Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Paper to Pixel to Paper Again: Part 11

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

Part 11
Repairing Old Tone on Line Art Originals


This is the eleventh installment of Paper to Pixel to Paper Again, a series that explains (in an overly thorough manner) the how-to's of preparing line art (and later in the series, color art!) for print.

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


Having spent the last two installments of this series discussing different techniques for cleaning line art originals for print, it's now time to broach a subject that's hung over this project since its inception—mechanical tone.

From the very beginning of the series, Cerebus originals were created with a melange of line art techniques. A variety of pen and ink contour lines of varied (and varying) width. Swaths of solid black ink, applied with brushes. Hatching, cross-hatching, textured marks of all kinds. Later, spatter and splatter, applied with a toothbrush. And, famously, a wide variety of mechanical tones, printed on clear carrier with adhesive on the rear, applied to the board over the line art, the excess cut away with a craft knife. 

Certain kinds of mechanical tones are easy to recognize. (See the 30 percent Cerebus gray above). Other patterns are much more organic and might appear to be pen and ink marks or splatter on first blush, especially when integrated with hatching or other actual pen lines, a technique Gerhard brought to a whole new level on his stint on the book.

But all of these tones present a real problem when preparing these pages for print. Simply put, over the intervening decades between these pages being drawn and this restoration project, the tone has shrunk.

This shrinking has been proportional, and ongoing, which means that, all other things being equal, the older the page, the larger the area of tone, the more visible shrinkage there is. (Why is the shrinkage more visible on a larger piece of tone? Imagine if you will, that a certain tone is shrinking at a rate of, say, ten percent over fifty years. A ten inch long piece of tone applied fifty years ago would now be 9 inches long, leaving a one inch gap in the artwork, which would of course be extremely visible. But a one inch long piece of tone is now still .9 inches long, that .1 inch gap being a lot less noticeable). 

Of course, all things aren't actually equal. The amount of sun a page has received seems to be a factor. Even weirder, different brands of tone and even different types of tone seem to have shrunk at different rates over time. I first noticed this phenomenon when working on Going Home, a book that's less than 20 years old at this point. Much of the tone for the book didn't need correction at all, leaving me to focus on other concerns when cleaning up the pages. But, compared to the rest of the tone, the dark scribble tone used for the black tower was dramatically shrunk.

(Although, as you can see from the extreme closeup above, just a bit of this particular piece must have been mis-cut at the time of the art being drawn! Notice the bit of scribbled pen lines to simulate the scribble tone.)

As I said, the older the page, the more severely this effect is at work. Here's a scan of the photo negative of page 20 of issue 32, with a cover date of November 1981, followed by a scan of the original artwork of the same page. This shrinkage is not that bad visually, considering the age of the original, mostly because of the organic way that the tone was cut to create the rain effect—the gaps are enlarging some as the tone shrinks, but you probably wouldn't notice unless you had the two images overlaid on top of each other. It also helps that so much of it is overlapping the black contour lines rather than butting up right against their edges. But towards the bottom you can see an area where Dave repaired the original tone, or more likely, ran out of room on the original sheet and added another bit and joined them together. That area has now become a big unintentional gap in the tone.

One more example here. Here's a segment of a page of original artwork from issue 6. When I first started this project, this was the panel that made me despair of using the original artwork at all, and led me to (briefly) try to persuade Dave over fax that we might be better off working from print copies and negatives only... Only briefly though!

So, how do we do this?

The method depends entirely on the type of tone, and what portion of it has pen lines or any other textures underneath.

So without further ado—

Repairing Dot Tone:

Here's a page from Jaka's Story that I cleaned a week or two ago. Rick and Oscar discuss children while cleaning the Guffin in preparation for painting it. As they do so, beautiful wispy clouds float by lazily, cleverly rendered with China White washes atop a low-density, high LPI dot tone pattern.

(Slightly off-topic—at the very beginning of the Cerebus restoration project, this is the sequence of the book that convinced me that the project had to be produced at 2400 pixels per inch. In a 1200 ppi resolution space, the dots that make up the dot tone in this sequence are only a few pixels across, and barely look like dots at all. Moire city! )
I'm calling this "dot tone" because it's literally made up of dots that, when viewed from the right distance, make up an illusion of continuous gray tone. As discussed before, this illusion can be disrupted in a bunch of different ways, and dealing with dot tone in the digital realm can be difficult because of the nature of pixels. I.e. sampling dots with squares (pixels) requires those squares to be extremely fine in order to avoid creating other intentional patterns.

Same goes for repairing this bit of tone. We have to make sure that we don't change the added area at all, as we'll risk our patch being visible.

Let's take the lower right panel first, as that's the easier repair.

This is actually looking pretty darn good, but the shrinkage around the arm is bothering me a bit visually. You'll find that the more precise the handling was in the original application of the tone, the more important it is visually to clean up the shrinkage. Let's zoom in (hold Alt and use the scrolly wheel on your mouse to zoom in and out, no need for the Zoom tool) to take a look. [note from cartoonist Benjamin Hobbs: "I use either Command + to zoom in, Command - to zoom out, or Command zero to fit image to screen." On a Windows machine, substitute CTRL for Command]

So this gap is actually pretty large compared to the neighboring areas, which is why it was standing out. I have on the Threshold adjustment layer right now so I can see what the tone will actually look like as a 1-bit bitmap. Now I'm going to select the Sharpened layer, and use my lasso tool to make a selection of the tone roughly the shape of the gap, but larger. We're going to fly the good tone into our gap and then trim it to fit. [Note from cartoonist Benjamin Hobbs: ""Generally, when I'm talking to beginner Photoshop users, I tell them to select a bigger are than they think they need when copying and pasting image data. Many beginners are conservative in their selections, resulting in not having enough data to patch the area. For the most part, more is better, given that it can be masked out or erased after the patch is made."]

You can see my selection above, roughly the shape that it's intended to fill, but with plenty of extra width. Now copy (Ctrl- C) this selection and paste it (Ctrl-V) into a new layer.

Now bring up the Move tool (V) and begin moving your selection around to fill in the gap, trying your best to align the dots as perfectly as you can. You can use the arrow tools to rock your selection into place as well. Zoom in close while you work using Alt and your scrolly wheel until you have the selection in place.

But now our contour line is being obscured by the new tone atop it. Go to your Layers panel and change the Blending Mode from Normal to Multiply. Multiply blending mode only allows the selected layer to make an image darker, which has the effect of making all the white portions of the layer effectively transparent.

And here's the result.

[A note from cartoonist Benjamin Hobbs: "I generally switch to Multiply BEFORE moving the tone that I'm patching. That way I can use the move tool (V) and the arrow keys to nudge the patch into place more accurately over the existing tone.]

So we have some overhang/extra tone to erase. Bring up the eraser (E) and delete the extraneous tone. Now, click the added tone layer on and off, and make sure that the parts of the new tone overlapping with the old tone aren't causing ANY enlargement of the overlapping dots. If they are, delete the overlapping dots as well. This will be visible in print, so consider yourself warned!

Here's the finished result (although we might do a bit more cleanup on that unerased pencil line/whatever it is)—

Now, if you're me, go ahead and do this same thing somewhere between 5 and 500 times a day for the next four years of your life.

Let's not think too carefully about that part, eh?

Next week: Other types of tone repair. Video??

Sean Michael Robinson is a writer, artist, and musician. See more at LivingtheLine.com.


Sean R said...

I wish I hadn't picked a demonstration with such a tiny repair... hopefully it's clear from the text that the procedure is the same for large pieces as well as tiny ones.

Carson Grubaugh said...

This adds a whole new level to the already insane amount of care you put into these restorations!Holy moley!

Jeff Seiler said...

Surely, you're not meaning four more years to finish Jaka's Story. Has it already been four years of working on this remastering?!?

Sean, don't forget to send me those reformatted text pages from Jaka's Story, so that I can finish up the proofreading/copy editing.

Anonymous said...

I understood that your demo works on both large and tiny areas of tone. (Although, to be fair, I already understood the process. So I'm not the best test group.)

Generally, when I'm talking to beginner Photoshop users, I tell them to select a bigger are than they think they need when copying and pasting image data. Many beginners are conservative in their selections, resulting in not having enough data to patch the area. For the most part, more is better, given that it can be masked out or erased after the patch is made.

I generally switch to Multiply BEFORE moving the tone that I'm patching. That way I can use the move tool (V) and the arrow keys to nudge the patch into place more accurately over the existing tone. (And then masking or erasing the areas where the tone has grown, as you stated.)

Also,I agree that keyboard shortcuts save time and are needed for any long term Photoshop use. However, I never use Z to access the zoom tool, I use either Command + to zoom in, Command - to zoom out, or Command zero to fit image to screen. The benefit of this is that you can zoom in and out even when using other functions that would stop you from toggling to the zoom tool (such as free transform). Also, command and space bar toggles to the zoom tool, allowing you to click and drag to a specific location. (Although toggling to the zoom tool may not actually save any time.)

-Benjamin Hobbs

Anonymous said...

OH! Command + and command - are MAC keyboard shortcuts, for those unfamiliar with Mac on Photoshop. For PC, switch Command for Control.
-Benjamin Hobbs

Sean R said...

Hey Carson,

Yeah, it's a bear! If there were no tone shrinkage, this project would be waaaaay faster, that's for sure.

Hey Jeff,

We're two and a half years in to the project now. Likely to be another 2 years from here, assuming the Kickstarters proceed at the same pace and there's no uptick in sales that would necessitate speeding up the work. Will get the Jaka's Story text pages to you soon!

Benjamin- great advice! I'll edit and add it in. And yeah, I normally hit Multiply first, just presented it in a different order here to show the thought process behind it. Maybe it's a bit confusing.

Out of curiosity, Benjamin, have you ever done this with screentone? Where did you pick up this procedure, and do you have anything else to add to any of the eleven preceding segments? Would love any thoughts you have.

Sean R said...

Hey again Benjamin-

I just opened up PS and a page and lo and behold, I use the Alt and scrolly bar Zoom shortcut, no zoom tool. Unless, apparently, I'm trying to describe it to someone, in which case my brain defaults to remembered procedure rather than my actual procedure.

Anyway, thanks for the additional shortcuts! And all you kids out there with scrolly wheels, hold Alt and scrolly wheel away! No need for Z.

Anonymous said...

The order you list for using Multiply isn't confusing as such, but I always find it more difficult to match up the tone if I don't set Multiply first. Just a different work flow:)

I figured out patching tone largely through trial and error and a lot of time learning other uses of Photoshop. The first time I tried to patch screentone was years ago when I found a book that had small 2 inch by 2 inch squares of twenty different densities of tone. I reasoned that if I scanned in the page, and duplicated each section, I could stitch them together, and have reusable digital tone. However, at the time, my Photoshop skills were...lacking. The dots didn't line up and there was odd gaps in the spacing. It was only later that I discovered that you can use Multiply to drop out the whites of an layer. (I think DC comics guide to coloring and lettering had this advise in it.) By this time, I figured out how to make digital screentone on the computer, so I didn't have a need to patch from small samples. (Although sometimes I still have to patch tone in my own work. I'll copy and paste a flattened image to a new document, and then realize I need to add more tone to expand the image. ) (And a couple of the Cerebus cover mock ups have had tiny areas where the tone needed patched. Varks thumb on last Fridays post is an example. And one of the tiny Cerebus heads on the Undateable Cerebus cover.)

At the moment, I can't think of any thing that I want to add to the last eleven weeks. I've enjoyed them all! If I think of something to add, I will.

-Benjamin Hobbs

Anonymous said...

Hey Sean! (Again)
Using Alt with the scrolly wheel without having to switch to the zoom tool (Z) makes that a lot more useful! (Probably even more useful then Control/Command + and Control/Command-)

But, you know how it is, there's always ten ways of doing things on Photoshop.

-Benjamin Hobbs