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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven 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.

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Designing & Printing: Five Tips for Designing with Images

Here are a few ideas you may want to consider when designing newsletters, directories, annual reports, or other print products containing multiple images.

Standardize Portraits in Directories, Annual Reports, and Newsletters

I just received a sample printed directory and noticed something odd about the photos. They had been shot by different photographers, so the backgrounds were different, the lighting was not the same, and the cropping of the photos left different sized heads within the standardized 1” x 1.5” image frames.

In general, I would say that this is distracting. One of the qualities of good graphic design is standardization: of type, of the design grid, and of images.

Therefore, it is wise to either shoot (or acquire) images in which the backgrounds contain similar colors and are nondescript. After all, the goal is to focus your reader’s attention on the foreground of the photos rather than the background. In addition, it is wise to crop your images to keep the heads (and hands, or other similar elements of the photos) proportional to one another.

The human eye is lightning fast in recognizing patterns. Image-heavy printed documents such as annual reports, directories, and such, will often include photos with similar compositions. Newsletters may also include similar photos, such as images of people giving or receiving awards.

The reader’s eye will see both the pattern within multiple photos and a break in the pattern if your images differ in composition. This is often a challenge to remedy, obviously, since you can’t always control the source from which the images come. At a time like this, sometimes all you can do is be aware of the problem, strive for uniformity at least in the cropping and size of the people, and move on.

At this point you may also want to check for color casts in photos. If all of the photos have predominantly blue backgrounds, and one of your sources submitted a head shot with a reddish cast in the background, this will stand out and look odd. Therefore, you may want to adjust the color in Photoshop.

Scan Signatures at Sufficient Resolution

Images include more than just photos. They also include line art. While you would scan a photo at twice the halftone line screen the custom printing supplier will use (300 dpi, for example, for a 150-line halftone screen), you would need much higher resolution for line art.

For instance, if your newsletter or annual report will include a letter from the CEO, you will probably need to scan his or her signature. It is wise to scan the image at 1000 or 1200 dpi to minimize the jagged edges that result from scanning line art. (That is, you want the image dots that make up the signature to be as small as possible.) I’d also scan the image as line art within the “bitmap” mode in Photoshop rather than within the “grayscale” or color modes (RGB or CMYK). A black-only image that you colorize within the page layout software (InDesign) will have crisper edges than one you have scanned in color or grayscale.

Be Conscious of the Color Space of Your Images

You will probably scan directly into RGB mode. This is appropriate for computer screens (Internet design, multimedia, etc.) but not for offset or digital custom printing. So remember to change the color space of each image from RGB to CMYK before handing off the job to the printer. It’s easy to forget. So use the “Links” panel in InDesign, highlight each image in the list, and check the bottom of the window to confirm the correct “color space.”

Save Images As TIFFs for Offset and Digital Custom Printing

If you receive a digital scan as a JPEG, that’s fine. However, once you have opened the files and adjusted the images for your commercial printing vendor, save the images as TIFFs. If you need to compress them to make the files smaller, specify LZW compression. JPEG is a “lossy” compression algorithm. Each time you save an image to the JPEG file format, you delete digital information and therefore reduce the quality of the image to make the file smaller. In contrast, LZW compression is a “lossless” algorithm. It does not damage the photos.

Avoid Both Blur and Excessive Sharpening in Photos

If your images are blurry, that’s a problem. However, if you use a sharpening tool in Photoshop such as “unsharp mask,” and you do this to excess, you may add halos to portions of your images. Too sharp is just as bad as not sharp enough. Unsharp masking increases the contrast between adjacent tones, and this fools the eye into seeing a sharper image. But taken to an extreme, this makes the image look unnatural.

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