The Bishop Peak Portrait Project is very nearly up!

For the next five months I’ll be living in Munich and teaching at the Munich University of Applied Sciences. I arrived here a week ago and I had my first classes this week.

But, last week, before leaving San Luis Obispo, I saw the finishing touches being applied to my Bishop Peak Portrait Project. This is the year-long photographic project that I did to document San Luis Obispo’s signature mountain. It will be installed in the Baker Science Center in the coming weeks, I hope (it’s just a matter of being installed on the wall now).

Emma Wilson, my assistant on the Bishop Peak Portrait Project, stands with the first finished panel: March, and September, 2016. Emma had just finished installing the aluminum photos into the display panel. There are six of these panels that will soon go up in the Baker Center at Cal Poly.

This project has been in my blogs for the last 15 months (you can start reading about it here). It involved putting a time-lapse camera on the roof of the Kennedy Library at Cal Poly, and taking a photo of the mountain every five minutes for a year. That year began on March 1, last year and ended on February 28 this year. In the middle I took about 70,000 photos, and culled them down to a smaller 40,000 photos from which I picked the best image each day and had them printed on aluminum plates (about 1/16 inch thick).

I machined these photos on a CNC router to precise dimensions, then inserted into large aluminum panels I cut on the same machine to accommodate the images.

Cal Poly COSAM technician Rob Brewster aligns one of the photos in position on the September panel. We used an amazing double-sided adhesive to hold the photos in place.

I was originally planning to put the panels up, and then slowly populate them in-place until the project was complete, but technical difficulties interfered with my plans, and it ended up taking almost the entire year to get those panels cut and ready for installation. Eventually we decided to put the photos into the panels first, then install the panels – complete – on the wall of the building.

In the weeks leading up to my departure for Germany my student assistant/right-hand-woman Emma Wilson helped me get to the finish line. She and I had been working for several months to prepare the panels and the photos, and get the pieces in place for completion. We worked with Cal Poly technicians Rob and Doug Brewster who figured out how to finish the project and get the panels installed.

It came down to the wire. We were putting photos into the panels on Monday, March 6, and I boarded the plane to Germany on Friday, March 10. I saw the completed panels before I left. Emma, Doug and Rob finished those I was unable to do myself (my classes interfered with the photo project!).

When I return from Germany we will have some kind of an event to mark the installation. I’ll announce it here.

Many thanks to everyone who made it possible: Dean Phil Bailey, Associate Dean Derek Gragson, Doug Brewster, Rob Brewster, Emma Wilson, Jim Eckford, Ashala Lawler, Bryn Forbes, Eric Johnson, Tim Hastings, Dale Kohler, Sarah Sayeed, Patrick Kammermeyer, and others who have helped in various capacities. Thank you all!

To read all of the entries about the Bishop Peak Portrait Project, start here.

Posted in Photography, Photoshop techniques, Printing and Printing Processes | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Once a bitmap, always a bitmap

In my recent series of blogs about reproducing line art from 19th century copper engravings (and similar line art) using modern digital technologies I showed how scanning as grayscale and converting to bitmap format (with the 50 percent dither option) creates the best line art reproductions.

In the weeks since, I have had a chance to put this to the test on the 29-inch four-color Heidelberg press at Cal Poly. My students and I developed a test sheet for my Color Management course, and across the top of that sheet I placed a series of variations of the line art I had scanned for this blog earlier in the month.

This photomicrograph shows the line art of the original scan (still at 2400 ppi) with color halftone dots overprinted (the Heidelberg prints in KCMY order). This proves my theory that Prinergy’s halftone engine observes the integrity of black-only bitmap images even when they are part of a CMYK tonal image.

I also pushed the technique one step further to introduce a color overlay on top of a bitmap file to colorize the image. The purpose of this was to test my theory that once converted to bitmap (sometimes called “one-bit” art) I could return the image to grayscale and add a color overlay without affecting the line art on the black channel.

The work flow I proposed in my earlier blog works fine for strictly black and white reproductions, but a bitmap file cannot be a color file, so adding the color overlay requires another few steps to ensure success. First, as before, scan at very high resolution. I recommend 2400 pixels per inch because this will capture the finest detail in nearly any engraving. Curiously, the resolution of our Kodak Trendsetter platesetter is also 2400 machine spots per inch, so the two happen to be the same resolution. Having more resolution on the platesetter might result in a better image, but I can’t test that at present (hint to Kodak: Cal Poly needs a new Trendsetter).

This is the continuation of the work flow diagram I presented in a previous blog. This one includes the conversion of the scan to bitmap, then back to grayscale, and the addition of a second Layer in Photoshop for a color overlay.

Adding a color overlay layer to the bitmap layer requires that the file format be able to contain color. To do this I converted my scanned image to bitmap at 2400 ppi (using the 50% threshold technique) and then immediately converted it back to grayscale (using a Size Ratio of 1) which leaves the art as it was modified to bitmap. The pixels are either 100 percent black of 100 percent white.

Once I have the image back in grayscale, I copy the image to the clipboard. Then I create a new document in Photoshop in CMYK color (Photoshop already knows the pixel dimensions of the clipboard). Once that file is created, I paste the contents of the clipboard onto the black channel, leaving C, M and Y alone.

The safest way to proceed is to create a new Layer in the illustration and paint any color you want on that layer. I set the Mode of the layer to Multiply, and I am then free to draw or paint in color on top of the line art. I choose strong colors – a pink for the skin tones, rich blue for the jacket, etc., and I paint with those colors at 10 percent opacity level in Photoshop. Because the entire layer is in Multiply mode, all artwork on the layer is overprinted on the final file.

The result of this is charming. The illustration holds its original character, but color is added. And, the result of my test on the Heidelberg shows that an image, once converted to bitmap, remains a bitmap file even when the illustration is converted back to grayscale. The color overlay in this example is converted in Kodak Prinergy to halftone dots – which are essential to the appearance of the final illustration – while the line art remains one-bit black and white line art. The result is excellent, and I have learned that the behavior of the Prinergy halftone engine exempts one-bit information from being converted to halftones (which are harmful to the character of the original engraving).

This technique also works for comic book art, allowing the artist to work in black and white, and then later add a color overlay to the work. The benefit here is that comics that print on black-only presses can be printed with the black channel, and those that have CMYK available can print with all four colors. The only difference is whether to apply the color layer to the art or not.

Posted in Art, Photography, Photoshop techniques, Printing and Printing Processes, Scanning | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Prince Bold made Neue

Every really cool font eventually comes out in a “neue” version. The most famous is Helvetica Neue, which was the modernized version of Helvetica, with its normalized weights and corrected curves and very subtle curve changes.

Prince Bold is based on a font of wood type in the collection of the Shakespeare Press Museum at Cal Poly. It was cut in 1832 from blocks of black walnut. It still prints beautifully on the museum’s many letterpresses.

Last year I designed (or more correctly – converted) a type font called Prince Bold. It is based on a font of wood type that is in the collection of the Shakespeare Press Museum at Cal Poly. Interestingly, it turns out to be the oldest item in the collection, having been made in 1832. It was carved mechanically from black walnut by a company in Connecticut, and then sold by a type foundry in New York City. Considering that electric tools were not in use in 1832, it would probably have been carved with steam-powered routing machines. The precision of the carving shows a tremendous degree of sophistication in manufacture. There are incredibly fragile thin line components of the letters, parts that have never broken or failed in the 185 years the type has been in use. The walnut wood used was amazingly hard, and that wood has stood the test of time.

The original wood type is about three inches tall. It appears to have been cut by rotating router cutters, and finished by hand with sandpaper and files.

The original font had the unimaginative name Roman XX Condensed. I renamed it Prince Bold in honor of Raymond J.Prince, who has been so generous to the graphic arts industry, and to Cal Poly, in his philanthropy. Our students made an impressive presentation of Prince Bold to him last year when they all showed up at a dinner wearing bright red T shirts emblazoned with a big Prince Bold P in white on the front.

In the making of the digital font, I first proofed the wood type on our Vandercook proof press, then scanned the proofs and re-drew the letters in Adobe Illustrator. I was faithful to all of the vagaries of the letters in doing this. I wanted the new font to be as accurate as possible. The first version was true to the original, and that version is quite condensed.

This is the ampersand glyph in FontLab Studio. I try to be a minimalist when drawing letters with vectors. This letter, and all the others have as few anchor points as possible, resulting in smooth curves and gentle variations. Notice that the round parts, top and bottom, exceed the baseline and the X-height lines. This is to overcome an illusion that round letters appear smaller than their counterparts when they are within the boundaries.

When I remade the Roman XX Condensed to Prince Bold, I un-condensed it, using a tool in the font design program FontLab Studio. That was easy: I put a number into a formula and watched as the program widened all of the letters. Then I started the laborious process of correcting the variations in the font. The tiny hardwood serifs were not consistent, the thins were slightly variable, the thicks were mechanically consistent, but visually imperfect. I worked on it for about a month and what came out the other end was a passable font that resembled the original wood type, but looked more modern.

Other small changes included making the round letters larger than their geometric fellows. This, in a digital font, means making the round parts of letters like O and S, and g and p extend beyond the baseline and x-height lines of the design. When done correctly, these letters then look the same size as their geometric counterparts. I also made the punctuation marks larger to match the weight of the font, and I drew a whole list of characters that exist in a regular digital font, but which never existed in the original. These include the accented characters for Romance and Germanic uses, and ligatures, currency symbols, etc.

The test of any type font is its use. I have had a few chances to use Prince Bold in printed projects, and every time I use it I see errors in the design that I want to fix. One recently pushed me over the top, so I went to work on Prince Bold and repaired a number of the letters to make the font look better overall. 

The most glaring problem was an emaciated lower case z (see above), which was drawn from the original wood type exactly, but when used in text just looked wrong. It needed something, but I wasn’t sure what. The lower case s was similarly skinny, looking out of place among its neighbors. The question mark was ugly and didn’t match the other letters, as was the lower case e. And so on.

This is the revised version of the lower case z, and wider lower case e and o.

Jim Parkinson, the famous Oakland type designer, once told me that you never finish a type font. He said, “You declare victory and move on!” He has decades more experience than I do (and he is a much more talented designer than I am). But, after being in the type design world for many years now, I appreciate what he said. Instead of perfecting a font forever, it’s important to finish! I’m sure I’m not finished with Prince Bold, but it is a lot better now than it was at first.

This shows the modifications to the three letters (gray), each wider than the original (light green). The z is most different, making it not only match the other letters better, but making it more stylish.

Will I rename it Neue Prince Bold? I don’t think so. But it has been made neuer than it was, and I am much happier with the design now.

The font will be available for sale soon from the Shakespeare Press Museum at Cal Poly. Proceeds of all sales will buy the students an occasional pizza.

Posted in Art, New technology, Typography | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Bishop Peak Portrait Project comes to a close

Last year about this time I was preparing to install my remote camera on the roof of the Kennedy Library at Cal Poly.

I built a weatherproof box, designed and built a circuit board, tested the system, and then carried it up to the roof and installed it there to take a photo of Bishop Peak every five minutes for a year.

The project required me to build an entire infrastructure for taking, processing, printing, cutting and assembling photos. It was not without its problems.

These are the stacks of aluminum prints, month-by-month on my workbench. The photos are printed by dye-sublimation onto 1/16 inch thick aluminum material. I machine them to a precise size to fit mortises on my display panels.

At the end of the first week I realized that the battery I installed in the box was not large enough. The solar panels were good at charging the battery, but after four days of gloomy weather, the system stopped. The ampere-hour rating of the battery and the ampere-hour consumption of my system could only survive four days without sunshine. We have not had four days without sunshine in many years, but last March we had five. So I added a second battery with a 10 AH rating to cover the occasional gloomy patch. We didn’t have any more gloom until December.

In November, the camera froze one night when the temperature dropped below 32 degrees. I built a heating element and thermostat to overcome that problem (I don’t think it was ever needed).

This is one of two photos this month to feature the Moon. In the year of shooting I have collected only a few images that have the Moon and the mountain in the same frame.

In late December and early January we got a lot of rain, and some of the rain found its way into a connector on the solar panel output, shorting-out the system for a day. The camera continued to take photos until the battery died. Luckily I was on the roof to service the camera on the day after it failed.

I have had no water incursion in the camera box, and through wet weather and dry, scorching heat and windy weather, the system kept going. The Raspberry Pi computer and custom made circuit board stood the test of time. It’s still up there running! (I have a complete back-up of the system which I switched in the fall just for good measure.)

…and this is the other. Despite a considerable amount of rain, there have been some beautiful days in the first two weeks of the month.

The camera begins taking photos at 5:00 a.m. and stops at 9:00 p.m. The photos number (after I discard those taken in the dark) over 38,000 at this point. There are just over two weeks left in the project. When it’s finished I will go up and get the final photos, then get them printed, and then I will remove the camera system from the roof.

This is a mock-up of the final display with all photos in place to February 14, 2017. What I love about this project is the diversity of the light and the weather on “my mountain.” Notice August (upper-right): that was the month when we had huge wild fires raging in this and two adjacent counties. The sky was red for weeks with ash and smoke from those fires. This will be about 16 feet wide when installed at Cal Poly. Click on the image for a larger version.

The project will soon go on display in the Baker Center at Cal Poly; it will be a large-scale installation featuring 365 photos – one each day from March last year through February this year. The display will be about 16 feet wide and five feet tall. Each photo is printed on 1/16 inch aluminum plate, then machined to a precise size for insertion into my display panels.

I have been working on this so long and so intensely that it feels like a second job. I have spent many hours standing by my CNC router as it cuts the finished photos to size (one minute and 41 seconds per photo), and many more hours preparing the large aluminum panels for the display.

It has been fun and the photos are simply amazing. I’ll post again when the display goes up.

To read the final (?) story on the Bishop Peak Portrait Project, follow this link.

Posted in Photography, Photoshop techniques, Printing and Printing Processes, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Meet Lorem Ipsum

I’m not making this up.

Three years ago I was looking at my roll sheet for my Introduction to Graphic Communication course at Cal Poly. About a third of the way down the list I stopped at the name Lauren Ipsen, and could hardly believe my eyes. Was it possible that I was about to meet the person responsible for the automatically-generated text we get in page layout programs when we insert placeholder text?

This is Lauren Ipsen. Really.

Lauren, a student in her third-year in the Graphic Communication department, is the living, breathing human who has the authentic name that is almost the same as the text that is generated by InDesign and other page layout programs.

The recent update of Adobe Illustrator changed the text tool so that when one clicks with the text tool icon on a page, Lauren’s name is placed on the screen. This is an improvement in Illustrator that was added to prevent people from leaving text anchor points unused in their Illustrator documents. I like the new feature mostly because it puts Lauren’s name on my screen.

Ms. Ipsen is a native of Walnut Creek, California, and is hoping to graduate in 2018, though she may spend a little longer in the program while she takes classes in journalism to learn more about television. She is also hoping to get an internship in the television industry this summer.

Lauren has been studying graphic arts processes and learning about typography, web site design and all of the printing processes we teach. She spent the fall quarter studying in Florence, Italy. Now she’s back in the thick of flexography and offset printing presses, and learning a lot.

On the topic of Lorem Ipsum, Lauren is both amused and flattered by the association. She rather enjoys having a name that is nearly synonymous with placeholder text.

This is a sample of “Greeking” – placeholder text inserted into a document when you are designing pages but don’t yet have the real copy. Pagemaker, the first page layout program, inserted this kind of gibberish, always beginning with the words “Lorem Ipsum.” QuarkXPress offered this as well as filler text in Klingon.

I decided to look into the Lorem Ipsum text a bit, and I found (no surprise) a web site devoted the the subject ( On that site, which openly invites linking and copying, there is a fascinating history of the Lorem Ipsum text.

Apparently it comes from Cicero, and according to the site, it has been used as filler text for centuries. The modern implementation of it, which first appeared in Aldus Pagemaker (grandparent of today’s InDesign) which would fill any space with the almost-nonsense pseudo-Latin text.

In my youth, we described such nonsense text as “Greeking.” We should probably have been referring to it as “Latining.”

Here is a citation from about the common text (with some editing by me):

In design magazine, Before and After Magazine, a journalist [John McWade] wrote in volume 4, number 2 the following:

After telling everyone that Lorem ipsum, the nonsensical text that comes with PageMaker, only looks like Latin but actually says nothing, I heard from Richard McClintock, publication director at the Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, who had enlightening news:

Lorem ipsum is latin, slightly jumbled, the remnants of a passage from Cicero’s ‘De finibus bonorum et malorum’ 1.10.32, which begins ‘Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit…’

English translation: There is no one who loves pain itself, who seeks after it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain…

De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, written in 45 BC, is a treatise on the theory of ethics very popular in the Renaissance.

What I find remarkable is that this text has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since someone in the 1500s took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book; it has survived not only four centuries of letter-by-letter resetting but even the leap into electronic typesetting, essentially unchanged except for an occasional ‘ing’ or ‘y’ thrown in. It’s ironic that when the then-understood Latin was scrambled, it became as incomprehensible as Greek; the phrase ‘it’s Greek to me’ and ‘greeking’ have common semantic roots!

Today I salute Lauren, my student and friend, and I introduce you to her. She will go through her very happy life making her cheerful impression on everyone she meets. Some of them will say, “Isn’t that the stuff that InDesign puts on the page when you fill with placeholder text?”

And she will smile and tell them, perhaps, that it is actually her name that InDesign puts on the page.

Posted in Education, History, Language and grammar, Typography | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Line Art – colorizing engravings

Each year I create a ticket. It’s a personal project, and in recent years it has become something of a personal challenge.

I recently read a book about security printing. It was simply awful. Bad illustrations, meaningless text, too much information about commercial products, and not enough information about the subject of the book. After I read it, I put it in the recycling bin; it will come to better use there than in my library.

Despite my distaste for that book, I decided to practice some security printing techniques on this year’s ticket – just to see what I could do.

This is roughly what this year’s ticket looks like. It has one of my engravings as the base art, a simple guilloche pattern created in Adobe Illustrator, and type fonts of my own design. Just above the word “Managing” is a line of one-point Helvetica Neue Medium type (which becomes microprinting in the finished ticket). This image is about 2X normal size.

The ticket is a method for giving extra credit to my students for attending presentations during Cal Poly’s International Graphic Communication Week events. During this week we cancel most of our classes, and students attend lectures and presentations by industry experts, graduates of our program, technical innovators, and futurists. All of these fine people tell the students about their part in our industry – and these are some impressive presenters! This year we learned about the success that has been seen by Scodix with their impressive post-press technology for foil stamping, embossing and decorating of printed materials. We also learned how Steven Label Company (Santa Fe Springs, California) makes printed electronics for medical devices and for consumer electronics. We learned about Americhip’s work to put electronics into printed products, and how those electronic additions are making their customers look great in the eyes of their customers. We saw the beautiful books published by Chronicle Books, America’s largest independently owned publisher.

As always, it was an extraordinary week.

The students are required to attend lectures during normal class hours. Outside of those required times, though, I give extra credit for each hour a student participates in our activities. At the end of each presentation the students come up to me, and I hand them a ticket. Later, they write their name on the back and give their collection of tickets back to me. I add them up and assign extra credit points. The total of all the tickets turned in tells me how many total student-hours were earned (It’s over 225 this year).

The tickets create a buzz among the students because they are well-made and they are funny. I am amused that they like them so much.

This year and last I have used very-high resolution images of copper engravings as the art on the ticket. I add some text and I print them on our Konica-Minolta C1100 digital press on a nice satin-finish cover stock. This year I added microprinting. Both last year and this year I have included a guilloche pattern created in Adobe Illustrator to make the tickets look even better.

It would be impossible to photocopy one of my tickets successfully (though I don’t expect anyone to try).

Both years I colorized my engravings to add some personality to the art. That required me to develop a technique for colorizing that does not cause the illustration to be turned into a halftone pattern when printed (See my blog from last week for more on avoiding halftones). The technique allows me to paint with color “on top” of the black-only line art of the engraving.

I learned this technique from a friend who draws an internationally-syndicated cartoon. That gentleman showed me how his line art illustrations are colorized in Adobe Photoshop as a color overlay layer which can be used by newspapers that print in color, and ignored by those papers that print his cartoon in black only. It’s a great technique, and it works well for my engravings.

This is a cropped view of the colorized illustration. Click on the image to see it larger.

I start by scanning at 2400 ppi, and I convert to grayscale then to BMP using the 50% Threshold technique (described in my last blog). This results in a one-bit file – strictly black or white. Then I convert the image back to CMYK, which technically changes it from a bitmap image to a tonal image. But – there is no tonality in the image. (I have not had a chance to print this type of image on the Heidelberg press yet; it will be interesting to see if the bitmap remains strictly black and white, or if it turns into a halftone).

From the CMYK image I copy the black information into the clipboard. Then I create a new CMYK document (Photoshop already knows the pixel dimensions). Choosing the Black Channel in the Channels pane, I then paste the black art onto the black channel – only.

On the left is the scan, in the middle is the color Layer (no black) which is created in Multiply Mode. On the right is the composite of the two layers.

Then I create a new Layer, and define that layer to be in Multiply Mode. This is the layer on which I put the color. I paint with the brush tool mostly, setting the Opacity of the brush (in the title bar) to about 20%. This makes it possible to paint in small increments over the black image, building the color gradually and very nicely.

In Adobe Photoshop: this shows Layer 1 (containing all the color) superimposed on the Background (containing the black line art). I have ellipsed (that’s like encircling) the Multiply Mode to show where it’s located.

The quality of the painting is delightful. It looks like art from another century, and in part – it is!

The final photo-illustration exists as two Photoshop Layers – one for the color, and one for the black. If I save the file as a PSD or TIFF file, it will reproduce nicely on the Konica-Minolta machine, making very convincing line art and color.By changing the Mode of the color Layer, I am in effect printing all the color in overprint mode. This eliminates any problems with register or fit, making the printing easy.

Posted in Art, Photography, Photoshop techniques, Printing and Printing Processes | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Line Art – the One and Only True Bitmap format

This is the second of several blogs about scanning and reproducing line art from 19th century copper engravings and similar artwork.

When converting scanned line art into printable line art there is only one file format that will work without causing the art to be turned into halftone patterns.

That format is the Bitmap format (.bmp).

Converting to bitmap requires attention to detail, as it can easily go wrong. It starts with scanning, which I recommend be made to a grayscale file. Some scanners can scan directly to bitmap, but that seldom works well because the scan appears too harsh, and much of the fine detail in an image can be lost. Instead, I recommend scanning as an 8-bit grayscale image at a resolution of 2,400 pixels per inch (ppi). This will be a fairly slow scan because the scanner will be working at such fine resolution.

Once the grayscale image is acquired, open it in Adobe Photoshop and create a Curve Adjustment Layer. On the curve layer, try adjusting the white point and black point (black and white indicators at the bottom) to maximize the detail in the image while darkening the blacks and opening up the whites. Be careful not to cause pinching of the lines and leave some of the gray in the lightest areas.

If the image needs retouching to correct for mechanical damage, fix it while the image is in grayscale mode. That makes a smoother correction that is not obvious in the final image.

After retouching, save the file in TIFF (the scanner created a TIFF) or change the format to PSD. This will become your master file. The final bitmap file will be a derivative file.

This is an engraving scanned from a Dover book of line art at 2400 ppi. It is represented here as a tonal grayscale image (modified with an Adjustment Layer in Photoshop).

Change the mode from grayscale to BMP (Image>Mode>Bitmap). This, curiously, is the only file format that will keep the line art as line matter and not convert it to halftone dots (or other halftone patterns) in the final reproduction. There are four primary methods of conversion in the menu. Choose 50% Threshold as the method; the others create unnecessary noise and other patterns. The result will be a clean, line illustration that will translate into line-only matter on the final plate (this works well on digital printing machines also). I used a Kodak Trendsetter to make aluminum printing plates for my tests. That machine has a native resolution of 2400 spi, which matches the resolution of our BMP file. The results are extraordinarily sharp. On a different test on a Konica-Minolta C1100 digital press I also obtained excellent results printing through an EFI Fiery RIP as BMP. The resolution of the Konica-Minolta (1200 spi) was adequate to make excellent images of the same art, though obviously at half the resolution of the offset process I tested.

This is a photomicrograph of the same image printed by offset lithography at 2400 spi. Notice the effect of the halftone pattern on the engraved lines. Click on the image to see an enlarged view. 

The halftone pattern is especially destructive to the fine lines in the engraving that are designed to provide tonality. By using the BMP file format, this can be avoided (see images below). Click on the image to see an enlarged view.

With the line art image in-hand, proceed as normal with page layout. BMP files are effective in Adobe InDesign and Illustrator. Both applications support placing these illustrations. Scaling is important! You should try to reproduce engraved illustrations at their original size. Making them smaller increases the resolution of the engraving (the distance between the engraved tonal lines of the original), and that will challenge most printing processes. It’s acceptable to increase the size of the illustration in the final layout, but be very careful reducing these illustrations.

This photomicrograph shows how clearly the image is reproduced when saved as a BMP file. The lines on the right are clear, and have not been turned into halftone patterns. Click on the image to see an enlarged view.

This photomicrograph shows the quality of the engraved lines when printed from the BMP file on the offset lithographic version of the job. Click on the image to see an enlarged view.

For output I created CMYK Adobe PDF files. These were processed through Prinergy for the Trendsetter, and through the Fiery RIP for the Konica-Minolta. In both cases the BMP data is treated as line art, and no attempt is made to change it to halftone patterns.

In my next blog I will discuss ways to colorize engraved illustrations.

Posted in Photography, Photoshop techniques, Printing and Printing Processes, Scanning, Software | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reproducing line art with digital technology

In the pre-halftone era (printing before the 20th century), illustrations printed by letterpress (relief printing) were made by engraving into wood or copper to make an image. It was a laborious task, and the quality was determined by the skills of the artisan who made the engraving. This process is distinctly different from hand engraving a copper plate for printing by intaglio (where the image to be printed is engraved into the plate).

The engraving process done with wood blocks – dating back many centuries – is one of carving the non-image areas of a block of wood while leaving behind the wood for the printing surface.

This image of the famous typographer A. P. Luse was published in the Inland Printer in February, 1891. The illustration is typical of copper engravings of the day. Reproduced here for online viewing, it is just 144 pixels per inch. For it to be printed adequately that resolution should be as high as 2,400 pixels per inch. Click on the image to see a larger version with more detail.

With copper engraving, which became popular in the second half of the 19th century, the process was to paint a sheet of copper with a coating of asphaltum, a derivative of coal tar. When the asphaltum was dry, the artist would scratch through the asphaltum to reveal the copper surface. The artwork had to be drawn in reverse, with the non-image area revealed, and the artwork area protected by the dry asphaltum. The artist could make mistakes while working this way, and retouch those mistakes with a small brush, adding more asphaltum. In the end, only the copper non-image area would be exposed.

When the illustration was completed, a solution of hydrochloric acid was poured over surface of the copper plate (the back of the plate was also masked), and the plate was agitated in the acid solution until the exposed copper areas were etched away by the acid, making them deeper than the surface covered by the asphaltum resist.

Though it’s a bit difficult to display the quality differences here, the image on the left part above is scanned at 300 ppm, while the image with the tan underlay was scanned at 2,400 ppi. On careful examination, one can see the quality difference between the tonal area on the right of the face, and that on the left. Click on the image to see a larger version with more detail.

When the etching was deep enough to form a good relief, the acid was washed off with fresh water, stopping the etching process. A dilute solution of bicarbonate of soda in water would also occasionally be used to slow or stop the etching process.

The artist then removed the asphaltum with a solvent like benzene or paint thinner, leaving the image raised, and the non-image area etched away below it. This plate was then mounted on a wooden base of a thickness to create a type-high (0.918 in.) plate for relief printing. The plate could be mounted with type and other materials to make a printing job with an illustration in-place.

Resolution differences are especially visible when reproducing fine lines – like type. On the left the scan was made at 300 ppi while on the right it was made at 2,400 ppi. This is typically the problem with scanning line art at too low a resolution. Click on the image to see a larger version with more detail.

Copper engravers used a variety of tools to scratch their images into the asphaltum, with some of the more popular being a series of blades that were used to draw parallel lines in the resist. In copper engravings of the late 19th century, these thin lines provided tonality and detail in the image.

Since printing was (and still is) a binary process – ink or no ink – the entire image printed as black, and the delicate line patterns and cross-hatching created the illusion of tonality in the image.

With the invention of the photographic halftone in 1878 by Frederic Ives, the art of illustration engraving using this technique began to fade. It was henceforth possible to photochemically create and then print actual photographs by relief printing. The need for these elegant engraved copper illustrations was gone.

The legacy of copper engravings is tremendous, with beautifully printed books, and collections of the original printing plates still in existence. Thumb through any early edition of The Inland Printer, or any of the 19th century Penrose annuals of printing, and you will see hundreds of illustrations and advertisements made with beautiful engraved illustrations. These illustrations reproduce very nicely with a photographic negative made from the printed page using lithographic film and a process camera.

But in the era of scanning, we have lost something that was easy to do with litho film and traditional (analog) printing plates for offset printing. Line art in the 1970s was easy to reproduce. Today it is very difficult to do. In the next few blogs I will discuss techniques for making the best possible line illustrations for both digital (toner and ink-jet) and offset printing.

This is a copper engraved illustration mounted on a block of hardwood. This image is from the collection of the Shakespeare Press Museum at California Polytechnic State University. We don’t know the provenance of this engraving. It’s likely more than 100 years old. This could also have been a mass-produced plate. It’s impossible to know.

One of a thousand reasons to get this right
It’s often said that to scan line art (usually a business card that must be converted to digital form) one should scan that card at 1,000 ppi. Though this is usually adequate for the typical awful business card, it falls way short of being acceptable for a quality reproduction of 19th century copper engravings. For that we need much more resolution – as much as 2,400 ppi.

I have conducted a series of tests on this, going all the way from the original to an offset sheet printed on a Heidelberg press. Microscopic analysis shows the results of my tests. I have learned a lot, and will show the results in the coming blogs.

We’re not making halftones!
In fact, to reproduce line art effectively, you want to avoid allowing any illustration to become a halftone. The halftone process, where tones are reduced to various size dots, is destructive to copper engravings. It results in severe damage to the fine lines that are the very essence of these illustrations. Curiously, there is just one file format that supports line engravings and prevents them from being converted to halftones – BMP. That format, called Bitmap, supports the reproduction of line art at any resolution.

Most desktop scanners have enough resolution to capably scan a line engraving at high enough resolution for excellent reproduction. Scanning at high resolution is a slow process, but it’s important to maintain the quality we need for acceptable reproduction. Scanners convert line art into raster art, converting a work of analog art into the same image broken up into a grid of pixels. The secret is to scan enough of those pixels to disguise the digitization process and print the original faithfully.

In the coming days I will post a second story about how to get the best quality reproduction of line art using digital technologies.

Posted in Art, History, Photography, Photoshop techniques, Printing and Printing Processes, Scanning, Software | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

A photography day at the Monarch Grove in Pismo Beach

Last week my wife and I with our cousins visited the famous Monarch Grove in Pismo Beach State Park. This is the site where twice each year thousands of Monarch butterflies gather to mate, and to impress visitors with their beauty.

We used two Canon full-frame cameras: a 5D and a 6D, and we used a long, long combination of optics: a Canon 100-400 lens with two 2X telextenders attached to make the equivalent of a 1600mm lens! The maximum aperture was f11, but with a good tripod from Really Right Stuff, we were able to make some lovely portraits of Monarchs in the wild.

Posted in Photography | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Out with Barracuda and in with SpamExperts

Blognosticator Head

I have my own e-mail server, hosted by an ISP in Michigan. I have been a customer of theirs for many years and they have treated me very professionally.

A couple of years back I asked them for help with incoming spam e-mails. It was getting out of control. We were receiving hundreds of spam e-mails every day, and we were getting buried. We created local and server-wide filters to kill as many as we could, but it proved to be too much for me.


My ISP suggested that we sign up for their Barracuda e-mail filtering service, at about $50.00 per year. I signed up immediately.

And immediately the flow of spams dropped from hundreds every day to just a few.

I was a happy camper.

When my wife and I bought airline tickets for a trip from Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls, I purchased them from a travel agent in Argentina, using their web site. Within weeks of making this transaction, Argentine spammers began an outright assault on my e-mail server, sending sometimes hundreds of spam e-mails every day. I wrote local spam filters that would kill any e-mail with the .ar suffix. That lasted for a while, but then that spammer sold my address to a Brazilian spammer, who sold it to a Mexican spammer, who sold it to a Russian spammer, who sold it to any number of other spammers who spoof e-mail addresses in many countries.

The most upsetting event was when they started using my e-mail address to send hundreds of thousands of spam e-mails around the world. I was banned by AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo, and blacklisted by my own university for a while due to my “bad reputation.”

I started receiving e-mails for erectile dysfunction medicines from myself.

The Barracuda system helped a lot, and our e-mail distress was reduced to nearly nothing. I still got a quite a few in Spanish and Portugues, a few from Argentina, and a few from other Latin American senders. For those I just used the delete key.

Barracuda was successful in blocking most spams, but it suddenly started allowing a lot (a lot!) of spam e-mails through to my wife’s account. On one day last week she received dozens and dozens of e-mails from all over the world. The only thing they had in common was the “sender” was “contact” at some Here are about 60 percent of those she received in just one day:

Every one of these is fake, stolen or spoofed.

What had happened? Why didn’t the Barracuda anti-spam server catch these? And why did these arrive as a torrent of e-mails?

Curiously, these spam e-mails can easily be detected and deleted with a local rule. Apple’s Mail program has rules-based filters that can be set to make Boolean decisions about incoming mail. In this case, a rule set to find the word “contact” followed by the @ sign can move these mails into the Junk folder, or (if you’re feeling confident) delete them altogether. But, this would not solve the bigger problem, which was that these were just a few in a morning’s deluge of spam that had gotten past the Barracuda server.

I contacted my ISP and asked for tech support. They were not sure why it was happening, but they suggested that the Barracuda system – though still supported – was not nearly as good as their new SpamExperts server that would work much better. It’s about the same price as Barracuda ($60 per year). I decided to take the leap and switched my MX path to send all of my incoming e-mails to the SpamExperts server, which will then forward them to my e-mail server.

I have now gone three days with the new spam server in place, and I can tell you that it’s working well. In that time, the new system has not delivered a single Argentine or Brazilian e-mail message to me or to my wife. No pharmaceuticals. No hotel ads – nothing. In the first 48 hours, SpamExperts filtered has over 160 bad e-mails. I’m impressed.

Looking at the final tally of the work that Barracuda did in the year that I used that service shows just how big a problem spam e-mail is. When I look at the individual e-mails I wonder why spammers bother to do it. There simply must be enough people who are duped by spam, or who respond to phishing scams, or who get caught by malware and hostage-ware attacks to make this criminal activity worthwhile. Otherwise why would they do it?

Mine is just a two-person organization. In 12 months, the Barracuda spam server filtered a total of 340,314 incoming e-mails. Of those there were 209 that contained viruses (thank you, Barracuda!), 4,683 with damaged structure, of suspicious construction, or with empty fields. Barracuda deleted 170,178 spam e-mails that we never saw.

82,623 e-mails were delivered.

I don’t remember reading 82,000 e-mails, but then only about half of them were addressed to me. I don’t remember reading 41,000 e-mails!

I do remember deleting about a dozen Spanish, Portuguese and other non-English e-mails that made it past the Barracuda server every day (that’s about 4,000), and I will not miss that daily routine. I am really excited that I will not have to filter my incoming e-mail for much of anything with the new SpamExperts service. I’m looking forward to a quieter e-mail experience.

A sadistic note to spammers:
When your bots scan this blog, and harvest the long list of e-mail addresses above, you will be adding spammers’ e-mails into your spam attacks. That makes me smile.

And a follow-up note:
I have been using SpamExperts since writing this blog. I check every few days to see if any non-spam messages are being trapped by the system. In the first few visits I found a few in quarantine, and I “whitelisted” them.

Since then I have had none. The number of spam e-mails coming into my server is stunning. Sometimes I get 200-300 in a single day. SpamExperts is doing a yeoman’s job of preventing those from getting to my in box.

Posted in Mistakes you can avoid, Software, Technology, Web | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment