The best software for beautiful large prints?

Note: Topaz is running a sale through Jan 1, 2021. Use discount code gbenz15 to stack discounts for a total savings of 40% off Gigapixel‘s regular $99 price.
I print a lot of images both for myself and clients. Most of the time, these are large prints which require enlargement. For example, I frequently print 40×60″ prints from my Nikon D850. Without interpolation, those 46-megapixel RAW files would only be 137 dpi at that size. My goal is 300dpi, which would be a 218% enlargement of the linear dimensions or equivalent to shooting on a 172-megapixel camera. Safe to say I won’t own one of those anytime soon. And that’s not the largest size I might print. Unless you only make small or medium-sized prints, it’s important to know how to enlarge your images.
In this tutorial, you’ll learn the pros and cons of the most common options and how to get the best results from each. I use a variety of tools, including Photoshop’s “Preserve Details“, Topaz Gigapixel AI, and ON1 Resize. There are numerous alternatives, but I recommend Gigapixel. (Note that if you decide to purchase Gigapixel, use discount code gbenz15 for 15% off.*)

Note that I also generally recommend ON1 Resize for those printing on canvas, as it has an excellent tool for created reflected edges for gallery-wraps. However, in my experience with the latest 2021 version, there are some problematic bugs and so I skipped it for this video and recommend holding off purchasing or upgrading for now. ON1 is a great company and I’m sure they will address these bugs. I have reached out to them for support and will update this article when they have a release which addresses these issues.

I use all of these options because each has its own strengths. A direct comparison is difficult to do, for a few reasons. First, the controls are different and you really have to spend time to find optimal results to compare from Resize and Gigapixel. And second, all enlargement interacts with sharpening and noise. For example, some of these algorithms may add a lot of sharpening, others very little. The immediate result isn’t a fair comparison until you have finished the image. The best algorithm is really the one that gets you to the best final print, including consideration of how you process noise and sharpness in the image both before and after using one of these enlargement tools. With those caveats out of the way, I think there are some clear differences between the various options.
So before we get to the comparison further below, let’s take a look at how to get best results from each of them. Note that for each of them, make sure you start from a flattened copy of your work (just duplicate the image and flatten all layers). Resizing layers and layer masks is possible, but may easily lead to poor results. And the other tools may throw some cryptic error (especially with Smart Objects and Adjustment layers) about “command not available” or “GatherImageDataFilter”.

How to get great enlargements with Photoshop “Preserve Details”:

The options here are limited and pretty straight-forward.
  1. Go to Image / Image Size.
  2. Make sure “resample” is checked and the dropdown next to it is set to “Preserve Details (enlargement)“. While there is a “2.0” option, the original is generally best.
  3. Enter the desired output size.
  4. The “reduce noise” slider is helpful when working with noisy images, such as ISO 6400 images of the night sky. You should leave reduce noise to 0 for images shot at low ISO, but consider something like 25% for noisy images.

How to get great enlargements with Gigapixel AI:

  1. Go to File / Automate / Topaz Gigapixel AI to start the plugin from within Photoshop.
  2. Choose your preferred settings
    • You can choose size by scaling factor, but picking a height or width is typically simplest. Click the dimension units to switch between pixels, inches, or cm and choose the desired resolution (300 pixels per inch is a good choice if you don’t know what to use). The full output dimensions are shown below the image.
    • Choose Standard for most images or Architectural for cityscapes or other highly detailed images with sharp edges. The Compressed option is meant for when working with low quality source files and Art is for graphics, so you probably won’t use either of them.
    • Clicking “auto” is a very good option. While you can often do a little better in most cases, the difference is unlikely to be noticeable in most prints. But the greater the enlargement, the greater the benefit to spending time on the next few options.
    • “Suppress noise” helps improve detail significantly in high ISO images. For most (clean) images, just leave this at 0-20%. For high ISO images (such as ISO 6400), try up to 80 or even 100%.
    • “Remove blur” is a confusing way of basically saying: sharpen the image image. It can be used for handheld images or other scenarios where there is some subtle blurring of your subject, but it can also simply be used to add sharpness to any image. This slider is a significant part of the apparent sharpness of Gigapixel at default settings and the best choice here depends on your image, personal preference, and whether / how you plan to sharpen the image separately after enlarging it. 50% is a good general-purpose setting here, but this is the one setting where it really pays off to try different values and to fine the best preview.
    • “Reduce color bleed” isn’t quite what you would expect. I find that it adds a bit of detail, with a risk of some artifact. Toggle it on and off if you’d like to see if the extra detail is helpful in key areas. I generally leave it off.
    • Try “face refinement” if you are enlarging and image with people.
    • In my testing, none of the options other than size affect the processing time, so just pick what looks best in the preview.
  3. Click “Apply” when done.
The final output includes both the result from Gigapixel AI, as well as another version which is identical to Photoshop’s “bilinear” resampling method. In most cases, you can probably just delete the lower layer, but it is helpful if you wish to blend the results using lower opacity on the top layer or paint black on a layer mask.
Note that I have found the time to process the image is not affected by any of the options, so you should just choose the settings that look best in the preview. If you need to save time, you should use one of the other approaches for enlargement.

How to get great enlargements with ON1 Resize:

The interface is a bit complicated if you want to dive into all the options. I recommend just using a few to keep things simple. Here’s the workflow I recomend:
  1. Go to File / Automate / ON1 Resize to start the plugin from within Photoshop.
  2. Under Document Size: Set the final dimensions and resolution you need.
  3. Settings is the key set of controls for enlargement. Choose the best preset under “image type”. Leave the method on “Geniune Fractals” and the sliders as set by the preset. You can optimize texture, threshold, and smoothness; but I don’t think it’s worth it for most users. The controls are confusing and there isn’t really a live preview. The defaults are fine. If you want to tweak details for best results, I recommend using Gigapixel instead.
  4. Skip “Sharpening” and use options in Photoshop instead.
  5. Skip “Film grain” for most use, though it’s worth trying various options for portrait work.
  6. Use the “Gallery wrap” for mirrored edges if printing on canvas. Set the type to “reflect“, thickness for the depth of your canvas frame, and leave the opacity at 0 to avoid adding an overlay color to the edges.

Photoshop vs Gigapixel AI vs ON1 Resize

Here’s a quick rundown of the pros and cons:

Photoshop (Preserve Details 1.0):

  • Lightning quick. In my baseline test with an images from a Nikon D850, Preserve Details 1.0 took 6-8 seconds. By comparison, ON1 Resize took 50-120 seconds (roughly 8-15x longer) and Gigapixel AI took 18 – 42 minutes (up to 400x longer).
  • Batch processing. If you want to use actions to process multiple images, Photoshop’s built-in method is the only one that can be fully automated. You can specify the outputs and use an interactive mode. While Resize and Gigapixel have plugins which can be launched via actions, you can’t request specific values to use and will have to manually interact with each image.
  • Good-enough quality. While it comes in third place here, it still provide very good and usable results. For less demanding scenarios such as modest enlargements or images that will be viewed from a distance, the quality benefit of the other options isn’t worth the time.
  • No additional cost. However, if you print more than very occasionally, I wouldn’t say cost savings is a benefit here, because I think it’s worth buying either or both of the other options for at least some printing.
  • Best for: Small enlargements, tight budgets, and saving time.

 

Gigapixel AI:

  • Excellent quality! Gigapixel AI flat out wins on quality for most, if not all, images I have tried.
  • However, that quality requires patience. Be prepared to wait a long time for each image. And the heavy CPU use will quickly crush a laptop battery, so you’ll probably want to do this work while you’re plugged into the wall.
  • Best for: Highest quality.

Note: Topaz offers a free trial, and you can save 15% off when purchasing Gigapixel by using discount code gbenz15. You can also save even more by purchasing it as part of the Topaz Suite with all their major products.

 

ON1 Resize:

  • Canvas: Where Resize really shines is for printing on canvas. It has a built-in option to create gallery-wrapped edges. And with the lower resolution of canvas media, the quality benefits of Gigapixel are much less pronounced and won’t be something you’d see in the finished canvas in many cases.
  • Great quality. I would say that Resize is definitely better than Photoshop’s Preserve Details, but Gigapixel is clearly the best for large enlargements on high-quality media.
  • Best for: Printing on canvas.

 

And while I don’t use it myself, I do want to at least mention one other very good free option…

RAW Therapee:

  • Great quality for free. RAW Therapee is designed as a RAW processing program, but is free and happens to include an enlargement algorithm which produces better results than Photoshop. I don’t personally think it is as good as Gigapixel, but it’s definitely worth a look if cost is a concern.
  • The major downside here is ease of use. There is no Photoshop plugin and the interface is much more complicated than Resize or Gigapixel. Just choosing new dimensions and saving is a confusing task.
  • To resize: open the image, go to the transform tab (looks like scissors and a triangular ruler), check resize and allow upscaling, enter the desired dimension (leave method on Lanczos), then click the save option towards the bottom-left of your image.
  • If you need to address noise, you can do that in RAW Therapee as well by looking under the Detail tab (icon just right of the +/- exposure icon) and then clicking the dot by Noise Reduction to turn it on and then adjusting the settings below. However, you will probably find it easier to do noise reduction with other software first, given the complexity of the options here.
  • Best for: Lots of control for free. This is probably best for those looking to use a completely open-source software workflow.

 

 

Enlargements are just one piece of the puzzle when making prints. If you’d like to see more tutorials on printing, please let me know in the comments below.

 

[* Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. I rarely endorse other products and only do when I think you would thoroughly enjoy them. By purchasing through my on this post, you are helping to support the creation of my tutorials at no cost to you.]


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