Printing & Design Tips: June 2003, Issue #23

Photo CD

Commenting on a previous edition of Quick Tips about scanning (see Issue 22), a reader suggested an option I had missed: Kodak Photo CD's. The reader noted that professional photographers shooting 35mm images for larger-format reproduction often have the transparencies scanned and burned to CD in various sizes by professional photo-finishers using high-quality scanners. This option maintains the highest level of detail and tonal qualities. Often exceeding $200,000, these scanners produce the equivalent quality of most 4"x5" work scanned on traditional drum scanners a decade ago. These scans are by no means the same as the Photo CD’s provided in grocery stores and pharmacies (essentially lower quality snapshots saved to CD for easy access).

This is also akin to JPEG images you can download from royalty-free stock image vendors such as Super Stock. Most of these firms offer images on websites as well as through printed directories. After logging into such a site, you browse for the subject matter you seek using search engines that you program with key words and phrases. For instance, you might ask for all images of a "satellite dish," or you might search technology databases for images with a "high-tech" feel.

Once you have selected a number of images on-line, you might download low-resolution JPEGS for free to incorporate into mock-ups for your design client. Then, once your visuals have been approved, you can download the size file you need based on the final printed image size. A 35MB file might work for a full-page image, while a much smaller file would be fine for a 2" x 3" printed size. Or for uploading to a website, you could download an even smaller-format file, since you would only need a final 72dpi image.

Usually these stock image houses provide a number of different sizes of each image expressed in pixels. You pay based on the number and quality of images you need (the lower the resolution, the lower the cost) and only download the sizes you need, thus shortening download times. Once you have acquired these images, you can manipulate them, change their color space, and save the final photos as TIFF's for inclusion in your page-layout file.

Some vendors will even provide your final choices on CD, if you choose. This will avoid downloading altogether but will take longer, since you will need to wait for a FedEx delivery. You will also pay the stock agency more for this custom service.

A similar option involves CD’s with large numbers of related images--say 100 images of medical technology subjects. These may cost quite a bit compared to single images you can download, but if you will use many images from such a Photo CD, the cost may be reasonable for you.

In all cases, whether you have the photo-finisher scan and burn your images to Photo CD using ultra-high quality equipment, or if you use royalty-free images from a website or a Photo CD, you start with an image that has superior detail and a broad, even tonal range. Basically, you are paying someone else to acquire a high-end scanner and do the scanning for you.

Keep in mind that with stock images, you may be paying for the same image your competitor is using in a similar publication. It is up to you to take the raw image and do something creative with it. To help you with this, some vendors have even provided alpha channels or clipping paths within the image file so you can isolate a portion of the image and transfer it into a photo montage.

Rights Managed Vs. Royalty Free Images

You can buy a CD containing hundreds of images of wildlife (for
instance) and use any of these images however you want. You can crop them, place portions of the images in different montages, or change them from color to black and white. The amount you paid for this Photo CD covers unlimited use of the contents (although you cannot sell the images to other users). This approach to stock imagery is called "royalty-free" stock imagery. You can buy these disks from stock image houses or even from computer stores.

"Rights-managed" images are different. These images also come from stock image houses but you must tell the agency how you will use the images. For instance, you may purchase rights to three four-color images to be used on a 6" x 9" paperback textbook cover with a press run of 60,000 copies. These cover images will be repeated as divider pages in the text (black and white), and they will also be used on a cover-overrun postcard to sell the textbook to teachers. All of this information will be taken into account by the stock image house in determining the rate you will pay for the right to use these images. Unlike "royalty-free images," you can use "rights-managed" images only once (unless of course you negotiate multiple uses into your contract with the stock photo agency).

Why would anyone choose rights-managed images over royalty-free images? One reason is that royalty-free images are generic, rather than specific, in nature. If you need an image of a computer, a royalty-free CD from the local computer dealer will suffice. If, on the other hand, you are writing a story about human rights abuses is Bosnia, you would probably approach a rights-managed stock image agency for a particular image of Bosnia.

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]