How Big is a 4×6 Photo? Everything You Need to Know

If you are new to photo printing, the different print sizes can be a bit confusing for you. One that you will come across regularly and should be familiar with, however, is the 4×6 – which is most commonly used in the industry.

While it’s easy for beginners to think that any image will look good when printed in 4×6 format, the reality is quite different. If you do not master several aspects, you could end up with suboptimal results.

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 format

The 4×6 photo format dates back to the 20th century, when the first 35mm cameras burst onto the photographic scene. It was easy for the printing industry to choose 4×6 as the standard because it was the same aspect ratio as 35mm film (also known as 135 film) introduced by Kodak in 1934. Each 24×36mm frame on a roll of 35mm film has an aspect ratio of 1:1.5 (or 3:2).

The 4×6 print format is based on the 3:2 aspect ratio of 35mm film.

These dimensions quickly became essential for the printing industry; they soon became standard for everything from postcards to photo albums and more.

The 4×6 photo format had (and still has) several other advantages; profitable production is perhaps the most important.

Photo albums are usually designed for 4×6 prints.

How big is a 4×6 photo in different units of length?

Before proceeding, it should be noted that sometimes 4×6 photo printing is not strictly four inches by six inches. Instead, it often measures around 4″ x 5 ⅞”. The photographic printing industry adopted these standard dimensions based on the aspect ratio of the viewfinder in most early digital cameras.

Ignoring the slight discrepancy you may find, here’s how to convert 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 the precise millimetric dimensions, the 4×6 photos are 101.6×152.4 mm.

What is the best resolution for printing 4×6 photos?

If you want to get the best possible results when printing your photos, resolutions are arguably the most crucial area to consider. However, it would be better to consider where people will see your photo, as you can get away with lower resolution in some scenarios.

Generally, 1200×1800 (or 1200×1788) is the minimum recommended resolution for 4×6 prints as it will provide 300 dpi (dots per inch). A resolution of 1024×768, or photos produced by a 0.8 megapixel camera, will also work well.

If you have a low resolution photo, however, an image size of around 480×640 will be passable at 115 dpi, but you’re pushing a fine line if you go lower than that in most cases.

If others see your image from further away, you can get away with using the resolution at the lower end of the scale. However, you will want to use a higher resolution for images that people will be holding in their hand and/or seeing up close (which they will usually do with a print of this size).

Generally speaking, a higher resolution will improve the quality of your print to some degree, while lower resolutions will negatively impact your photo print by producing blocky and pixelated results.

What aspect ratio is a 4×6 photo?

As mentioned earlier, 4×6 photos have an aspect ratio of 3:2. In simple terms, this means that the photo you captured is three units wide by two wide for photos in landscape orientation or two wide for three for photos captured in portrait orientation.

Common aspect ratios. 3:2 is represented by the green line.

3:2 was the default aspect ratio for older 35mm cameras, and it remains the case for most DSLR and mirrorless cameras today. However, some manufacturers, such as Olympus, use the 4:3 aspect ratio instead.

If your camera has a 4:3 aspect ratio, you will face a cropped image at the top and bottom if printing a landscape photo and at the left and right edges if printing a portrait image.

Do smartphones use the same aspect ratio as most cameras?

Many modern smartphones use the default 4:3 aspect ratio, which is 16:9 when shooting vertically. So you will again have to remember that crops will occur in your photo.

There are usually options that can be enabled in your settings to shoot in other aspect ratios if you want your images to print naturally well as 4×6 prints without being cropped. Although smartphones like the iPhone don’t offer 3:2 aspect ratio (the only options are 1:1, 4:3 and 16:9), there are apps you can download to shoot in 3 :2.

The easiest option is to keep the default aspect ratio and crop the photo in post-production.

Tips for shooting, cropping and printing in 4×6

If you are not using a 3:2 aspect ratio, you can still maintain a good quality image if you want to print in 4×6. Here are five things you can do to achieve this.

1. Get the right shot in a technical sense

If you get the technical aspects of your photo right, everything else, from editing to resizing, is much easier. Try to limit the blur as much as possible; if you must use a slower shutter speed, place your camera on a tripod.

You should also shoot in RAW, as this will allow you to retain more detail in your image.

2. What does the photo look like on your computer screen?

When you’re done editing your photo, you’ll need to take a closer look and make sure everything looks ready to print. Checking the image quality at 100% is a good idea.

If your photo looks 100% beautiful on your computer screen, you shouldn’t have any nasty surprises when you receive the printed version. Sometimes looking at a photo zoomed out on a computer screen can be misleading due to blurring and other imperfections that are harder to see at smaller sizes.

3. Keep important aspects of the photo closer to the center

As we mentioned earlier, image cropping is unavoidable with some cameras. If you include crucial image components near the edges, you are playing a risky game and may not get the most ideal 4×6 print result.

Keep the most important parts of your photo closer to the center if possible. You can go farther to achieve this, and using a wider angle lens will also do the trick.

4. Use photo editing software for cropping

When preparing your photo for 4×6 printing, you should use photo editing software to crop the image. It doesn’t really matter which tool you use; software such as Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop and Capture One have all the necessary features you need to prepare your photo. Even the mobile apps contain cropping features.

Cropping tools also often have an aspect ratio lock feature built in, allowing you to resize the cropping area while maintaining a 3:2 ratio.

Selecting an aspect ratio for the Crop tool in Adobe Lightroom.

Cropping a photo yourself can help ensure that your resulting composition is exactly how you want it.

You will 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. If you are using higher quality print paper, it is better to use a higher resolution.

If you are using lower quality paper, you may not notice too much of a difference if your resolution is not 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 4×6 photos can be an easy and affordable learning experience before moving on to other sizes and media. 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 significantly reduce your workload.

Now that you’ve read this guide, all you have to do is start transferring your designs to 4×6 photo paper.


Picture credits: Stock photo by Depositphotos

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