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Adobe InDesign: Why Do my Images Look So Bad?

by Barb Binder, Adobe Certified Instructor on InDesign

No one wants to see a low-resolution, pixelated image in their InDesign layout, but it happens all the time. There are three primary reasons why:

  1. You placed a low-resolution file into your layout. Remember the rule of thumb for color or grayscale images that are intended for print on large commercial printers: scan at a resolution of 1.5 to 2 times the screen frequency used by the printer. For example, if your output device uses a screen frequency of 133 lpi (lines per inch), then your image should be between 200 and 266 ppi (pixels per inch). You can view the resolution of your placed file by selecting its name in the Links panel and checking the resolution settings:

    Adobe InDesign: Viewing the Actual Resolution of an image in the LInks panel
    Adobe InDesign: Viewing the Actual Resolution of an image in the Links panel
  2. You placed a file with appropriate resolution into your layout, and then enlarged it, effectively lowering the resolution. You can see when this happens in the Links panel, as well. At the original size, the image below was 300 ppi. When I doubled the image size in InDesign, I lowered the effective resolution to 150 ppi.

    Adobe InDesign: Viewing the Effective Resolution of an image in the LInks panel
    Adobe InDesign: Viewing the Effective Resolution of an image in the LInks panel
  3. You did everything right and it still looks pixelated. If you have checked the image resolution in the Links panel, and have the appropriate Actual & Effective resolution for your output device, then it’s most likely simple a matter of customizing the display settings.  Choose View >  Display Performance > High Quality Display. It will take InDesign a few seconds longer to display your page, but the result should look significantly better! (If you need more details on Display Performance contols, see Adobe InDesign: Display Performance Controls—They’re Everywhere!)

    Adobe InDesign: View > Display Performance > High Quality Display
    Adobe InDesign: View > Display Performance > High Quality Display
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37 thoughts on “Adobe InDesign: Why Do my Images Look So Bad?

  1. thank you so much! I’ve been working on a media studies project and as I was working my images would always look pixelated and it was worrying!
    Your clear instructions are really good as well! 🙂

  2. OR: You are missing image files in the location you have your InDesign file. I was having this problem where some images printed pixelated and others didn’t. When I realized all the blurry pictures were on my flash drive (not plugged into the computer) I was able to fix them. Just make sure you have all your images saved in the same folder/device as your InDesign file before you export it to PDF and you should be fine!

  3. I was experiencing the same issue but it also had to do with how I was exporting my files to recipients. If you’re sharing a file back and forth with someone and using an interactive PDF, that’s why the image quality is being compromised! Try switching it to a print PDF and they’re back to being crisp images, as long as you’ve followed the previous steps for making sure your images are as clean as could be.

  4. Very good!! I’ve read a lot of documents and I still had my images pixelated. Your explanation is very well achieved! Thank you*

  5. I had this exact problem. I was placing images into a book design, all were high quality display and 300 dpi but still pixelated when zoomed in even slightly, and of course when printed too.
    I realised that after saving my document but then changing the location of all my images when I came to re-open my Indesign file there was a warning saying that I had missing links. Once I re-linked everything quite simply (by clicking the alert in the links tab and choosing the new destination) everything was fine. Ensure your links are all running smoothly!

  6. Thanks so much… You are a life saver. I was playing around with my image qualities for about an hour before finding your article. I had everything correct except for my display 🙁

    Well Done… Problem solved!!!

  7. Or you’ve moved your original images, so the links are broken and it shows a pixelated version, relinking will correct it, if that is indeed the issue.

  8. The view/display solution was so simple! Thanks a million!

    I had to rework certain parts of a project and you saved me from the time consuming and so usual “ho well, they must have used low-res graphics, let’s redo the whole thing”

    Thanks again!

  9. Thank you so much! I was “doing everything right” like you said in option 3 and it was still looking blurry. Choosing “high quality display” fixed it. Thank you again!

  10. Thank you so much for your clear a& concise advice!!! The pixelated image was just a matter of adjusting the Display Performance to High Quality Display. I was like ‘here I am placing this SUPER high resolution image, and it still shows pixelated …. ?!?!’.

  11. Thank you so much. This has made a massive difference in terms of quality when I export my document into a PDF or print it directly from the InDesign document.

  12. Thank you so much! So glad to find this post! Saved my friend’s project and always grateful for solutions in times of emergency!