Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Paper to Pixel to Paper Again: Part 12

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

Part 12
Repairing Old Tone on Line Art Originals, Again!


This is the twelfth 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!


Last week we took a look at some of the screentones that were used in the production of Cerebus original artwork, and how those tones have deteriorated over time. And we discussed the (very exacting) method by which the most finicky of those tones, pure mechanical dot tone, can be repaired seamlessly.

Now we're going to take a look at some of those other tones, which require different methods.

Repairing "Noise" Tones

There's a whole other class of tones which we looked at last week, but we didn't repair. For classification's sake, we'll call this whole class of tones noise tones—that is, tones that were generated from some kind of white noise filter, and are pattered, but in a non-interlocking, non-iterative way.

This actually describes quite a bit of tones used by Dave and Gerhard, including:

—The mezzotint-like pattern used in the (infamous?) Church and State "basement scene" (discussed by Gerhard and myself in his Comics Journal interview, as an example of when the poor reproduction of the monthly issues actually discouraged a technique from being used in the future at all;

"mezzotint" tone

—The various "scribble" and "spatter" tones used by Dave in the early issues to indicate moody night shadows  and stone (see the first appearance of the Roach) and later by Gerhard to indicate smoke, fog, and stone, marble, and occasionally wood and other organic textures, when overlapping appropriately textured pen lines;

A denser "scribble" tone overlapping hatching, and in turn overlapped with delicate China White washes (although it sure looks like mechanical eraser work!)

Regardless of the type of tone, shrinking or ripping in this type of tone can be repaired with a technique much easier than the mechanical tones (which must be precisely aligned). 

Here's a page from Jaka's Story that I cleaned last week. You can see that the entire background is made up of some contour pen lines, solid blacks, and one or two mid-tones created with crosshatching, with the entire thing then covered with a scribble tone that has some organic-looking variation to it.

You might be able to see the two major repairs that need to be made—repairing the shrunken tone on the upper left, and the rip that's visible just above the wine glasses.

(These rips happen when the tone has been burnished really well. The tone is shrinking apart from itself, in both directions at once, and so eventually it pulls apart. Although it also tends to pull away if there was already a tear here)

Let's fix the upper corner first, as it's the easier fix.

Looking at it closer, I can see that it's actually shrunk on the left as well—see the schmutz on the left, indicating where the edge of the tone used to be? But as that area has shrunk uniformly, and there's nothing else over there but white border and border tape,. I'm going to leave it alone. That top, however, has some exposed pen lines and isn't aligned with the rest of the upper border.

So I'll bring up the Marquee tool (M is the shortcut) and draw a box around the area where the repair will happen. This will protect the white of the border and allow us to work looser without worrying about that edge.

Now make sure the layer that's visible is selected (in my case, my "Sharpened" layer). 

Now hit S, which will bring up a new tool—the Clone Stamp Tool, Adobe's gift to retouch artist's everywhere.

This tool enables you to target an area (by holding Alt and clicking on the target) and then draw in a second area, using the "target" area as the source for the material that comes out of the brush.

It's easier to see the effect than to explain it, and with just a bit of use, it becomes second nature.

Hold Alt and click on a big chunk of tone that seems to be about the same density of the area you're going to repair. Now draw in the repaired area, making sure to keep the tendrils/scribbles/whatever from overlapping each other too much. It takes a bit of time to figure out how to do it. The main thing to keep in mind though is to make sure that you keep the big scribbles intact, even if it means drawing out some of the ones in the existing tone as you go.

And here's my quickie repair.

The repair of the rip over the wine glasses is very similar, but because it's over some drawing, we have to be more careful with the Clone Stamp tool to make sure we avoid drawing over the existing lines.

The only other real consideration with this work is if you have a really large uncovered area, or exceptionally complicated underdrawing. In those cases it's best to select and copy a really large exposed area of tone, and then paste it as a new layer atop the area it's going to cover. Then change the blending mode to Multiply, which essentially makes the white of the screentone layer transparent. Then you can refine the edge to blend it together with the existing tone.

These techniques, and a whole lot of tone, are what made it possible to restore the Thrunk sequence of Church and State, which was in pretty bad shape, owing to the huge chunks of tone overlapping lots of drawing and hatching.

With finer fleck tones like the mezzotint mentioned above, it's less important for them to be intact strands. You can get away with switching your brush to a feathery edge and being a lot looser with the handling. 

Rather than obsessing about this and trying to make it "perfect" on-screen, you're better off testing it out on paper. To test out your work, turn on your Threshold layer and print it out on a laser printer, 150 percent to 200 percent larger than your destination print size. And then squint, turn it upside down, hold it far away from you, and try to detect the area of repair. You'll soon get in the swing of what will and won't be visible in print.

Next week: At the crossroads...

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

1 comment:

Jeff Seiler said...

Sean, you and I are playing a game of "and then he did that". I have read your many descriptions of your digital work, and have been amazed by them.

You, I assume, have read my comments about proofreading, and copy-editing, the remastered editions of the phonebooks.

When this is over, God-willing I survive it, your work will be celebrated for decades. It's beautiful!

Somewhere, someday, fifty years from now, some anonymous person, who is REALLY, REALLY into deep research, will say, "ya know, that Seiler guy kinda knew what he was doing."

Maybe it'll be Dave.