or resolution without suffering from pixelization. Also, the amount of memory needed to store and manipulate them depends only on the number and complexity of objects present, not on their size.

Obviously, if your poster includes "photographic elements", then those will have to be embedded as raster images. However, you won't need to scale the photographs above their natural resolution, since the vector graphics renderer will do that for you. (In some cases, you may want to scale the photos up by a relatively small factor, e.g. 2x or 3x, ideally using a high-quality rescaler like PhotoZoom Pro or Perfect Resize, but this depends a lot on how high their quality is to begin with — images with low resolution but high sharpness generally benefit most, while those with a high nominal resolution but low sharpness usually won't.)

It's also possible to trace raster images into vector outlines, but this tends to only work well for "cartoon-like" images that already consist of relatively clean and simple lines. For photos, you're generally better off sticking with raster images and only embedding them into a vector drawing.

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  • thks. This was a very useful explanation! – Frankie Jun 25 '12 at 16:58

Get more RAM.

Seriously. I had the same problem on a machine with only 2GB of RAM and it was a wonder I ever got anything accomplished.

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  • Thks for the answer! Even assuming that on my personal case throwing hardware at the problem can solve it, I would imagine that there are scenarios where that would be unrealistic (say the image was 10 times larger). Perhaps sharding the image? I was looking into that sort of hacks... – Frankie Jun 22 '12 at 19:05
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    You could shard the image if you know you're good enough to stitch it back together seamlessly at the end, but I wouldn't recommend it as a standard workflow. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jun 25 '12 at 17:19

Yeah you need to get more RAM on your computer. Its pretty cheap these days and its one of the easiest parts of your computer to upgrade in my opinion. Also if you're making a professional print, you're PPI should be 300 or even higher for very high quality prints.

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  • on this specific case the printer only goes to 150dpi. No need to try and put more dots/pixels to the inch as the outcome will be the same. – Frankie Jun 22 '12 at 19:45
  • Oh ok, just use that number for future reference then :) – Zach Sugano Jun 22 '12 at 19:47

If you go to Edit > Preferences > Performances you can see how much RAM you have (or at least how much PS recognises) and set the amount of max MB's of RAM you want, increasing this might help a little.

If that doesn't do the trick for you: it's two options or a combo of both:

  • Get a computer with more RAM. For large files, PS requires a large amount of RAM.
  • Instead of RAM, a better videocard could just be the solution. PS also requires a decent videocard, and even more important, a fair amount of video RAM. This is the memory needed for the processing your videocard does.

RAM and videocard RAM are not 'interchangable' and do not compensate each other in any way. This is important to know! You need both.

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I don't want to make any assumptions (this could be a fine art photo piece in a gallery for all I know) but I would be surprised if you really want or need to print at 150ppi for a piece this size.

As you say, your image would need to be about 1 billion pixels (1000 megapixels). Is your source imagery going to provide this? Are your audience going to notice the difference? You say "consisting of photographic elements" - only?

Also, there's no point in upgrading your PC and providing a GB-sized file if the printer's hardware can't handle it. I would make absolutely sure of this before going to these extremes.

If the main thrust of the question is "how do the pros do it?" then the answers to What resolution should a large format artwork for print be? should cover it.

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  • thanks for your input. Just to give some feedback, it will be am artsy panel that will sit on a wall where people will be able to sit very near. The artist wants people to be able to see the minor details as well as the broad image. Just imagine that image everyone has seen where you create a persons face consisting of several small images (something along that trail). The good news, with a scrath disk, and 8GB RAM, photoshop did stutter a bit but was able to keep workable. The panel is already being printed and, from what I could tell, it's looking pretty awesome. Thanks. – Frankie Jul 2 '12 at 17:55
  • Good to hear. How big was your final image - doesn't PSD have 2Gb file size and 30k pixel size maximum? – e100 Jul 3 '12 at 10:46
  • as for the limits I really don't know but my experience was that Photoshop saved the file as a *.bsd (big photoshop?), that was around 5GB, the *.tiff version about 3GB and it was sent over the net 7z'ipped that was able to compress the *.tiff to less than 1.5GB. – Frankie Jul 3 '12 at 17:06

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