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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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Book Printing: Creating a Logo with a Transparent Background

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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