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Designing for multiple screens. Alternative image resources.Part 2.

  • Written by  Clive

Different images for different devices: it’s all about supply and demand

Android alternative bitmap resources logoThis is the 2nd part of a two part series of articles on designing Android apps for multiple screens. Here's a link to part 1, Different images for different devices: bitmaps, pixels and other things that go bump in the night

Put all images that you use in an Android app inside a drawable folder. You should also supply different size images for the different screen densities.

Alternative bitmaps

Android devices come in different shapes and sizes. Their screen sizes range from small phones to 10 inch tablets and larger TV’s. They also have different screen densities.

Android groups the different screen densities into a number of generalized buckets ranging from low density to extra-extra-high density.  These are the drawable folders for those generalised buckets:

  • drawable-ldpi
  • drawable-mdpi
  • drawable-hdpi
  • drawable-xhdpi
  • drawable-xxhdpi

Place your images in the correct folders and the Android system will make sure that the correct image is used at runtime.

You should always provide alternative images for these different density groups – if your app targets those groups.

Creating different size images

Start with the medium density image, it’s your baseline

The medium density group or mdpi is considered the baseline. Choose an image that is your baseline image. Then scale it up and down to get an image suitable for the other density groups.

Just so you know, baseline is based on the screen density of the first Android-powered device, the T-Mobile G1.

Creating Alternative Bitmaps

Preferably start with a Vector graphics image as this can be scaled without any loss of quality.

Alternative bitmap resources

Here are the ldpi (75px), mdpi (100px) and hdpi (150px) images

Multiple devices alternative resources

Here are the xhdpi (200px) and xxhdpi (300px) images

Calculating the alternative image sizes

Use the mdpi image as the baseline, here it is 100 pixels wide.

Screen Density Bucket

Screen density

Multiply by


Image size (width)





























Not applicable

Any size







Table 1

It’s not the size that counts but the density

Our image sizes are given in pixels. The Android system will select which folder to choose an image from, depending on the device’s screen density.

Use the figure in the Multiply by column and multiply the baseline image dimension by it to calculate the different image sizes. Then scale your baseline Vector image to the various sizes. Android does not recognise Vector graphics, so make sure that you save the resized images as PNG images (or Jpeg, PNG is preferred).

You can now place them in the relevant drawable folders. Note that the images must have the same file name.

An example

Here are the specs for a Sony phone and a Samsung tablet. Although the phone’s physical screen size is smaller than the tablet’s, the phone has a higher screen density.


Screen width in pixels

Screen height in pixels

Diagonal length in inches

Screen density in pixels per inch

Sony Xperia V





Samsung GT-3110

7 inch Tab





Table 2

Use this formula to calculate the screen density

Diagonal resolution = √screen width2 + screen height2

Screen density in pixels per inch = diagonal resolution/diagonal length in inches

Looking at Table 1 we see that we need an mdpi image for the tablet and a xhdpi image for the phone.

My baseline image is 200 x 200 pixels. I doubled the size of this for the xhdpi image. I placed the baseline image in the drawable-mdpi folder and the other in the drawable-xhdpi folder.

The mdpi image is 200 x 200 and is identified by the 200 label. The xhdpi image is 400 x 400 and is identified by the 400 label.

Below are screenshots of the tablet and phone where you can clearly see which image was used. Although it appears that the letter is bigger on the phone, in reality, it is the same size on both devices.

Alternative bitmaps

Alternative bitmaps for multiple screen densities

Remember that devices with the same screen size may not have the same screen density.

The Android system will select the correct image at runtime based on the screen density of the device. If an appropriate image can’t be found, then the default image will be used and scaled up or down.

Default drawables should be placed in a drawable folder without a qualifier, i.e. just drawable. It assumes that these are images designed as baseline images.

The Android system doesn’t always use the default image if no matching alternative is found. For example, if there is no ldpi image, the system will take an hdpi image and scale it down by 0.5 rather than scaling down the default image by 0.75.

Images in the drawable-nodpi folder can be used on any screen density – they will be used as is and not scaled. Images in this folder must have a unique file name and must not appear in any of the other folders.

Remember that you will also have to provide alternative nine-patch drawables if you use them.

What are nine-patch drawables?

It’s an image in nine sections which can be stretched without distorting or pixelating. It’s usually used as a background for any object that will be resized when displayed on different density screens. A good example is the background of a button. You can see more on nine-patch images in the official documentation.

Free image editing software

Here are links to two great, free image editing software packages. You can use Inkscape when working with Vector graphics.


GIMP is the GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed piece of software for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It works on many operating systems, in many languages...”

Get GIMP here


Inkscape is professional quality vector graphics software which runs on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. It is used by design professionals and hobbyists worldwide, for creating a wide variety of graphics such as illustrations, icons, logos, diagrams, maps and web graphics. Inkscape uses the W3Copen standard SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) as its native format, and is free and open-source software.

Get InkScape here

Need free images with no restrictions for your app? Check out our FREE app, Free Clip Art that lets you download clip art images from