Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Paper to Pixel to Paper Again: the Last Installment? Working with Color Part 4

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A guide to creating the best looking line art in print in the new digital print world

Addendum E:
Working in Color, Part 4

This is the second addendum to Paper to Pixel to Paper Again, a series that explains (in an overly thorough manner) the how-to's of preparing line art for print.

And as always, if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments!


In the last three addena installments, we discussed various ways to scan and manipulate full-color artwork to wring as much detail as possible from the final product.

Which leaves us with really only two concerns.

What about digital color?

If you do color work digitally, none of the principles I've discussed so far are really fundamentally different, other than the fact that digital color is generally very... soft... compared to real-world media. Lots of gradation. Lots of transparency. Lots of, let's say it, blurry effect going on. And so a lot of the sharpening stuff we've discussed isn't as relevant to digital color.
Which isn't to say you shouldn't give it a shot! 

Especially if you save lots of process layers, or use lots of digital "dry media" or "natural media" style-brushes, sharpening can be effective in bringing out certain effects. 

Here's a poster I drew several years ago. This is probably the last thing I colored digitally without any traditional media involved. It's digital color (in Paint Tool Sai) over a drybrush drawing.

If you take a peek at the layers, you can see that I kept things fairly separated, including the texture layer on top that helps take away some of the digital unnatural smoothness.

It's not until I strip it down all the way to the bottom layer, the original drybrush drawing, that I see a place for some improvement here. The drybrush could really be sharpened up to give it some more of its natural texture in print. You can see it's looking fairly soft here.

Of course, since it's actually a separate layer... does it really have to be halftoned at all?

Hence our last topic.

If I work in color, does everything have to be half-toned?

And here's where things get really interesting again...

If you work with a layout program like Adobe Indesign, and you send your files to your printer as PDFs, you can keep your various layers separated, with one (line art layer) going straight to plate/print without halftoning, and another separate layer either full-color or grayscale, which will be halftoned!

In fact, it's a pretty easy process to do. If you want to, you can even do it with traditional media (though it involves a lightboard!)

First--why would you do such a thing?

Basically, as we discussed in early installments of this series, there are some real advantages to not half-toning line art. Mainly, you can get a degree of detail that's impossible with material that's been screened/half-toned. And you can avoid any moire that might result in halftoning material that's not intended to halftone (for instance, screen tone, etc).

Let's take a look at an example that has all of these issues and more. Benjamin Hobb's hilarious cover to THE UNDATEABLE CEREBUS, available for order from your local comic store right now!

To start this cover off, Benjamin created the line art layers, working layer by layer and building up the file. 

Notice that this cover has both mechanical tone that would cause moire if it were halftoned, and a heck of a lot of teeny tiny little lines.

Once he was done with the line art portion, he saved the multi-layered file, then flattened it all, reduced the resolution to 600 ppi, changed the color mode to RGB, and then started the color layer on top.

Working with each of the color layers in Multiply blending mode enables you to see the line art from underneath as you work. Once the color was done, he hid the line art layer, then flattened the remainder.

Here's what the image looks like with only the color layer.

Once you have the two flattened files (in our case, one 600 ppi RGB file and one 2400 ppi 1-bit line art file), you can combine them in Indesign. Just place both files in the same layout and voila, you're ready to export. Assuming you have your PDF export settings set correctly, both files will retain their original resolutions and both will be handled appropriately by the printer.

And here's the final result!

For the real deal, check your local comic store shelves the last Wednesday of May!


Okay, as I mentioned a month back, this will be my last post here for the foreseeable future. Although I'll still be restoring every Cerebus volume as they come up for reprint, I'm taking the next two months off from any production work to focus on some commissioned illustration work.

Speaking of which...if you're ever in need of illustration or design work, I'm always available at, or at seanmichaelrobinson at gmail dot com.

It's been a pleasure writing for you. Thanks for reading!


Jeff said...

And, moribundly, I will say that I noticed the bright spots in the eyes of the characters shown above. It's obvious in all living creatures. When I had to put my cat, Max, down (because he was paralyzed from the waist down), I made a point of being with him to the very end. It's true. The light in the eyes goes out. I told the vet before she told me. And then she let me cry for a while.

Sean R said...

I'm sorry to hear about your cat, Jeff. I've been there twice myself! Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Jeff. And it's true, I saw it myself, it's a heartbreaking moment.

Take care man.

A Fake Name

Jeff said...

Thanks, guys. Sean, good luck with your commission work.

Tony Dunlop said...

As a longtime kitty lover who has had to say goodbye twice so far, my heart goes out to you, Jeff. Knowing you did the right thing doesn't make it any easier...