Digital Weight Loss

August 13, 2008

It’s been a long while since I’ve blogged. Life’s been hectic with altogether too much of little importance going on. We’ve been doing lots of small jobs at the printshop. With a weak economy, many of the projects we are seeing are of the do-it-yourself variety. So much so, in fact, that I’ve just about quit trying to explain that Microsoft Word is not a page layout program.

The DIY aspect has also compounded the problems with compressed deadlines. Typically, the customer has underestimated the time required to layout their program or brochure or postcard. They bring it to us at the last minute. We do what we can, but with intstantaneous deadlines there’s no time to disassemble the Microsoft mess, repair what we can, try to get higher resolution photos and then and reassemble it all in Indesign.

One of the recurring nightmares in the pieces we’ve been doing of late is disproportionate scaling of photography. This one really bothers Poor Richard, but I confess that it is sometimes flattering to the photographic victim. Here’s how it works:

Here’s our unsuspecting victim. His name is Brian and he manages production at the shop. Like me, Brian has inflated and deflated in cycles over the years he’s been at AlphaGraphics. Unlike me, Brian has occasionally decided that voluntary exercise is a good thing. He’s even had a gym membership once or twice. Poor Richard will never set foot in a gym. I see no purpose whatsoever in riding a bicycle that isn’t going anywhere.

Brian’s photo at left is scaled correctly. It is a very reasonable facsimile of what Brian actually looks like. The problem occurs when our DIY designer decides that Brian’s photo doesn’t fit the space that is allocated in the publication. Or perhaps the DIYer wants all of the photos in the publication to be the same size. So he resizes the photo.

Let’s suppose that the photo needs to be taller. Here’s what we often see. Brian becomes much thinner and taller. Now, depending on his current state of expansion or contraction, this may or may not be appealing to Brian. It is safe to say, though, that it is more appealing that the other distortion that we often see.

The “horizontal stretch” is rarely flattering:

For a normal sized American type person, the effect is disturbingly toadlike. For the Southern Fried Chicken, cholesterol, and carbohydrate dieter, the result can be downright disturbing.

In Brian’s case, the horizontal stretch makes him lookonly slightly like Peter Lorre.

So, how to resolve this problem? The answer is cropping and proportional scaling. Cropping is actually cutting out a section of the image to create horizontal and vertical ratio that is similar to the area that you wish to fill. Scaling increases or decreases the cropped image to actually fill the space.

Depending on the software you are using, you may have to do this operation in either one or two steps. Real page layout programs, like Adobe Indesign will let you both crop and scale at the same time. You simply import the photo into the layout, adjust the boxes using the black and white arrows (selection and direct selection tools). You can scale proportionally in Indesign and in many other programs by holding down the Shift key as you stretch the object.

You can also adjust the proportions in Photoshop or the photo editor that you are using prior to placing the image. This may be necessary if you are using a Microsoft aberration or another of the DIY programs that are sold in the marketplace for just about what they’re worth. Here’s an example . . . let’s crop and scale Brian the right way.

Let’s crop Brian’s head out of this photo and then size it for insertion. First in Photoshop or another image editing program, we’ll simply draw a line around the area we want with the crop tool and eliminate the rest of the photo. We’ll end up with something like this:

Assuming that the image is of sufficient resolution (a topic for another blog entry), we can then resize it proportionally to fit the space needed. The end result might look like this:

Then again, why should I be the one to worry about the finer elements of basic design. After all, I’m just ther printer. Go ahead, get creative . . . turn Brian into a green duotone, stretch him all out of proportion and be happy about it . . .

Sorry, Brian . . .

Isn’t life grand?

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Why Printers Hate Microsoft

September 9, 2006

Coming up with a title for this entry was a struggle. I really, really wanted to type “10 Reasons Bill Gates will burn in hell;” but I resisted. At least in the title. Printers hate Microsoft for a lot of reasons . . . really good reasons.

Word is a design program, right?

Just because it kind of looks like a brochure on your screen doesn’t mean that your printer will be able to do anything with it at all. Microsoft Word was designed as a word processing program. Type up a letter and it spits out neatly on your little HP inkjet printer.

As the years have progressed, the mighty minds at Microsoft have added capabilities to it that would lead the unenlightened user to believe that they can actually do page layout in the program. I could spend hours describing the problems with this application, but let’s just keep it simple. It doesn’t work. WYSIWYG isn’t. It’s very unlikely that what you see on your screen will be what I get when I print. In fact, it’s even unlikely that what you see on your screen will be what I see when I open it up on my screen.

So I’ll use Microsoft Publisher . . . it’s a page layout program

Right, providing you know what you are doing with it. Actually, Publisher has improved greatly since the first versions came out in the late 1990s. We will even recommend this program for folks that want to do simple layouts, like newsletters or “quick and dirty” publications.

Here’s another great computer acronym. GIGO — garbage in, garbage out. For instance, the internet graphic that you lifted from http://www.homephotos.com looks great on the screen. The resolution is sized for the Internet at 72 dots per inch (dpi). It’s just a little grainy when you stretch it out to 150%. And maybe that woman was supposed to be that fat. You just helped her out a little when you stretched the horizontal axis 200% and the vertical axis 120%.

Here’s the problem. We’re going to print that picture at 2400 dpi. The fat lady is going to look like she missed the decompression chamber after a deep sea dive. And you’re going to ask why. We’re going to smile and say (very nicely) that we pointed this out to you when we sent the proof. And you’re going to say that she looked so good on the screen. You’re going to be mad at us because the fat lady blew up and we knew that she should have fit into a size 9 to begin with.

Where did my fonts go?

You found this neat font on the Internet called Knebbish 3 italic. You searched for 14 hours and finally got it off of a server in Tehran or Ludowici or somewhere. You used it everywhere, along with 17 other really edgy fonts that you bought for $5 Canadian from twoguysinagarage.com font foundry. They were in the Word file on your computer, but none of them appeared in the proof of your publication. In fact the font that did show up looks like an old typewriter and the formatting’s all screwed up.

Guess what? Fonts don’t carry over (embed) in Word documents. Even in Publisher, they won’t embed unless you tell them to. There are exactly 27.5 quadrillion fonts floating around on the Internet and your printer doesn’t have them all. Even if we do have Knebbish 3 Italic, it might not be the same version that you got from Achmed or Bubba in Ludowici. So, you need to send the fonts with your file.

But Microsoft is all I’ve got. What do I do?

Your printer can help. First, give them a call before you begin your publication. They’ll give you some instructions to get you started correctly. If you take a little more time to prepare and create the layout to your printer’s specifications, it will save you both production time and the cost of “fixing” the file. Your printer should be happy to provide you with this information. It’ll save them headaches later. At Alphagraphics, we regularly schedule short training sessions for folks who are new to layout or who haven’t worked with a printer before. We’ll also help you package your finished files to provide us with everything we need to print (layout, fonts, and graphics).

Adobe to the rescue!

Probably the best fix for Microsoft products comes from one of their competitors, Adobe Systems. In the mid 1990s, Adobe introduced the portable document format (.pdf), a file format that essentially “freezes” your Microsoft document. While PDFs are not foolproof, they’re a much more stable and static format than anything Microsoft ever dreamed of.

At AlphaGraphics, we routinely convert all native files (Microsoft or otherwise) to .pdf for output. We can provide you with a free utility, called PDFExpress, to convert your Microsoft files to .pdf for printing. You can also save into .pdf format or write a .pdf using Acrobat Distiller, but you’ll need to use specific settings to create a file suitable for print. Again, ask your printer if you need help.

Back to Bill . . .

Every printshop can literally count thousands of dollars that have gone down the tubes because of Bill and his programs, so it’s natural that your printer is going to grimace or make some sort of disgruntled (or obscene) noise when you tell him that you’re bringing him Microsoft to print. Please excuse him. It’s not you he’s upset with. What he’s actually envisioning is Bill’s eyes bugging out behind those weird glasses as his hands tighten their grip around Bill’s geeky throat.

Wake him up from his daydream and he’ll be glad to help.