Pixels per inch (PPI) (or pixels per centimeter (PPCM)) is a measurement of the pixel density (resolution) of devices in various contexts: typically computer displays, image scanners, and digital camera image sensors. It is defined as the horizontal or vertical density (for square pixels) as those are the same but the density on along the diagonal is lower. Square pixels are the norm (otherwise those densities would be different).
PPCM can also describe the resolution, in pixels, of an image to be printed within a specified space. Note, the unit is not square centimeters. For instance, a 100×100 pixel image that is printed in a 1 cm square has a resolution of 100 pixels per centimeter (ppcm). Used in this way, the measurement is meaningful when printing an image. It has become commonplace to refer to PPI as DPI, which is incorrect because PPI always refers to input resolution. Good quality photographs usually require 300 pixels per inch, at 100% size, when printed onto coated paper stock, using a printing screen of 150 lines per inch (lpi). This delivers a quality factor of 2, which delivers optimum quality. The lowest acceptable quality factor is considered to be 1.5, which equates to printing a 225 ppi image using a 150 lpi screen onto coated paper. Screen frequency is determined by the type of paper that the image is to be printed on. An absorbent paper surface, uncoated recycled paper for instance, will allow the droplets of ink to spread (dot gain), and so requires a more open printing screen. Input resolution can therefore be reduced in order to minimise file size without any loss in quality, as long as the quality factor of 2 is maintained. This is easily determined by doubling the line frequency. For example, printing on an uncoated paper stock often limits the printing screen frequency to no more than 120 lpi, therefore, a quality factor of 2 is achieved with images of 240 ppi.
The PPI of a computer display is related to the size of the display in inches and the total number of pixels in the horizontal and vertical directions. This measurement is often referred to as dots per inch, though that measurement more accurately refers to the resolution of a computer printer.
For example, a 15 inch (38 cm) display whose dimensions work out to 12 inches (30.48 cm) wide by 9 inches (22.86 cm) high, capable of a maximum 1024×768 (or XGA) pixel resolution, can display around 85 PPI in both the horizontal and vertical directions. This figure is determined by dividing the width (or height) of the display area in pixels by the width (or height) of the display area in inches. It is possible for a display’s horizontal and vertical PPI measurements to be different (e.g., a typical 4:3 ratio CRT monitor showing a 1280×1024 mode computer display at maximum size, which is a 5:4 ratio, not quite the same as 4:3). The apparent PPI of a monitor depends upon the screen resolution (that is, the number of pixels) and the size of the screen in use; a monitor in 800×600 mode has a lower PPI than does the same monitor in a 1024×768 or 1280×960 mode.
The dot pitch of a computer display determines the absolute limit of possible pixel density. Typical circa-2000 cathode ray tube or LCD computer displays range from 67 to 130 PPI, though desktop monitors have exceeded 200 PPI and contemporary small-screen mobile devices often exceed 300 PPI.
In January 2008, Kopin Corporation announced a 0.44 inch (1.12 cm) SVGA LCD with an astonishing pixel density of 2272 PPI (each pixel only 11.25μm). According to the manufacturer, the LCD was designed to be optically magnified to yield a vivid image and therefore expected to find use in high-resolution eye-wear devices.
Holography applications demand even greater pixel density, as higher pixel density results in a larger image size and viewing angle. Spatial light modulators can be used to reduce pixel pitch to 2.5 μm, giving a pixel density of 10,160 PPI.
Some observations have indicated that the unaided human eye can generally not differentiate detail beyond 300 PPI; however, this figure depends both on the distance between viewer and image, and the viewer’s visual acuity. The human eye also responds differently to bright, evenly lit and interactive display, than prints on paper.
High pixel density display technologies would make supersampled antialiasing obsolete, enable true WYSIWYG graphics and, potentially enable a practical “paperless office” era. For perspective, such a device at 15 inch (38 cm) screen size would have to display more than four Full HD screens (or WQUXGA resolution).
Development of a display with ~900 ppi allows for three pixels with 16-bit color to act as sub-pixels to form a "pixel cluster". These "pixel clusters" act as regular pixels at ~300 ppi to produce true 48-bit color display.
The PPI pixel density specification of a display is also useful for calibrating a monitor with a printer. Software can use the PPI measurement to display a document at "actual size" on the screen.
Calculation of monitor PPI
Theoretically, PPI can be calculated from knowing the diagonal size of the screen in inches and the resolution in pixels (width and height). This can be done in two steps:
1. Calculate diagonal resolution in pixels using the Pythagorean theorem:
2. Calculate PPI:
- is diagonal resolution in pixels
- is width resolution in pixels
- is height resolution in pixels
- is diagonal size in inches (this is the number advertised as the size of the display).
For example, for a 21.5 inch (54.61 cm) screen with a 1920×1080 resolution (in which = 1920, = 1080 and = 21.5), we get 102.46 PPI; for a typical 10.1 inch netbook screen with a 1024×600 resolution (in which = 1024, = 600 and = 10.1), we get 117.5 PPI.
Note that these calculations may not be very precise. Frequently, screens advertised as “X inch screen” can have their real physical dimensions of viewable area differ, for example:
- Apple Inc.'s mid-2011 iMac is advertised as a "21.5 inch (viewable) [...] display," but its actual viewable area is 545.22 mm or 21.465 inches. The more precise figure increases the calculated PPI from 102.46 (using 21.5) to 102.63.
- The HP LP2065 20 inch (50.8 cm) monitor has an actual viewable area of 20.1 inch (51 cm).
Calculating PPI of camera screens
Camera manufacturers often quote camera screens in 'number of dots'. This is not the same as the number of pixels, because there are 3 'dots' per pixel – red, green and blue. For example, the Canon 50d is quoted as having 920,000 dots. This translates as 307,200 pixels (x3 = 921,600 dots). Thus the screen is 640×480 pixels.
This must be taken into account when working out the PPI. Using the above calculations, you require the screen's dimensions, but other methods require you to have the total pixels, not total dots.
'Dots' and 'pixels' are often confused in reviews and specs when viewing information about digital cameras specifically.
Scanners and cameras
In digital photography, pixel density is the number of pixels divided by the area of the sensor. A typical DSLR circa 2013 will have 1–6.2 MP/cm2; a typical compact will have 20–70 MP/cm2. For example Sony Alpha SLT-A58 has 20.1 megapixels on an APS-C sensor having 6.2 MP/cm2 since a compact camera like Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V has 20.4 megapixels on an 1/2.3" sensor having 70 MP/cm2. Interestingly, as can be seen here, the professional camera has a lower PPI than a compact camera, because it has larger photodiodes due to having far larger sensors.
Smartphones use small displays, but today, smartphone displays have a larger PPI rating, such as iPhone which is branded by Apple as a Retina display with maximum 326 PPI - XHDPI or Oppo Find 7 with 538ppi on 5.5" display - XXHDPI (see section below).
Named pixel densities
- LDPI: Low density, ~120 dots per inch
- MDPI: Medium density, ~160 dots per inch
- TVDPI: Medium High density, ~213 dots per inch
- HDPI or HiDPI: High density, ~240 dots per inch
- XHDPI: eXtra High density, ~320 dots per inch
- XXHDPI: eXtra eXtra High density, ~480 dots per inch
- XXXHDPI: eXtra eXtra eXtra High density, ~640 dots per inch
- List of displays by pixel density
- Dots per inch
- Computer monitor DPI standards – the origins of 96 DPI/PPI as Microsoft/Windows standard and 72 DPI/PPI as (former) Apple/Macintosh standard
- Dot pitch
- Resolution independence
- Retina display
- "Kopin unveils smallest color SVGA display". optics.org. 11 January 2008. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
- "Company Debuts World’s Smallest Color SVGA Display". SID, Information Display magazine May 2008 Vol. 24, No. 05. 31 May 2008. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
- Horizontally scanning holography to enlarge both image size and viewing zone angle Naoya Okada and Yasuhiro Takaki, Proc. of SPIE Vol. 7233 723309-1
- "Apple Retina Display". Jonesblog. 24 June 2010. Retrieved 25 September 2011.
- "Electronic displays for information technology". IBM Journal of Research and Development Volume 44, Number 3, 2000. 10 November 1999. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
- Apple iMac Tech Specs, Apple Inc.. Accessed on 27 January 2012.
- LM215WF3 LCD Product Specification, LG Display. Accessed on 27 January 2012.
- HP LP2065 20-inch (50.8 cm) LCD Monitor - Specifications and Warranty (Hewlett-Packard Company official website)
- dpreview.com, Canon EOS 50d
- Techcrunch.com, dots vs pixels
- Richard Lai (February 12, 2014). "Oppo's next smartphone due in March with 2K and 1080p display options".
- Providing Resources, Android Developers
- Android reference for developers
- Android reference for developers
- "Web Graphics Basics".
- "Utads.com Glossary of Terms".
- "Resolution, dpi and ppi".
- A very nice graphical PPI ruler – works even if you have just a piece of office paper
- Easy to use monitor DPI/PPI calculator, includes dot pitch
- Free on screen pixel ruler for Windows
- A ruler-based graphical pixel size/density measurement tool
- Nice looking online monitor DPI (or PPI or pixel-density) calculator with automatic resolution detection
- Simple online PPI calculator