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This has always eluded me and I can't seem to find any straight answers. I know why when you increase the size of a photo greatly it deteriorates in quality. But I also notice that when I try to make a large file small, it also looks awful and pixely. But I don't really know why or how to keep that from happening. I've been using the "image size" feature in photoshop. I also notice that when I take the same large photo and go to print it and tell it to fit the photo to the ( much smaller) media or send it to be printed at a company on smaller paper, the quality is perfectly fine even though that's also shrinking down the photo. I feel like I'm missing something glaringly obvious that everyone knows except me. lol Can you help?

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The answers to your questions lie, most likely, in resolution (PPI).

4 hours ago, Melissa Keeney said:

I know why when you increase the size of a photo greatly it deteriorates in quality.

No it doesn't.  Increasing the size of a photo makes it neither worse nor better quality.  It just makes it larger.

If you had a print of a photo, and looked at it at arm's length, and it looked good, you'd be satisfied. If you then held that same print REALLY close to your nose, it would be much bigger to your eyes. Would you complain that it was suddenly a bad print?  Of course not - it's exactly the same print, you're just looking at a much closer view.

4 hours ago, Melissa Keeney said:

But I also notice that when I try to make a large file small, it also looks awful and pixely.

No it doesn't. The only possible explanation for this is that you're viewing at greater that 100%.  Never do that.

4 hours ago, Melissa Keeney said:

I've been using the "image size" feature in photoshop.

Good.  Never use anything else.

4 hours ago, Melissa Keeney said:

I also notice that when I take the same large photo and go to print it and tell it to fit the photo to the ( much smaller) media or send it to be printed at a company on smaller paper, the quality is perfectly fine even though that's also shrinking down the photo.

Right.  And this is the clue.  This statement is why I suspect you're messing up the resolution (ppi) when resizing.

So, talk to me about your process.  Firstly, what resolution does your lab require for prints?

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