Did you ever need to enlarge a low-resolution image? Say that kitty photo that you downloaded from the web and wanted to use as wallpaper. Or did you try to print those lovely child pictures of yours that your parents took ages ago with that old camera? Or, yes, the one and only product picture your client had to put on the website?

A few years ago, there wasn’t much you could do about it without dedicated software and relevant skills or hiring a professional. Because if you just make your picture significantly bigger, it will end up looking like a Minecraft screenshot or a Cubist masterpiece. The reason for this is the low resolution of the source image. However, today there are plenty of apps and online services that let you enhance resolution and don’t turn your photo into a cubical mess.

How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality: Mona Lisa in pixels

So, let’s see how you can upscale digital imagery. But, first, we need to understand why it’s not that easy to turn low-resolution images into high-resolution ones.

Why does simple resizing of an image don’t work?

A digital raster image consists of pixels. The more pixels, the higher the resolution.

Here’s a low-resolution image: 200 x 300 pixels, or 60,000 pixels total.
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality: hipster outfit in low quality 200 x 300 pixels

Here’s a higher resolution image: 669 x 1002 pixels, or 670,338 pixels total.
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality: hipster outfit in higher resolution 669 x 1002 pixels

In small sizes, they look almost the same:

How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality: collage two hipster outfit versions in small size

But when you enlarge them, you immediately see the difference:
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality: collage two hipster outfit versions when increasing
It happens because when you simply resize an image, the number of pixels doesn’t change. You just make every pixel larger. At some point, pixels become so big that they no longer look like dots. Instead, they turn into small cubes because they’re actually squares, not circles.

The high-resolution images have more pixels. So even if we increase each of them by a mere 5%, we already have a noticeable growth in image size without visible loss of quality. On the other hand, low-resolution images have a small number of pixels to start with, so every pixel needs to become noticeably larger to occupy a bigger space.

Thus, you need to add more pixels to a low-res picture somehow if you want to increase the resolution of a low-res image while maintaining quality. The process of increasing the number of pixels in an image is called upscaling or upsampling. And there are four different ways to make a digital image bigger.

How to increase the resolution of an image

There are many different tools and services to increase image resolution, but it’s tough to choose the best one. So, before digging into specific options, let’s look at two methods.

Manual image enlargement

The manual method can provide you with high-quality results with almost no limits on the size of a picture. But it requires skills and time, or time and money if you hire a professional.

Sure, you can resize pictures without it in any essential graphic software, like Paint 3D, and even in office apps, MS Word for one. Check the video to see such an unsophisticated approach to image enlargement.
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality: upscale image in Paint 3D

  • Upscale an image in Photoshop or GIMP by yourself
    This approach was popular back in the day when there were no other alternatives. You can use Photoshop or similar graphic software such as GIMP to manually upscale images. The result depends on your knowledge of the software and editing skills.
  • Hire a professional to convert low-res pictures to high-res. Professional retoucher vs Fiverr gig
    If you are not sure about your skills, you can hire a professional for this job. It’s the same manual method but performed by someone else. Indeed the quality of work depends on how experienced that professional is. We hired two types of specialists from different price brackets to compare the outcomes.

Online automated image upscaling

The online image enhancement method has its pros and cons, too. These tools are easy to use, fast, and often free. Some of them can even handle multiple images at once. However, as a rule, they have limitations to the maximum size of the output, but it’s not a problem unless you’re going to put your image on a billboard.

  • Use online photo enhancers based on the interpolation algorithms
    There are plenty of online services that enlarge images using algorithms. All you need is to upload your image and let the service do the upscaling automatically. However, the algorithms used by such services often cause artifacts and imperfections.
  • Enlarge images with AI image upscalers online without losing quality
    AI-powered services use neural networks to process images and create extra pixels to fill the gaps. Such services increase the resolution of an image or photo with unprecedented efficiency. Yet, the quality of upscaling depends on how trained an AI is.

Different methods are suitable for different situations, and you can mix them for the best result. We’ve tested these options of increasing resolution in detail and compared them by the following key points:

  • Price
  • Time
  • Complexity
  • Image size or other restrictions
  • Usability
  • Batch processing

Photoshop vs. GIMP

Given its plenty of functions, there are several ways you can go about upscaling your images in Photoshop. We’ll try the two most popular algorithms: Bicubic Smoother and Preserve Details 2.0.

  • Bicubic Smoother analyzes the image, resizes it, and creates added pixels based on the existing ones. Sophisticated calculations produce smoother pixel transitions and tone gradations.
  • The Preserve details 2.0 technology uses artificial intelligence. AI helps to detect and neatly maintain details in an image. It avoids oversharpening of original Preserve details and Bicubic Smoother’s blur. Note: This technology is available in Adobe Photoshop 2018 and newer versions.

Here’s how to upscale your image using Photoshop’s Bicubic Smoother:

  1. Open your image in Photoshop.
  2. In the upper menu, select Image, then choose Image Size.
  3. In the displayed window, select the Resample checkbox, then choose Bicubic Smoother.

How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Hipster outfit upscaling by Photoshop Bicubic Smoother
We don’t see any pixelation, but the image looks blurry when zoomed in.
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Сollage two hipster outfit versions: low quality and upscaling by Photoshop Bicubic Smoother

Here’s how to upscale your image using Photoshop’s Preserve Details 2.0:

  1. Open your image in Photoshop.
  2. In the upper menu, select Image, then choose Image Size.
  3. In the displayed window, select the Resample checkbox, then choose Preserve Details 2.0.
  4. Set the desired size of the image.

How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Hipster outfit upscaling by Photoshop Preserve Details 2.0
Here’s what we’ve got:
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Сollage two hipster outfit versions: low quality and upscaling by Photoshop Preserve Details 2.0
Well, the result of the Preserved 2.0 looks better than the output of the Bicubic Smoother. At least, with this image. We’ve got smoother contours and fewer artifacts.
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Сollage two hipster outfit versions: Photoshop Bicubic Smoother and upscaling by Preserve Details 2.0
Pros:

  • Image size — you can work with images of any size
  • Usability — clear structure and navigation

Cons:

  • Price — $20.99/month
  • Complexity — difficult for untrained users
  • Batch processing — not available
  • Time — it takes time to understand the interface and start working quickly

Why GIMP? Today there are a lot of other photo editing apps, and many of them are free. We took one of these for the test, the GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). It’s a free and open-source image editor for raster graphics. The interface and functionality are similar to Photoshop.

GIMP uses cubic (bicubic) interpolation and two specific methods named “NoHalo” and “LoHalo”. These are GEGL methods, and halo is an artifact created by interpolation.

  • NoHalo is based on diagonal straightening subdivision and bilinear interpolation. Better works for almost perfect images, low or no noise or blur, and good preserves colors. More about NoHalo principles of work.
  • LoHalo is the sigmoidal Elliptical Weighted Averaging (EWA) with Robidoux’s bicubic method for upsampling. LoHalo will help with images containing texts or text-like objects, large areas of solid colors, like pixel art, or if an image is noisy or full of compression artifacts like those saved for web JPEGs.

Here’s how to upscale your image using GIMP:

  1. Open your image in GIMP.
  2. In the upper menu, select Image, then click Scale Image.
  3. In the displayed window, select Cubic interpolation or NoHalo/LoHalo.
  4. Change the size of your image to the desired or simply increase the resolution.

How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Hipster outfit upscaling by GIMP
LoHalo and Cubic are about the same level, while the LoHalo output is a bit sharper.
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Сollage three hipster outfit versions: upscaling by GIMP cubuc, GIMP LoHalo and GIMP NoHalo
NoHalo method has shown the best result in this test: outlines are clear, noise and artifacts are hardly noticeable.
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Сollage two hipster outfit versions: low quality and upscaling by GIMP NoHalo
Pros:

  • Image size — you can work with images of any size
  • Usability — similar to Photoshop
  • Price — no trial, no fee

Cons:

  • Complexity — difficult for untrained users
  • Batch processing — not available
  • Time — it takes time to understand the interface, slow rendering

Now, let’s compare the results of GIMP (NoHalo) and Photoshop (Preserved Details 2.0).
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Сollage two hipster outfit versions: upscaling by GIMP NoHalo and Photoshop Preserved Details 2.0
The Photoshop output looks sharper. Preserve Details 2.0 has also handled shadows and complex textures better.

Professional service. Professional retoucher vs Fiverr gig

If you are not sure about your photo editing skills, you can also hire someone who would do the job for you. There are tons of offers of such services on the internet. We hired a few professionals:

  • Top-notch professional retoucher to do high-end retouching
  • Two freelancers on Fiverr to see what they can do for $5

Here are the professional retoucher’s results:

How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Сollage two hipster outfit versions: low quality and upscaling by professional retoucher

It took about six hours for a professional retoucher to complete the upscaling. She used various Photoshop plugins, masks, and filters. She also redrew specific details missing in the high-quality version of an image. The price for such work varies from $20 to $150 per hour and higher. The amount of work depends on the image’s quality and complexity, and upscaling degree.

Pros:

  • Image size — almost unlimited depending on a professional’s skills and availability
  • Complexity — minimal if you know a professional willing to help. And maximum if you need to find one since you’d have to contact different companies and test their work to find the right contractor
  • Batch processing — possible. The resulting image size can be huge, with no limits here, but it would take a lot of time and cost you a fortune
  • Quality — high

Cons:

  • Price — quite expensive
  • Time — can be highly time-consuming

Then we gave the same photo to freelancers at Fiverr. The guys all followed the same workflow: the Photoshop Preserve Details filter plus the Skin Finder Plugin. Each work has cost us $8.25, including Fiverr’s fee. Here’s the first result that we got from a Fiverr freelancer:
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Сollage two hipster outfit versions: low quality and upscaling by fiverr freelancer
In general, we liked it, if not for some mural effects (flares) here and there:

How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Hipster outfit upscaling by fiverr freelancer close up with mural effects

Though Fiverr freelancers use the same instruments, the final image quality can vary greatly.
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Сollage two hipster outfit versions: upscaling by fiverr freelancers

Pros:

  • Image size — almost unlimited depending on a freelancer’s skills and availability
  • Complexity — medium, lots of freelancers ready to do the job, but you need to know how to choose a professional on Fiverr
  • Batch processing — possible. The resulting image size can be huge, with no limits here, but it would take a lot of time and cost you a lot
  • Price — usually cheaper than a pro’s work or Photoshop subscription

Cons:

  • Quality — can greatly vary
  • Time — can take a lot of time
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Сollage two hipster outfit versions: upscaling by fiverr freelancer and professional retoucher

Services based on interpolation algorithms

Such services do the same things as Photoshop but automatically. All you need is to upload your image, specify the target resolution, and click OK.

Let’s use PhotoEnlarger, one of the most popular services of this type.

Here’s how to increase image resolution using PhotoEnlarger:

  1. Upload your image by clicking the Browse… button.
  2. Choose your target resolution. We went for a 400% upsampling with this example.
  3. Click Enlarge!

How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Hipster outfit upscaling by PhotoEnlarger
In the output, you will get four photos enlarged with different algorithms. You can compare them and select the one that you like best.
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Сollage two hipster outfit versions: low quality and upscaling by PhotoEnlarger
Another similar service is ResizeFile.com that works like any other similar online tool: upload, wait a bit, download, that’s it.
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Hipster outfit upscaling by ResizeFile.com

It’s a simple online utility for enlarging pictures. The maximum size of the output picture is 3,000 px in width or height.
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Сollage two hipster outfit versions: low quality and upscaling by ResizeFile.com

We got about the same result in both cases.
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Сollage two hipster outfit versions: upscaling by PhotoEnlarger and ResizeFile.com
The image from PhotoEnarger is more grainy, but the difference is negligible.

Pros and Cons to using online services for upscaling pictures:

Pros:

  • Complexity — minimal
  • Price — it is often free
  • Time — fast, takes a few minutes

Cons:

  • Quality — results may vary from picture to picture
  • Usability — interfaces are not always intuitive and handy
  • Image size — there are limitations to the maximum size of the output
  • Batch processing — usually, functionality is minimal

AI-powered image enlargement

Artificial intelligence (AI) image enlargement works differently. First, AI analyzes large libraries of images in all resolutions and accumulates knowledge of textures, objects, and environments. Then it’s continuously training to recognize patterns and fix previous upscaling errors and artifacts. And the key point here is how well-trained an AI is. With enough training, AI-based upsampling exceeds the quality of any interpolation method.

An example of such an AI-based upscaling service is Icons8 Smart Upscaler.

Here’s how to use Icons8 Smart Upscaler to turn your images and photos into hi-res versions:

  1. Go to icons8.com/upscaler.
  2. Drag and drop your image or upload it using the “Browse” button. You can add several files at once.
  3. Update the upscale degree if needed: you can increase the resolution of your image up to 8 times.
  4. Download the result.

How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Hipster outfit upscaling by Icons8 Smart Upscaler
The output is similar to the pro retoucher work: AI has removed noise and other artifacts, added missing textures, and improved saturation.
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Сollage two hipster outfit versions: low quality and upscaling by Icons8 Smart Upscaler
Another similar service, Deep Image, is based on convolutional neural networks (CNN).

  1. Go to https://deep-image.ai/.
  2. Sign in or register with the service.
  3. Drag and drop your low-res image or upload it using the “Choose a file to upload” button.
  4. Select the upscale degree. You can increase the resolution of your image by up to 4 times.
  5. Download the result.

How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Hipster outfit upscaling by Deep Image
The picture is nice, but you can see some noise and bugs in textures when zoomed in.
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Сollage two hipster outfit versions: low quality and upscaling by Deep Image

Let’s compare both results with retoucher work.
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Сollage three hipster outfit versions: upscaling by professional retoucher, Icons8 Smart Upscaler and Deep Image
The AI worked great, and the pictures are close to the professional retoucher result. The image processed by Smart Upscaler looks more natural and sharper when zoomed in.

Pros:

  • Quality — high-quality upscaling
  • Usability — clear interfaces, easy-to-use
  • Complexity — minimal
  • Price — around $10 per 100 images, some services allow free upscaling of the first 3-5 images (for instance, Icons8 Smart Upscaler)
  • Time — very fast, takes less than a minute
  • Batch processing — available on paid plans and sometimes on free

Cons:

  • Image size — there are limitations to the maximum size of the source image and the maximum output size
  • Quality — depends on the AI learning degree, though it’s still better than most of the other options and close to the result of the top-notch retoucher

Conclusion

We’ve covered methods and tools that you can use to enhance your image quality. You can now compare the best results of each approach:
How To Enlarge an Image Without Losing Quality. Сollage five hipster outfit versions: low quality course, upscaling by professional retoucher, Photoshop Preserved Details 2.0, ResizeFile.com and Icons8 Smart Upscaler

Here are the conclusions we came to:

  • If you know how to use professional software or have time to study it, go for a manual process
  • If you want to increase your image size and do that for free or at a low cost, try using online image enhancing services
  • If you need the largest size and quality possible, professional retouchers will do the job.
  • If you need to upscale a large batch of images up to 3,000 px quickly, AI-based systems are unmatched
  • Some services allow you to embed their functionality in your projects using API, for instance, Icons8 Smart Upscaler, Deep Image, and even Photoshop

And here is a visual comparison to show the key differences between the four approaches to image upscaling:

Manual method

Free optionQuick
                       
Easy-to-useBatch upscalingNo linits to image size
DIY                                                         
Professional

Automated services

Free optionQuick
                       
Easy-to-useBatch upscalingNo linits to image size
Based on interpolation algorithms
Baseb on AI

Help us make this article more useful by sharing your experience and any upscaling tips and tricks!

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