I have tried a lot of different things, including reading a lot of answers on here about this question and I still feel like there has to be a better way. Basically, I am trying to design these labels that are an exact size. I want to be able to send them to be printed and tested, but I'm having issues with sizing and resolution. I just figured out that if you select 72 PPI it will export with the correct dimensions. Awesome, but it doesn't look good at all because of the low resolution. So right now I have to take higher quality images and import them to Pages and make sure that they are the right size. Please tell me there is a more streamlined way of doing this. Thanks.

  • 1
    Why are you exporting to a raster format in the first place?
    – Cai
    Aug 3, 2017 at 16:08
  • Which is the best way to export to someone that doesn't have access to the same programs for printing mock-ups? Aug 3, 2017 at 16:12
  • 1
    Set your resolution in the document, dpi settings. Set the physical size on art board or when exporting. In the export dialogue there are places to enter your desired output dimensions. You can enter "10 in" "10 mm" or whatever units you use. Make it 300 dpi and 10 inches wide, for example. To answer your comment question, to output images that can easily open on most computers for previewing export to .JPG or save as .PDF.
    – Webster
    Aug 3, 2017 at 16:19
  • @Webster I have the artboards set up to the exact size that I need. When I save a copy as a PDF it seems like it takes up more space than it should on a standard sheet of paper. Aug 3, 2017 at 16:28
  • Clearly you're not aware of what all this means. So, just send a PDF.
    – Lucian
    Aug 3, 2017 at 18:09

3 Answers 3


Illustrator does not actually have a resolution at all, vector graphics do not. If you design for print you should print the vector content. So you would just save your design as PDF and your printers pre-processor will automatically rasterize the image to the highest possible resolution for that printer!

Now, clients have requested a pixel unit into Illustrator, but pixels do not have a a size (nor are pixels rectangles). So devs* have had to fudge a bit, so that unit is set to one 72th of an inch.

If you export with save for web or save for devices illustrator assumes that you have designed your design in number of pixels, because such devices and such workflows do not really care of your pixel pitch value because it only matters for a physical output device (printer). Anything else is not sane. Reverting to the definition above. Neither of these are meant for print ready images.

But if you save your work with Export it assumes your paper has real physical size, and it now asks for PPI value. It now has really exported at that PPI without heeding one pixel size is 72 DPI.

Alternate solutions:

  • You can open AI documents in Photoshop. They behave like export but have bigger upper limit to number of pixels.
  • You can open AI images in any PDF tool (unless you disable PDF compatibility of AI files), such as ghost script again you can rasterize to your hearts content.

* As to whether or not adobe should have done this is hard to say. Even beginning the discussion with most designers is a bit futile as they do not understand DPI/PPI. Also all of this is a bit irrelevant in a page description language as its possible to have multiple PPI values in a document. In anycase there are 3 ways to look at this thing.

  • I really appreciate this answer @joojaa . Coming to terms with the fact that my Illustrator designs would never look exactly how they do in the program was challenging to come to terms with. Haha. It seems like saving a copy as a PDF is basically doing what I was doing, but much easier. Aug 3, 2017 at 20:07
  • what do you think about me creating an artboard that is the dimensions of a standard sheet of paper so that both labels can fit on it? Then saving a copy as a PDF and only using that artboard? Aug 3, 2017 at 20:09
  • @dakotathemoose I do it all the time.
    – joojaa
    Aug 3, 2017 at 20:14
  • you're the freaking best! Thank you for all your information. I feel much better about this. Aug 3, 2017 at 20:19

So you have a specific physical printed dimension target. In my example, it will be 3 inches x 2 inches. Typical rule of thumb for printing is 300 ppi. Therefore I want an artboard that is 900 pixels by 600 pixels.

If I have software that (for some reason) will not allow me to specify pixels directly and forces me to output at a specific 72ppi, then I must adjust the artboard size to get the same pixel dimensions: 900px/72 = 12.5 inches; 600px/72 = 8.3333 inches note that 8.3333 * 72 arrives at a fractional pixel, so you might want to set that dimension slightly higher or lower in size so you have an integer value for the pixel dimension.

I would then take the resulting exported image (12.5 x 8.333 @ 72 ppi) and place it at the desired physical (inches) dimensions (3 inches x 2 inches ) in the compositing software, ignoring the ppi. The result will print at 3 x 2 inches, and the effective resolution will be 300ppi.

  • is that basically what I'm doing when I export at 300 ppi and then bring it to a program like Pages? When I drag it in at actual size then resize it to the desired size? Aug 3, 2017 at 16:33
  • ppi is a flag: it is only a single number stored int he header of the image file. Not all file formats even support ppi/dpi as a flag. For "raster graphics", the only thing that matters is pixels. Pixels are the actual data for the file and have no dimensions (they are not "square", they have no size). "PPI" (pixels per inch) is a derived number, which is obvious when you consider the word "per" essentially means "divided by." So you never place a 300 ppi image, you place a width px by height px image, and when you tell the compositing software to set it to output at (continued)
    – Yorik
    Aug 3, 2017 at 17:55
  • a specific physical "real-world" size, only then can the "ppi" even be calculated. PPI set at image creation time assumes a specific output size, but if I set the image to print 2x that physical assumption, then the effective PPI is suddenly 1/2 what it was without making any changes to the image data.
    – Yorik
    Aug 3, 2017 at 17:56
  • Note that even the "300ppi" rule of thumb assumes a specific use-case, which is why it is really a rule-of-thumb. A building-size banner is probably going to require far less than 300ppi. An accurate representation of super-fine details to be viewed at 6 inches is going to require far more.
    – Yorik
    Aug 3, 2017 at 17:59

72DPI is for screens, for print the standard is 300DPI. DPI or PPI is just a density, not the size, so if you choose 300dpi your quality will be more than 4 times better with the same size.

  • So when I export at 300 DPI and export that image, if someone prints it will it be at the correct size? The reason that I thought there was an issue was that when I dragged the exported image into a document with a shape at the correct size, it was much much bigger. Aug 3, 2017 at 16:25
  • yes! click ctrl+i (on Windows) or cmnd+i (on mac) to see the image size, make sure the dimensions are correct and density is 300dpi. Aug 4, 2017 at 17:37

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