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Archive for the ‘Photoshop’ Category

Commercial Printing: Resampling Photoshop Images

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

I received an email last night from an associate who is a print book designer. The email read, “What is the proper resolution for an image in Photoshop?” I knew he had the answer: Twice the line screen of the printed image (i.e., 300 dpi for a 150-line printer’s halftone screen with the image reproduced full size—no enlargement or reduction).

What my associate really meant, when I got him on the phone and we discussed this further, was that he had a 72 dpi web image, and he needed to use it in a print book. “Don’t do it,” I said. “It’s always, always, always better to rescan the image at the proper resolution.”

Unfortunately, the only copy he had, or could get from his client, was the 72 dpi image.

Why Upsampling (i.e., Interpolation) Is Dangerous

First of all, why shouldn’t you upsample an image? That’s the technical term for enlarging an image in Photoshop while resampling it to increase its resolution. When you make a photo smaller, you squeeze up the image pixel information (i.e., you put the same number of pixels in a smaller space) and actually make the image appear sharper. However, when you enlarge it, you magnify the flaws.

More precisely, if you change the resolution of a 72 dpi image to 300 dpi, you are actually creating image information from scratch (making it up, which is called interpolation). The enlarged and resampled image may well have such flaws as jagged edges on items in the picture and/or a hazy, unfocused appearance. Even going back into the photo and resharpening it won’t make it right.

If you just enlarge the photo without resampling it (i.e., magnify the 72 dpi image without changing the resolution to 300 dpi), you’ll see the pixels as a pattern of huge, unattractive squares.

Just Don’t Do It

So the goal is to avoid interpolation like the plague. I said as much to my associate, but when I realized that he had to use the image and he had no other alternative, I taught him a trick.

Several years ago I had actually been successful in enlarging the cover photo of a print book using this technique, which I found online under the title “The Dark Art of Upsampling.” When I searched the Internet last night, I couldn’t find the exact article, but I did locate a number of other articles under that title.

Here’s the technique:

  1. Let’s say you have a 72 dpi image that’s 8” x 10” (576 pixels x 720 pixels) and you need to reproduce it as a 4” x 5” photo in a print book.
  2. Fortunately, since you’ll be using it at half the size of the original, you really already have an image that’s double the 72 dpi resolution, or 144 dpi. This is because reducing the size of the image increases its resolution commensurately.
  3. So without doing anything other than reducing the size of the image and therefore packing the pixels closer together, you have a 4” x 5” image that will print at 144 dpi. But you need an image that’s about twice that resolution.
  4. So, you open the image in Photoshop, and then open the “Image Size” dialog box. Then, instead of using a pixel dimension for the target image size, you change the dialog box units of measurement from “pixels” to “percentage.”
  5. You then choose “Bicubic, Smoother” at the bottom of the Image Size dialog box (an option created specifically for enlarging and resampling images).
  6. Finally, you choose a target size of between approximately 105 percent and 110 percent. Then you repeatedly enlarge the photo as many times as you need to to bring it to its final size. Apparently, by upsampling the image in small increments of 105 to 110 percent, using this “bicubic, smoother” technique, you can minimize the flaws that would otherwise usually appear. But only enlarge the image in 5 to 10 percent increments at a time. Then, if at all possible, don’t use the photo for an important image like a cover shot on gloss coated paper. Instead, consider it for a large format printed image on a building wrap or bus wrap, where it will be seen from a distance.
  7. Check the image very closely (at a high magnification) in Photoshop for any jagged edges in elements of the photo with straight or diagonal lines. Also look for “halos,” “artifacts,” or any other image information or patterning that shouldn’t be there.
  8. Then forget this technique, or try not to use it again. It is never as effective as using a properly scanned, crisp image at the correct resolution.
  9. If the technique doesn’t work for you for whatever reason, there are dedicated software packages that do essentially the same thing.

Some final words: Just don’t do it.

Book Printing: Creating a Logo with a Transparent Background

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

A consulting client of mine, who is designing a print book, came to me tonight with a quandry. He had a logo in TIFF format that included the name of a company, its graphic mark (two globes), and a tag line below the globes. Unfortunately, the logo file included a white background, and since my client wanted to place the logo over a screen of green on the back cover of the print book, the white background was a problem. When he placed the logo in the InDesign file, the white surrounding the logo obscured the green cover.

He sent me a copy of the file and asked what he should do.

Too Small an Image (Insufficient Resolution)

When I opened the file the first thing I noticed was that the image was minuscule. It was less than an inch in both length and width. The up side of this was that it would be on the back cover, printed over a colored screen. Essentially, it was of minimal importance. It just had to be recognizable as a company logo along with three other logos.

Normally I tell everyone not to upsample artwork. Increasing the resolution and size of an image just creates pixels out of thin air. But in this case, I went against my usual rules and suggested that my client make the art larger (approximately 2” x 4” at 300 dpi). My goal was to work within the limits of the human eye. Since this was the only art my client had for this logo, and since he would be enlarging it, adjusting it, and then shrinking it, before hiding the logo on the back cover, I felt he could break some rules.

Sharpening and Noise

I had my client use Photoshop’s Unsharp Masking tool to sharpen the enlarged image. I suggested that he play with various “Amount,” Radius,” and “Threshold” values. I encouraged him to work at a large magnification in Photoshop and be aware of any “halos” from oversharpening. If this occurred, he could back off on the settings (particularly “Amount”).

I also suggested that he try the Noise and Gaussian Blur filters (under the Photoshop Filters menu). These would minimize some of the flaws introduced by enlarging the image (interpolation). The Noise filters include Median and Despeckle, which I encouraged him to try in particular.

Once the work was done, he could reduce the image in size and place it on the back cover of his print book in the InDesign file, and this would further minimize any flaws (i.e., reduce them to below the threshold of visibility, which was about all he could do, since this was his only logo file).

Removing the Background

The logo file included the name of the company in black text superimposed over two green globes, with a tag line underneath. The only way I knew for my client to remove the background was for him to create a new Photoshop file with a transparent background, and then select the elements of the logo in the original file (everything but the background), copy them, and place them in the new Photoshop file.

To do this, I first asked my client to select the white background with Photoshop’s magic wand tool. Since the white in the logo file was a consistent hue and value, I knew the magic wand tool would easily highlight all background pixels at once. When this didn’t happen exactly as expected, I encouraged my client to use “grow” and “similar” in Photoshop’s “Select” menu to add to the selections until he had highlighted everything he wanted.

Once my client had selected all the white background pixels, he could use the “Inverse” command in the Select menu to make Photoshop switch its focus, deselect the background, and instead select all pixels comprising just the logo mark and tagline.

A New File

I then had my client create a new file large enough to hold the interpolated logo file (easily twice the dimensions of the original). I made sure he gave the new file a transparent background (one of the options for creating a new file).

I then had him copy the selected logo from the original file, place it in the new file, and save the document. One very important fact I pointed out to my client was that when saving the file, he had to check the “save transparency” box in the TIFF Options dialog box that popped up immediately following his request to save the file. Without this notation, I pointed out, the transparency would be lost and the background would again be white.

Testing the Job

When my client saved the file and placed the logo over a colored screen in InDesign, only the silhouette of the logo, type, and tagline were visible. The background was now transparent. My client was thrilled.

A Quick and Dirty Fix

I made it clear that this was only a quick and dirty fix. Enlarging an image (and adding pixels) is a bad idea for high quality work. Only because the logo was minuscule, on the back cover, on a colored screen, and with other logos did I endorse the plan.

(However, if my client had needed crisper edges to the file, my next suggestion would have been to use the pen tool rather than the magic wand to select the elements of the logo. In this case he could have created Bezier curves to ensure a crisper, more precise edge for the type and logo mark.)

Why You Should Care

Photoshop books will provide starting points for the various tools (default values for the variables), but what I have tried to do here is describe the workflow: how to approach a flawed file and work around its limitations.

Although there is often one, or two, best ways to approach a problem, in Photoshop it’s usually wise to also consider the limits of human vision. I just saw the final print book cover (as I was writing this), and my client took another suggestion I had given. He reset the tagline below the logo. By retyping the words in the proper font, he made the text totally crisp and readable. The logo mark and logo type aren’t perfect, but they’re on the back cover with three other logos.

Sometimes it’s prudent to consider the threshold of human vision when designing the cover of a print book.

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