Selling digital files? You can’t limit print size

These are examples of a type of frequently asked question in photography circles:

  • "What size do I need to make my digital files so the client can’t print them bigger than 5×7?"
  • "My contract allows clients to print their own photos up to 8×10, and they have to come to me for anything bigger. How do I prepare my files?"

The blunt answer is: YOU CAN’T LIMIT PRINT SIZE.

If clients feel like printing bigger, they will. And they won’t care how awful the quality is. And yes, if you’ve reduced your file size, the quality will be awful.

Even if you have it sternly written in your contract, they probably won’t even read it. This is the age of digital promiscuity – nobody respects the T&Cs that accompany anything digital.

Your only chance of enforcing it is if you have Mafia or Biker Club connections, and can send somebody around with a tyre iron to kneecap your clients who disobey the contract. Let’s face it, not many of us have those connections, and anyway, it’s probably not good for business.

So even if you do have a print size clause in your contract, don’t reduce the size of your files. It’s not worth the risk. If your client does break the rule and prints big, the best you can hope for is that it looks great, and their friends see it and book you for sessions.

If you haven’t done so already, please read my vital information about selling digital images.

Here’s another, slightly different, question:

  • "I’m selling web sized files to the client, but they’re not allowed to print them. How do I prepare them?"

As already discussed, sizing won’t stop printing. However, watermarking will. Go ahead and prepare the images at web size (I suggest 960px, the standard Facebook size) and watermark them. Put your logo on there prominently.

When I say "prominently", I don’t mean it has to be bright and in-your-face. It can be light and subtle, but it must be in a prominent position that can’t be cropped out, or easily edited out. Over part of their body, or whatever.

If you have Photoshop (not Elements, sorry) do yourself a favour and check out my watermarking action set. It’ll speed up your workflow a LOT.

Also, check out the batch-saving video for Photoshop or Elements.


If you have a question about this article, please feel free to post it in Ask Damien.