In this month’s post, we explore dollhouse printables, or printies. These are images that are sized and scaled perfectly to be printed out from a home printer and used in a dollhouse or miniature scene. We’ll learn how to make our own high quality printies. This post is pretty long and contains a lot of information so buckle up and hang on. After we get through the ‘lecture’ we’ll do a follow along tutorial project so you can practice what we’ve learned.
- Sourcing your Image
- Raster & Vector Images
- Follow Along Tutorial
- Paper Quality & Finishing
Where to Find Images for Printies
Finding an image to use is a bit tricky. While tempting, you can not simply use any image you find off Google. Most of these images belong to other people, and it’s illegal and generally poor form to steal other people’s images. Additionally, if you are planning to sell your printies, or making a bunch for friends, or even giving your only copy as a gift to a granddaughter, you’ll have further restrictions. Usable images are found in two places, either on stock photo websites, or on public domain websites. You can also always use your own art, drawings, or photos, as long as they are 100% original and not based on any other image.
Public Domain vs. Stock Photography
The freest type of images are in the Public Domain. This means that the image is not copyrighted anywhere by anyone, cannot by copyrighted, and can be used for any and all projects. These websites tend to be a bit harder to find, and the quality is often lower, but you get what you (didn’t) pay for. These images are submitted by photographers and they do not get paid for their photos. Flickr recently added a public domain option, so now you can do an Advanced Search for copyright free (Creative Commons Use) images there. Additionally, very old artwork falls under public domain, but famous art is sometimes a tad trickier. Oftentimes the museum that the piece belongs to still has some legalese preventing you from using its likeness.
Stock photography, on the other hand, are images that need to be paid for to be used. Plenty of stock photography websites exist, but to download and use the image, you need to pay for a license, or the right to use the image. Unfortunately, commercial distribution licenses (the type that allows you to resell the image or a derivation of it) are the most expensive, so it’s not the recommended course for us. If you do not plan to use the image in something you sell, you can purchase a cheaper license. Many stock photo sites run on a ‘credit’ system: you pay so much for 100 credits and this image costs 6 credits and that one is 3 credits. Many of those sites also do free trials or have free but restricted access if you sign up.
Raster vs. Vector
There are two types of images, raster images (images made up of tiny pixels) and vector images (images made up of lines, like fonts). Photographs are raster images, and anything that is scanned becomes a raster image. We will be dealing mostly with raster images, but it is important to know the difference and when to use one versus the other. Raster images are much more common and easy to work with. Their downside, however, is that raster images degrade with each size change. Vector images’ largest benefit is that they are infinitely scalable. You can make them larger or smaller and they will always remain as crisp as the original. Vector images also tend to be harder to work with simply because they are less common, and the programs that handle them are not generally free. With the exception of fonts, and the occasional clip art, you will likely be dealing almost exclusively with raster images, so we’ll start there.
Pixels, Resolution, and DPI
What is a pixel? It is a small tiny square on your screen, or it is a tiny dot from your printer. DPI (or PPI) means Dots Per Inch or Pixels Per Inch. This is how we measure resolution, or how blurry or crisp an image is. Each dot or pixel contains a single color, and with enough of them squished close enough together, a picture is formed, exactly like a tile mosaic. An image with a low resolution is made up of bigger but fewer pixels per inch. The image is then rather blurry. An image with high resolution (or high definition) contains many more pixels per inch. The more bits of color you can jam into one inch, the crisper the picture can be.
To load quickly on an Internet website, many images have their resolution reduced to 72 dpi. This is great for websites because the fewer pixels per image, the less information is needed from the website to display the image, which means faster loading times. This low resolution is bad for dollhouse printies though. We need high resolution images, otherwise our tiny printies will just be a blurry mess! The optimum resolution for our tiny printies is 300 dpi. Anything higher on our home printers is just a waste of printing time because the human eye can’t detect the improvement. Higher dpi images do actually take longer to print, so keep that in mind. Commercial printers doing books or high-gloss photography often go higher, but unless you have better than 20/20 vision, you’d be hard pressed to see the extra improvement. Commonly used dpi numbers that you might run across are 72 dpi, 96 dpi, 144 dpi, 150 dpi, 180 dpi, 240 dpi, 300 dpi, 600 dpi, and 1200 dpi.
Resampling the image means having the software program make decisions about which pixels to keep and which to get rid of when you are resizing the image. It is possible to resample in both directions, resampling down when you are reducing the size, and resampling up to increase the size. Even though you technically can resample an image up, you shouldn’t. You should NEVER try to add pixels to an image. The software will try to guess what each new in-between pixel should be, but it won’t do it perfectly, and the picture will end up blurry. Just don’t go up. Going down in size is fine. The program decides which pixels to keep and which to toss to make the image smaller. The more drastically you resample, the lower quality picture you will end up with, so keep that in mind. In general, try to resample the smallest percentage that you can, and only once per image.
Common Raster Image Editing Programs
There are many different programs you can use. I personally use Photoshop ($$), but Photoshop Elements ($), GIMP (free), or Paint.NET (free) do everything we’ll need. MS Word is NOT a raster image editing program, and MS Paint doesn’t have any useful tools to edit existing images. If you don’t have an image editing program that you are comfortable with, I recommend either Paint.NET or GIMP. Download the software, install it and play around with it a bit to get familiar.
Drawing with Math
Vectors are lines and shapes created by math. If you ever had a graphing calculator in math class (or had a mean teacher who made you do it all by hand), you might remember equations like x = y + 1. This equation could then be plotted on a graph, and became a diagonal line. No matter how big or small your values for x were, the line was always a perfect line. Then things got complicated and suddenly equations drew circles and parabolas. The concept that math can draw shapes is all that vectors are. We can have an image of a circle, and if we decide later that we want the circle to be twice as big, it’s still a crisp circle. This is because the circle was not drawn pixel by pixel, but with a bit of math that says ‘a perfect circle goes here’. The same is true of fonts. You can type out a book report at 12 pt font and then decide to enlarge the font to 18 pt and the letters are still just as clear as they were at 12 pt. This is because the shape of every letter has math behind it telling the software how to display every letter perfectly at any size. We won’t go much further into vectors because we won’t be using them much.
Common Vector Image Editing Programs
Vector programs are a bit harder to come by than raster programs. This is partly because vectors are not as widely used by the general populace, and also because most of the good ones aren’t free. I have Adobe Illustrator, and I honestly couldn’t name another vector editing program without doing a Google search for one. The few I found were mostly for Mac or Linux systems. This isn’t the worst thing ever though. Most raster programs have the ability to deal with text because it’s such a common thing, so any of the raster programs listed will be just fine for our needs. If you find that you just can’t accomplish the same thing with a raster program, you are in luck. You likely already have a great text editor software installed, MS Word! With tiny font sizes, the ability to rotate text, and the simple but robust shapes tool, you can make any number of text-based printies.
Try It Yourself Tutorial
Step 1: Download the Image File
Here’s an example image you might find on the web. Right click on it, and select ‘Open Link In New Tab (or New Window)’. This will bring up a tab (or window) containing only the image. Do not pick ‘Open Image in New Tab’. We want the larger version, and picking that will open a copy of the tiny one instead. Sometimes if you hover your mouse over the newly opened image, a magnifying glass pops up with a + sign inside it. If you get that, always click on the image once. This will enlarge the image further. You always want to be working with the LARGEST size image you can. Remember, the bigger the image, the more pixels it probably has to work with, and the more pixels, the crisper your finished printies will be. Right click on the image and choose ‘Save Image As…’ and save it somewhere on your computer. I save things to my desktop so I can find them, and then later put things in folders, but you might be more organized from the beginning and save it to a dollhouse printies folder you already have somewhere. Just remember where you put it!
Step 2: Open the Image in your Editing Software
Next, open the image in your image editing software. Open our example sunset tree image with the program and look for a menu item that says something like Image Size. The pop up dialog box will show you how many pixels in each direction the image is, as well as how many inches (or another unit of measure, you might have to change it) and the resolution. If your file is 720 pixels by 540 pixels, 10 inches by 5.5 inches and 72 dpi, you did the first step correctly and downloaded the full-sized image. If your image is only 300 pixels by 225 pixels, some 4ish by 3ish inches, and 72 dpi, you downloaded the wrong image and need to redo the first step. You need to open the image in a new window and download that one, instead of the one on this page. Remember, you always want to get the largest image to start with!
Step 3: Increasing the DPI
The next step is to compress our image. The image currently has 72 dots per inch, and we need it to have 300. Right click on the image to see the steps. First, look for a check box that says ‘Resample’ and make sure it is unchecked. We do not want to resample. Next, in the resolution box, change 72 to 300. While you are doing this, the document size numbers should update themselves as well, to a much smaller size. If they do not, or if when you hit OK your image remains the same size in inches, resampling was on and you messed up. Hit Undo and try again.
Note: If 300 DPI Makes an Image too Small
If, when you converted your image to be 300 dpi, it ended up being smaller than you wanted, hit Undo. In the same area where we were changing the dpi of the image, we can change the size as well. Just tell the software how big you’d like the image to be but don’t let it resample. Having it unchecked will up the dpi correctly while shrinking your image to the size you’d like. It won’t end up at any nice number more than likely, but as long as you are above 150, you are fine. 300 dpi isn’t some magic number. It’s our goal, but you can’t ever add new pixels. You can print at 237 dpi or 186 dpi or whatever you need to.
Step 4: Shrinking the Image with Resampling
Now we can further shrink the image if we need it smaller, and we have two choices. Let’s say we want the picture to only be 1 inch across. We can either make the resolution higher, 720 dpi (360 pixels * 1 inch), or we can resample the image. If we resample the image, we have to get rid of over half the pixels. At this size, and as long as you are at 300 dpi, I would still recommend simply resampling the image. The only time I would recommend going higher than 300 dpi is if there is any text involved. Text needs to be super clear to read, and resampling will always blur the text. Still, tossing out half the pixels might not always be the right answer, so have that Edit Undo button at the ready. If you do decide that you don’t like what was done to your image, you NEED to use Undo rather than resampling the image larger.
You’ll often find that you’ll have to do both, changing the resolution and changing the size. I do not recommend doing both in one step, because most programs aren’t smart enough to handle it the way you’d like. First change the dpi with resampling turned off, then turn it back on and resample the image as you scale the image smaller. This will ensure that the maximum number of pixels were kept and your image is as clear and as crisp as it can be.
Note: Dealing with Text
If your image has text on it, or if you are adding text to it, special handling is required. If you are adding text to your image, do that as the last step. Try to avoid resampling text whenever possible. It is much better to add the text later at a smaller font size than it is to put it in first and resample it smaller. If you want practice working with the text tools, go ahead and add in a motivation quote or word to the tree picture. I started to add in the word ‘Peaceful’ but mistyped it to ‘Peachful’ and decided to go with it just for fun.
Step 5: Save and Print
Once you’ve done all that hard work, you need to save your image. It’s a good idea not to save over your original file, so do a ‘Save As…’ and rename the file to something else. If you are just doing a quick test print, or only need one, or don’t mind wasting paper, you can go ahead and hit print. In the printer settings menu, the important thing to look for is to make sure that ‘Scale to Fit Media’ or ‘Fit to Page’ or anything like that is NOT checked. We just spent forever making sure the image is the exact size we want it, so don’t let your printer thwart your efforts with a single missed check box.
If you are ready to print out a bunch of these little printies, a good plan for that is to create a ‘printing document’. Create a new document that is the same size as your paper (usually 8.5 x 11 for us in the States), at 300 dpi. Then you can copy and paste all the printies you want to print into that new document and print all of them on the same sheet of paper. You can either print multiples of the same one or a bunch of different printies. As long as all the printies are all 300 dpi, this method will work every time. If you have printies that are different resolutions, you can’t combine them into one sheet. When you are changing the DPI, it’s the DPI of the entire page, so you can’t have this image be 300 and that one be 280 if they are on the same sheet together. If you try to paste an image with a different DPI into your printing document, the image will automatically resize to the document’s DPI and that will mess up the scale of the imported image. It’s good to get into the habit of checking the DPI of an image before you copy and paste it.
You can also use this printing document to reuse paper. If you printed something in one area of the paper, you can just move your next printie to a different area of the paper and feed it back through the printer. This does require you to know which side your printer prints on and in which direction, but that’s easy enough to find out by drawing an arrow on a sheet of paper to mark which way it went in, sending it though, and seeing where the printed stuff ended up in relation to your arrow.
A Note on Paper
The last thing to consider with your printies is the type of paper you are using. There are tons of different options out there, and the right one to use is entirely based on what you are printing. If you are printing out a glossy calendar or Polaroids, then a glossy photo paper is ideal. If you are printing out old ‘fabric’ book covers then a matte finish paper might be the right choice. Given the option, you should always use good quality paper. Cheap paper is often not colorfast, and you don’t want your printies to fade over time, right? You might keep some cheaper paper on hand to do testing on, but when you are ready to print the ‘real’ ones, quality should win out over cost.
You also are not limited to only photo paper. There are a ton of other things you can print on. You can cut down construction paper or art paper to fit in your printer to create something with a bit more tooth (and it will look more like canvas) or you can create transfer paper by printing on freezer paper. Some printers can be coaxed into printing on fabric. You can print on water slide decal paper to make translucent decals or stickers. Some printers even have the ability to print on CDs, and thus should be able to print on other stiff materials such as cardboard. Find the right material for what you are trying to model and your mini will be taken to the next level.
Your options are limitless, all you need to do is learn what your printer can do and then get creative. The only true problem you might run into is if you have a very old printer that doesn’t have very high DPI capabilities. As we learned earlier, if you create a lovely little printie at 300 dpi, but you printer can only print as high as 150, what was the point? Printing technology has improved over the years and the prices of good printers has dropped drastically. I recently bought an inkjet color printer that claims to be able to print up to 9600 dpi, and I paid only $80 for it, shipping included.
After you’ve printed out your printies, you’ll need to cut them. A good sharp exacto knife and straight edge is the best tool, but a good sharp pair of scissors is all you really need. If you need to glue your printie to another piece of paper or cardboard, do the gluing first, so you make only one cut through both sheets. If you do them separately, you’ll never be able to get them to line up perfectly. You’ll also want to address the edge of the paper. A good trick to disguise the bright white edge is to color it with a colored pencil. You can also use markers, but some papers soak up the ink and spread it to the rest of the image, ruining the print job. Many people also advise to seal your printies, and depending on the paper you used, that isn’t a terrible idea. One sealer I often saw being recommended was a shoe waterproofing sealant from Payless Shoes. As always, do testing first in case you’d ruin something you can’t replace. I’ve personally never had any of my prints not be colorfast, but your mileage may vary. If you are using papers other than quality photo paper, this might be a sound bit of advice.
If you can think of any advice I missed, or need clarifications on any of these steps, leave me a comment below! Thanks so much, and get printing!