Microsoft Office products are great for standard office fare, but these days, people use word for much more than the basic office memo. Between Word and Powerpoint, most people find themselves itching to add some flair, and that’s where we usually get into trouble.
A single pixelated image can distract us.
For most instances you’ll probably do a quick image search to find what you’re looking for. However, your company logo, you already have (or someone does). Unless you ask your marketing or creative department directly, you’re likely to use a JPG or PNG of the logo. After all, applying your company brand to any document makes it look more ‘official’. You hit print and it doesn’t look 100% like you’re seeing on your screen. Something is off, but not enough to really worry about it, and our mindset shifts from ‘adding the logo looks professional’ to ‘well it doesn’t have to be perfect, just above average’. What was once a major player in the document is now merely an afterthought and may actually hurt the credibility of the doc more than we originally perceived it’s helpfulness. So, how do we fix it?
TLDR: Use SVG when possible, and higher-res raster images.
The year is 2020, and we still find web-graphics embedded in Word documents and it should stop. You see, images you pull off of the web are usually still 72ppi (pixels per inch), which means for every inch of monitor space, the image is composed of 72 pixels (or dots). While this standard IS evolving and our displays are getting higher def, 72ppi images are still very prevalent for monitor use.
Your printer, on the other hand does not print at such a low resolution. It prints in 300dpi (ink dots per inch). While pixels and dots aren’t the same, we’ll be forgiven if we think of them as interchangeable between mediums. What this means, is for every 72ppi image we attempt to print, your printer has to scale the image up to 300dpi before the ink can be shot onto the paper.
It’s no mystery in today’s modern world that scaling any image up is bad practice, but when the conversion happens away from view, it’s hard to see the issue. A 72ppi image is only 25% of what is needed for the printer to make a clean image.
Alright Brainiac, now what?
Lol, simple. We need to use better images, but first we should understand that images fall into two main categories. VECTOR and RASTER.
Vector graphics are images composed of connected coordinates (think of connect-the-dots). I triangle vector graphic is really just three lines of coordinates that are connected. Not only does this save file size, but it also is infinitely scale-able. The same image can be 2000 feet wide or 2 centimeters wide as your computer just moves the coordinates out at scale based on how large you want it. This format is great for flat colors, line art and logos. Not so much for photographs, in that case you’ll need…
Raster imagery, which is an image composed of pixels. Squares of color data that when small enough (or you stand back far enough from) resemble a photo. If you get too close or use a looking glass, you can see the individual squares (or on print, the dots). When you scale a raster image up that has 5 red pixels to 13 red pixels, the computer has to now fill that 13 pixels of space with 5 pixels of data. It guesses, and the result is a grainy pixelated mess. Scaling down isn’t an issue, as the computer will subtract data. Scaling up, it has to magically add data that doesn’t exist, which is bad form.
Microsoft’s inability to adapt (quickly)
Microsoft office products aren’t known for creating beautiful works of art. They’re meant to be workhorses. Their role is more about substance over style. Sure, there has always been an ‘add image’ button, but over the years Microsoft’s priority has been lazy at best regarding graphics handling. In their mind, nobody would print a Powerpoint because it wasn’t made for that. It’s sole use is for presentations via screen or projector. Word also has a single job, document creation. In a perfect world, that’s all they would be used for.
However, MS Office is ubiquitous in the business world, and when there’s a will, there’s a way. Enter the proverbial lunch-lady. Don’t pretend to not know what I’m talking about. People have software at their fingertips, and nothing better, so they get creative. It’s only natural. Yet the tools being used were never meant for that. Still, MS Office (as of Word 2016) has had some minor updates we can certainly make use of.
The Vector Winner: SVG
When it comes to vector art, Microsoft has finally adopted the SVG file format. Don’t worry it sounds scarier than it is. SVG stands for Scalable Vector Graphics, and this format has become widely used in both the web and print communities! You can get a SVG of your logo from your marketing or creative department. You can also nab the SVG of other company logos with a simple Google search. Word and Powerpoint will show the SVG great on a screen and print it cleanly!
The Raster Winner: High Res TIFF, PNG or JPG.
With raster images, it matters less about the encapsulating format (like JPG/TIFF/PNG) and more about the resolution. A 2000px wide image will print cleaner than a 100px image. Simple as that. When you do a Google image search, you can sort by image size, and usually the results display the highest res options first. Or better yet, use purchased high res stock photography. Your marketing or creative department can also help you with ‘on-brand’ image selection. At the time of this writing, TIFF images still tend to do better in Word docs than JPG, but overall resolution matters moreso.
Now, go out there and kick some MS Office tail by using SVGs when you can and high res rasters when needed.
You got this!
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