Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Paper to Pixel to Paper Again: Part 29

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

Part 29
Archiving, and Making it Work On-Screen

This is the twenty-ninth and final regular 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 for print.

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

Last week we sent our (rhetorical) books off to the printer and spent a bit of time ruminating on the nature of mistakes.

What to do after your book comes back?

Hopefully it's a time of celebration, of salesmanship, of showing off to your friends and potential readers. Sending out review copies, soliciting interest, planning publication number two and three and...


When all of that's done?

Correcting Any Mistakes

Don't drive yourself bananas with this or anything, but if there are obvious, glaring mistakes in your book—say, a misspelling, missing words, or even (gasp) moire or visible stair-stepping resulting from downsampling or any other obvious errors that you wouldn't want in a future edition of the book, then take the time to correct them now. 

Why? Well, for one, it might help assuage any hard feelings you have for missing the mistake in the first place. For two, it's good general life-efficiency policy to "touch once"—that is, if you go and get your mail, deal with it on first contact rather than sticking it in a stack and thus having to deal with it a second time later. Presumably you've already taken the time to sit down and go over the book. Might as well enact any obvious corrections now rather than having to remember to do so at a later date.

(The above is assuming everything is mostly hunky dory. If there are borderline issues, probably best to leave it alone for now, as you might find that the fine distinctions disappear or are softened over time, and you might not care quite as much a few months or years from now, when you're ready to reprint ).

And then...

Archiving Your Work

As we've talked about periodically in this series, you should keep a thorough backup of all of your work for the book. I'd recommend the following—

-A directory with the name of the book and author
-Separate sub-directories for
     -all of the raw scans for the project
     -all of the PSD (or layered TIFF) files you used for adjustments and cleanup etc
     -all of the flattened 1-bit TIFFs
     -the layout documents and exported PDFs (dated. yes, keep all of these!)
     -any text documents or other "raw material" type stuff

All of these extras are designed for maximum efficiency should you need to do anything different to this book in the future. Need to swap out a page? Need a blowup of an original? Need to publish a color art book of your line work? Need to access publishable documents two decades from now when your Indesign-running desktop has long-since been bricked? This is what you need.

Take this master directory and put it in redundant storage. I.e. redundantly backed up to a cloud service you trust (Backblaze, for instance) and/or backed up on your fireproof and waterproof external hard drive or RAID enclosure. Remember, with digital, if it's not at least two places in two physically removed locations, it's not really a sure thing.

Once you've got that set up, what's left?

Screen Editions

It would take a much longer post to do justice to this topic—and such a post will likely appear here in the next few months!—but I want to touch on the very basics of this now.

What looks good in print (1-bit TIFFs) looks decidedly crappy on a screen. Screens, even 4K monitors, don't really have that high of a resolution when compared to one-color printing on smooth surfaces, so you need to take advantage of the screen's color/gray capabilities. And that means converting your image files to lower-res grayscale images, and introducing anti-aliasing.

This is pretty easy to do. In the main directory for your book, make a new folder, and name it something along the lines of Book_Screen-resolution_Images. Then fire up the ol' Photoshop and we'll make a script to turn your high-res 1-bit bitmaps into something a little more palatable for on-screen consumption.

Let's take a look at a single-panel from Death of Cerebus in Hell? #1 (available for ordering at your local comic shop now—how's that for product placement??)

First, let's take a look at the panel at-size--that is, 1-to-1 pixels, exactly as it is in the file I sent to Marquis—

Maybe it's obvious from the above, but this is way, way too large for screen viewing. 

Can we just shrink our 1-bit bitmap down to size? Say, same size, but change the resolution to 300 ppi?

Here's what that looks like, at-size. (one to one pixel ratio).

So, pretty horrid. Without the benefits of anti-aliasing (i.e. gray pixels giving us the illusion of smoothness) this looks broken and jagged, and the tiny-toned figures have turned to a horrible eye-melting moire pattern.

So! Before we downsample, we're going to do a few things—

1. Go to Image-> Mode-> Grayscale to convert your bitmap to a grayscale image.

2. We're going to eliminate the finest details, the ones that will be below the threshold of the downsample anyway, as a means of warding off moire in our image. We'll do this through blurring. Take your source resolution (in my case, 2400), divide it by your target resolution (in my case, 300), then multiply the resulting number by .5 pixels. This is the amount of pixels Radius you should use to gaussian blur your image by prior to downsampling. This is essentially an anti-aliasing filter, eliminating fine-edged information that wouldn't appear in the final screen image anyway.

In my case, this results in 4 pixels. I'll bring up the Gaussian blur from the effects menu and run it at that Radius.

NOW I'm going to--

3. Downsample my image (Ctrl-Alt-I) to 300 ppi using Bicubic resampling.

4. Next, we'll (what else?) sharpen our image just a bit with a high Threshold, so we can reclaim a bit of detail while not bringing back any of the potentially "moire-ey" details. Here's what I ended up with--

5. Lastly, we need to assign a color profile to the image so different viewers consistently apply the same kind of file handling to the image. Go to Convert to Profile and select Epson Gray Gamma 2.2.

And now we're done!

Here's the resulting image one-to-one--
And here it is reduced by half so I can fit the whole thing onto AMOC's Blogger image profile-- 

Quite an improvement from the above!
From here, it's very easy to make a screen-res version of your book. Just run Photoshop's Image Processor and use your new script, copying the results to the new directory you made earlier. Then open up your layout file, Save-As as "SOandSoBookScreenRes", and then, in the Links panel, Relink the entire book to the new folder. Export as PDF and viola, a nice-looking screen-res version of your book.

The End of This Series

And with that, we end the regular appearance of Paper to Pixel to Paper Again. But I will follow up soon with some addenda posts, specifically--

--a post linking to scripts I use on a regular basis and other practical goodies (coming very soon!)
--avoiding moire (mostly a regurgitation of previous posts on the topic)
--working with color and line art simultaneously
--any other suggestions?

Thanks for reading, and thanks for linking. Now that this series has (mostly) wrapped up, now would be a good time to spread the word. Do you know someone who might enjoy this series or benefit from some of the information? Pass it on!

Next: Vacation? More Historically Significant Robot Genital Misprint Cards?

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


Anonymous said...

Sean, this has been a fascinating series, even though most of it is in a language I no comprende. I thank you on my behalf and on behalf of all who will follow you in your craft. Let me know if you're going to collect it in book form and I will provide my meager services, should you so desire. (Geez, that sounds dirtier than it's meant to...)


Jimmy Gownley said...

Thank you so much for writing all of these. This is a masters class and was much appreciated.

Tony Dunlop said...

"More Historically Significant Robot Genital Misprint Cards?"

Yes, please.

Sean R said...

Aw shucks, thanks Jeff and Jimmy!

No thanks to you, Tony, and your filthy mind. For shame!

Just kidding, installment two of my new column, HSRBMC, coming next week!