Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Paper to Pixel to Paper Again: Part 23

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

Part 23
Laying It All Out There


This is the twenty-third (where has my life gone?!) 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 finished (or nearly finished) discussing the actual restoration and adjustment of line art for print. But as of yet, we haven't discussed layout, layout programs, or delivering files and communicating your desires to your printer of choice. 

Hopefully, you've now completely named and organized your file, completely adjusted and cleaned them up, and are now ready to move on to layout.

As I try to do as a general principal as often as is possible, we're going to automate this step, by making a Photoshop script that will do the (annoyingly slow) few steps that need to be taken care of before our finished files can be dropped into our layout program.

Go your Actions panel, and click on the New Action button.

Here are the steps you need to go through—

1. Flatten Image (important in case there's something odd about how you left your layers that will prevent then ext step)

2. Image -> Mode -> Bitmap 

This brings up a dialogue box that prompts you to select a resolution. Select 2400 ppi (or whatever your file resolution is.) For "Method", choose 50% Threshold.

And with that, our mercifully short script is complete.

Now we're going to run it.

Go to File -> Scripts -> Image Processor to bring up one of Photoshop's most helpful features.

This is a handy tool for background processing using actions you've written. Use the first dialogue box to select the folder you want to process, in this case, your (carefully labeled :) ) folder of all of your PSD files that you've adjusted and cleaned up.

The second folder prompts you for a destination for the generated files. Once again, err on the side of clarity. Name the folder something like NameOfBook_Bitmaps and nest it inside the main folder you've previously made for the book.

For File Type, check Save As TIFF, and check the LZW Compression (it's a lossly compression algorithm)

And lastly, select the Action you want to run.

And then hit "Go" and come back in a while!

You can check the process of the automation by browsing your newly-created folder and watching it populate with the finished images. They should be very small, as the 1-bit bitmaps occupy much less space than their layered, color or grayscale relatives--somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-6 MB apiece. 


Now we're going to create a layout for our book and place these images and add any other text, page numbers or any other elements we need to.

I'd heartily recommend Indesign, like most Adobe programs, a deep but sometimes quirky program, capable of a wide variety of layout tasks. (And if you're already paying for an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, it's already included.)

Here's the "New Document" prompt for the current version of Indesign.

The sizes referred to in the first dialogue boxes are the trim size of your document: that is, the actual final finished size of your pages. The Cerebus volumes are 75."(inches) x 10", so that's the size I've selected here.

Below that is the second critical piece of info—the page count. Consult your printer for limitations of this number. For most printers and binding methods, this number needs to be a multiple of at least 8, possibly as high as 32, depending on the paper selected and the size of rolls that paper is available in.

Next, click the "FACING PAGES" box on. That'll help you envision the actual final look of the book as you work on the layout.

IMPORTANT—This layout document is only for the inside of your book. Your cover needs to be laid out to the specifications of your printer, who will want a different spine size depending on the bulk of the paper, binding method etc. Making your cover as part of your interior layout can cause much confusion down the road when communicating with your printer, so beware! 

The next important number is your "Margins" settings. This will create a little red box in your document (only visible to you, and not part of your finished file!) that will help you guide your image placement. If you were already working with a specific margin size in your artwork, enter those numbers here for easy image placement.

Lastly, we have settings for Bleed. This is the amount of space that the layout program will extend images outside of your document, should you have any full-bleed ("to the edge of the paper") images in your book. This is yet another number that should come from your printer, as different facilities and different printing processes have different tolerances for variation—but go ahead and set it to a very safe 0.5" for now. It's easy to adjust later if needed (Some printers can tolerate bleeds as small as .125")

Okay, now, let's take a look at our empty house.

Here are the first three pages of our layout. The magenta interior box are the previously-discussed margins, and the red outer box is the distance that our bleed extends.

Before we drop in our images, we need to set up any elements that might be common to every page. In this case, all I'm going to need are page numbers, something fortunately very easy to do in Indesign.

First, we need to edit our Master page. Indesign allows you to make multiple "Master" pages, which serve as templates that carry over certain common elements from page to page. In this case, we need only one master page type. Fortunately, Indesign defaults to having a single master ("Master A") applied across every page, so all we have to do is edit it.

Go to Window -> Pages to bring up the Pages window.

Double-click the little page icons next to the A-Master. This should bring up the A-Master page. Anything that you add to this page will now be present by default in every A-Master-associated page (which, currently, is every page in your document).

First, I'm going to add some handy-dandy guides to mark the middle of my page both horizontally and vertically.

You make these guides (again, unprintable guides) by grabbing the ruler at the top or side of the page and pulling towards your document. I've used some basic division to place them at the center of my page. Whatever placement might be helpful for you, go ahead and do—there's a lot of personal preference on these things.

Now I'm going to make the page numbers. First I'll select the text tool (T) and draw a text box big enough to accommodate the longest number in your book.

Go to Type -> Insert Special Character -> Markers -> Current Page Number. Now is the time to decide what font, what size, centered, whatever formatting decisions you make, because although you can change this from the master page at any time, any time you override it on an individual page (which we will do in the course of the layout), it will remain the older type with whatever changes you made. So decide now!

After you've got this set, you need to copy it over to the facing page as well. Click the text box, hold Alt (makes a copy) and shift (keeps the newly-created item straight along whatever axis you move it) and drag it to the right to the facing page.

Now the letter should be on both pages, like so—

Next week: More layout, and it's just as exciting as it seems!

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


Dave Kopperman said...

Sean - are you saving the final art files down to the actual print size? What's the target print DPI?

Sean R said...

Hey Dave,

Yes, the grayscale layered files (at 2400 ppi) are being flattened to 1-bit 2400 ppi bitmaps, and then saved. So there's no rescaling, just flattening, Threshold-converting, and discarding the bit depth (all done in the Bitmap Convert dialogue box).

Sean R said...

All of the resizing etc happened prior to sharpening, in the first few steps (check out installments 4-8 I believe)

Carson Grubaugh said...

This series really should become an industry standard book.

Thanks for continuing to be so thorough!

Sean R said...

Thanks Carson! I'm hoping to do something else with this when it's done. We'll see how things go!