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What is DPI (Dots per Inch)?

What is DPI (Dots per inch)?

Zach Cabading
Reading time: 5 minutes
If you’ve ever browsed the tech specs for computers, printers, and mice, you’ve probably seen the abbreviation DPI. DPI is a pretty important spec for a variety of different technologies. But what is DPI exactly, and why should you pay attention to it when shopping for electronics? Let’s answer all your questions on the subject.

What does DPI stand for?

DPI stands for “dots per inch.” It’s a measurement that gauges - you guessed it - how many dots are located in a single inch. But what exactly are these mysterious dots and what are they used for?
It depends on the technology you’re talking about - DPI is utilized differently among different kinds of devices. Generally, though, it refers to the makeup of an image.
If you wanted to create a painting, you’d take a paintbrush, dip it in paint, and make brushstrokes on a canvas. Computers can’t create images in this way, or at least, not yet. Instead, computers create images by arranging a mosaic of colored dots. On computer displays and TV monitors, these dots are called “pixels.”
For the best possible picture, you want your computer display to be formed from the highest number of pixels possible. The more pixels there are, the more colors can be added to an image, which translates to more detail and more accurate color reproduction. But in other technologies, like in computer mice, it’s not always a good thing to have a high DPI.

What is DPI in computer mice?

A modern computer mouse works by using photography. Your mouse uses a light to illuminate all the surface textures on your mousepad. Then the image sensor on your mouse records an image of the surface.
When you move your mouse, it takes new images of the surface. It compares the differences in the images to gauge how fast the mouse is moving, and uses that information to determine how far your cursor should move on your computer display.
So far as computer mice go, DPI refers to how many pixels make up each surface image that your mouse records.

Is it better for a mouse to have low or high DPI?

A mouse with a high DPI is usually more accurate because it’s able to capture more detailed images of your mousepad surface. While most folks won’t be able to tell whether their mouse is low or high DPI, gamers might.
The downside of a mouse with a high-DPI? These mice often suffer from an annoying glitch called “acceleration.” Acceleration is when you move your mouse quickly across the mousepad, but your cursor doesn’t keep a proportional pace - it moves too slowly, moves too quickly, or leaps around the display. A high-DPI mouse can capture a more detailed image of your mousepad surface, but sometimes the images are too detailed, and the mouse can’t discern what’s part of your mousepad and what’s a light reflection. That causes acceleration.
If you’re a PC gamer, your play style may determine whether you’d prefer a low or high DPI gaming mouse. High-DPI mice are very accurate so long as you keep your mouse movements small and steady, so they’re perfect if you’re going to be doing sniping. On the other hand, if you’re going to be “running and gunning” then you might prefer a low DPI mouse so you can avoid problems with acceleration.
The best gaming mice have switches that enable you to instantaneously switch between DPI settings. Our HP OMEN gaming mice are built with DPI switches so you can quickly adjust your mouse sensitivity while you’re playing first-person shooters.

How do I change my mouse DPI?

You can’t change your mouse DPI unless you bought a mouse that’s capable of doing so - most of the time, these mice enable you to change the DPI by using a switch located on the shell.
If you can’t change your DPI, you still may be able to change your mouse sensitivity. To change your mouse sensitivity on Windows 10:
  • Press the Windows key
  • Click the Settings icon (the icon is a gear)
  • Select Devices
  • Select the Mouse tab
  • Click Additional mouse options
  • In the pop-up window, select the Pointer Options tab
  • Under Motion, you can change your cursor speed by using the dial

What is DPI in printing?

Printers create images in the same way that computer monitors do, by assembling a mosaic of small dots. In an inkjet printer, these dots are made from small droplets of ink; in a laser printer, the dots are made from ink grains called toner.
On a digitally printed image, DPI refers to how many ink droplets per inch the printer uses to create documents. 600 is a pretty common DPI for home printers, but higher-end printers may use 1200 DPI.
In printing, you might also see the term PPI thrown around quite a bit. PPI stands for “pixels per image.” When your computer is queuing a document or image for print, the PPI of the image tells you how many pixels it’s made of. The printer figures out how to translate the PPI into a corresponding DPI for printing.

Is it better for a printer to have low or high DPI?

If you want to print professional-quality color photographs, you should buy a printer with a higher DPI. With a high DPI, a printer is able to incorporate more colors for greater detail, better color accuracy, and more intricate shading. If you’re looking for a great high-DPI printer, check out the HP ENVY All-in-One printers, which can also scan, fax and copy. Most HP ENVY printers are built to print at 1200 DPI. Check out the HP Tango printers if you’re looking for a color printer for your smart home. Despite its home-friendly size, it can print color documents at a remarkable 1200 DPI.
Low-DPI printers are good for printing text-based documents. These printers can also print documents much more quickly, so they’re better suited for printing a large volume of pages at once. Many of our HP laser printers print at 600 DPI. Laser printers are excellent for printing diagonal lines thanks to their pinpoint-accurate laser mechanism. As such, they’re optimal for printing documents with business logos, letterheads, or schematics.

About the Author

Zach Cabading is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Zach is a content creation specialist based in Southern California, and creates a variety of content for the tech industry.

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