I have a preposition for you!

Prepositions are parts of speech that declare where, and when, and they are important to proper language.

Typographers have a responsibility to place prepositions where they belong, and not to hang them at the end of lines.

I often see them used correctly, but placed incorrectly. Prepositions belong with the words that follow them (most of the time).

So instead of putting a preposition at the end of a line, and allowing its prepositional phrase to be on the next line, keep the preposition with its expression.

Note the hanging prepositions in the third, fifth, sixth and seventh lines of this invitation. They are all incorrect. They belong on the following lines with the words they describe.

In this version, I have moved all the prepositions to the correct locations. Try reading the two, and I think you’ll agree that this one reads better. It’s refreshing to read excellent typography and not be distracted by hanging prepositions.

I believe that this should also be true of conjunctions – and, or, for example. Keep the conjunctions with the words that follow so they don’t hang on the end of a line.

All of this is a goal for typographers, but it is often impossible to accomplish due to the line length, or getting the type to fit into a certain space. When you can’t get these pesky words to go with the words that follow them, just do the best you can.

The most important message in this short essay is to pay critical attention to the words in every line. Look! Look closely, and read the copy to be sure it reads correctly and smoothly.

Remember the overarching goal of excellent typography: Never interrupt the reader!


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A pretty good argument for using ProPhoto RGB as your working color space

Photographers discovered 20 years ago that sRGB is a really bad color space for professional photography. So we all changed to Adobe RGB 1998.

The reasons for doing so are important: Adobe RGB has a larger overall gamut, and conversion to CMYK print gamuts like FOGRA and GRACoL leave colors largely unchanged. Skin tones are rendered slightly better in Adobe RGB, and cyan-green colors are possible in an image, where they are clipped with the much smaller sRGB color space. It was completely logical.

This is a 3D view of the ProPhoto RGB working color space (available in Adobe Photoshop) compared to the Adobe RGB 1998 working color space. The ProPhoto extends beyond the human visual spectrum on the blue axis in order to accommodate a larger range of violet, cyan and green colors. It is also very slightly larger along the red-green axis, which includes the colors described in this essay.

About ten years ago I was counseled by an Adobe trainer to switch to ProPhoto RGB, a significantly larger working color space. His argument was strong, but I didn’t think it affected me. Someday, he argued, Canon would come out with an ink-jet printer that has such a huge color gamut that I would be begging for it. If I started converting all of my images then into ProPhoto RGB space (this is done in Adobe Camera Raw), I would be able to take advantage of the impressive gamut of that future printer, and I would enjoy the benefits.

Soon, I followed his example and I switched to ProPhoto RGB, applying it to all of my images. My images did not improve (they were just fine in Adobe RGB), but I felt pretty good about my ability to take advantage of a future printer with much more color than my current printer (an Epson 9800). I never expected my images to improve, but I did want to be on board when that new huge-gamut printer came along. To date it has not.

Over the years, probably more a result of being in step with other photographers, I switched back to Adobe RGB 1998. My photos still look good, and I seldom get any reminders from the Color Settings palette reminding me that the color profile I have in my photos is different than the color settings I have established for the Adobe Creative Cloud. My work flow just works.

This past week, however, I encountered a situation while photographing an oil painting where the difference between ProPhoto and Adobe RGB made the difference between  success and failure.

I have been working for months to learn a new technique for making reproductions of paintings. This involves much discipline: accurate lighting, precise exposure, perfect camera positioning, building and applying an excellent input profile (applied in Adobe Camera Raw), and then adjusting the black-point and the white-point to get the best possible tone range in the resulting images.

I don’t want you to think I’m new to fine art reproduction photography. No, I have been doing it rather badly for decades. I have spent countless hours and many dollars building the right set-up, measuring and preparing the lighting, and taking slightly unacceptable photos of paintings.

In January of this year I attended an inspiring seminar on fine art reproduction by artist/photographer Christopher Campbell and software developer Franz Herbert. The two presented at the annual Color Conference, an event hosted by the Printing Industries of America. It was the best seminar I have attended in years. At the end, Mr. Campbell showed two samples of paintings and reproductions that were indistinguishable. Franz Herbert demonstrated BasicColor Input, the software he develops for BasicColor, a German firm that makes profiling and profile editing software.

This is a comparison of the ProPhoto RGB working color space (black wireframe) to the image capabilities of a Canon 6D digital camera. The size of ProPhoto is important to capture such a large potential volume of colors captured by that, and similar cameras.

As a result of attending that seminar, and doing considerable reading after, I developed a work flow and apparatus for fine art reproduction photography. I built a special wall mount for paintings; I bought clamps and aluminum bar stock to mount my strobe lights in the correct position for this kind of work. I got a new Color Checker SG target from X-Rite, and bought a pair of lasers to aim the lights.

In February I got a copy of BasicColor Input, and began the process of learning how to make and use Camera Raw profiles (I have used ColorChecker Passport for years). In late April I assembled all of this in the studio at my university. I brought my own strobes over (they are better than the lights owned by my department). I set up my lights, measured their positions exactly, and then aimed them using the lasers.

I bought a Hasselblad alignment mirror on eBay (by mail from Hungary), and I bought a Zig-Align mirror for the Canon macro lens I planned to use for this activity. The two mirrors are used to square the camera to the artwork: one goes on the artwork wall, one goes on the camera lens during the alignment stage.

Once assembled, I showed my students how the system works. We set up the Color Checker SG and we made exposure calculations to get the images in the camera – a Canon 6D. We then made profiles using the BasicColor software, and learned that the errors in color from shooting to profile were too high: my average Delta-E was in double-digits. I photographed the painting and opened it using the profile we made. Printing that image to Epson Somerset paper we could see that the color was too orange. Cream colors in the original were just wrong. I worked with the image to make it look better, but it got worse.

Back in the studio, I recorded a custom white balance in the camera, a step that I had omitted in the first round (though suggested by Christopher Campbell and Kevin O’Connor). Then I photographed the Color Checker SG again, and made a new profile. This one turned out much better: average Delta-E of 2.46, peak Delta-E of 5.3.

Again, I photographed the painting and opened the image in Camera Raw, applying the new profile. On printing it, the cream colors were much better, but still visibly wrong.

This is a projection in 2D of the colors in a recent fine art reproduction image I made in the studio at my university with the Canon 6D camera. Notice the colors that extend beyond the triangular gamut of Adobe RGB 1998 at the top-right; these are the cream-yellow colors described in this essay. This image was created in ColorThink Pro software, which can plot various color gamuts in 2D and 3D space.

In Adobe Camera Raw I changed the bit depth of the photos from 8-bit data to 16-bit data and tried again. The result was the same: cream colors that were orange. I reconsidered everything that I was doing, attempting to figure out how to make it better. I seized upon the idea of the color space, wondering if Adobe RGB is too small for the colors in the painting. I changed the color space to ProPhoto RGB and tried again. Bingo! I could tell immediately that the cream colors had been captured and converted to Adobe Photoshop correctly.

…and this is the same image superimposed on the 2D gamut chart of ProPhoto RGB. You can see that the larger working space accommodates nearly all the colors in the photograph, doing a much better job than its slightly smaller counterpart Adobe RGB 1998.

After analyzing the two gamuts side-by-side, I realized that the most significant difference between the two (in this case) is a small strip of land along the red-green axis, passing through the red-yellow-orange areas of the image. ProPhoto RGB is slightly larger along this axis (there is not much room to move there), but this was exactly the area where my colors were being clipped into the smaller Adobe RGB color space, and this was pushing the creams into stronger reds. When I used ProPhoto RGB, the colors were being recorded and passed correctly to Photoshop, and they were remarkably better.

The resulting image, and the print I made from it are nearly perfect. It is the most satisfying result that I have ever made.

To download a printable version of this essay, please click on the image below:

ADDENDUM May 18, 2019
This article presumes that other software will play fair with ProPhoto RGB. In the months since I posted this essay I have discovered that Adobe InDesign CC is not always content to accept images with embedded ProPhoto RGB ICC profiles.

In a couple of tests I have done making 19 x 25 inch press sheets for the Heidelberg press at Cal Poly, I discovered that InDesign mysteriously loses the embedded ProPhoto RGB profile when these images are placed in InDesign. Instead of acknowledging the profile and processing the image correctly, InDesign says that the image has no profile at all, and substitutes the document default profile (whatever you have set in the Color Settings for InDesign). In some cases, InDesign does acknowledge the profile while in others it does not (about half the time it does not work correctly).

The simple solution to this is to use the control Object>Image Color Settings to reassign ProColor RGB to each image whose profile has been dropped. Another solution is to set ProPhoto RGB as your default RGB color profile, and then any image whose profile gets dropped will default, correctly, to the default.

The latter solution will cause severe color shifts to images that are not ProPhoto RGB. For example placing a small-gamut image (perhaps sRGB) image without an embedded profile would cause it to be rendered by the much larger ProPhoto RGB color profile on output, scaling the reds, green and blues to extreme versions of those colors, and nothing like the original image.

I don’t know if Adobe is aware of this problem, but now you are!


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Making indentations more attractive

As I mentioned in my last article, I believe that one should either indent, or space-after paragraphs in running text. Not both.

And, when using a common indentation to create visual cues for the reader, I believe that you should take it one step farther, and not indent the first paragraph in an article, nor the first paragraph after an illustration or a caption.

This three-column page is made less attractive by indentations in three places where I believe there should be no indentation. I have chosen small indent values (0.22 in.), and I want to eliminate the indentations where marked in yellow.

My reason has to do with coloration – the texture of the printed page. Indentations where they are not needed should be eliminated. This is an easy task in Adobe InDesign. I make two copies of my primary Paragraph Style, one with an indentation, the other without (they should be otherwise identical). The un-indented version will be used only occasionally to make the page look better.

This is the same page with those indentations removed. It’s subtle, but effective. All excellent typography is thoughtful, making the experience of reading pleasant for the customer.

I work to avoid odd open spaces that have the potential to confuse the reader. And, if you have read my other typographic essays, you know that my primary motivation in typography is to avoid interrupting the reader – ever.

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Coloration has nothing to do with color in typography

This is my third essay on Typographic Discipline. You can read the previous edition here.

The word “color” or “coloration” is a term used to describe the texture of typography – its visual impact as a block of copy. It has nothing to do with color.

When faced with the complex decisions of how large to make type, how many points of leading to use, as well as the line length for a story, one must wrestle with many settings and microscopic modifications that affect how our reader will see the text, and (perhaps) read it.

Remember that the number one objective in typography is to get the reader to read the text without any interruptions.

Do we indent the text? Do we add space between paragraphs? Entire books have been written about the “canons” of excellent book typography, and I will only touch on this one factor in excellent typography.

I call these things visual cues. They tell the reader that something has changed – a new paragraph, a new subject, a subhead, a new idea, an illustration. The visual cues are roadmaps to reading. They enhance the transmission of information from the printed page to the mind of the person looking at it.

This text block is difficult to read because it lacks any visual cues for paragraphs.

Paragraphs should be set-off from one another. That is simple typographic design. If you look at any beautiful book you will see the practice of excellent typography. The visual cues tell you when a new paragraph has begun; they tell you to read onward, but with a new thought.

Adding indentations to new paragraphs adds those visual cues to indicate a new thought in the text. Aha! (the reader thinks: a new paragraph!). These indentations are 0.33 inch.

I prefer to use the indentation for new paragraphs. This allows me to maintain adherence to a grid that defines my pages. Indented paragraphs give me the best feel on the page for readability. Once in a while I use the space-after instead, a different visual cue that says the same thing to the reader: new thought here.

Here I have used the space-after-paragraph approach to composition. It works well. Note that the spaces are less than one line’s worth of leading (to do that would be criminal!).

Occasionally I see the work of typographers where they apply both indentation and space-after breaks. This, I believe is an unnecessary visual break, one that interrupts reading. It is saying “new thought” but it’s saying it with an echo. The reader isn’t aware of it, but it communicates a break too strongly, and it causes the reader to stop reading for a moment – a stammer if you will. Interruptions defeat excellent typography and are inappropriate.

Use indents or space-after breaks – but not both!

Looking at the textural effect of both space-after and indentation, you’ll see that this is too much of a visual cue. One needs to do one or the other, not both.

Another question about visual cues is the depth of the indentation. How much is enough? How little is too little?

Jan Tschichold, Typographic Director for Penguin Books from 1947-49, wrote in his style guide for that company that only one emspace of indentation is appropriate. Mr. Tschichold’s rule for Penguin seems conservative today, but I am not far behind! I like indentations of two emspaces, sometimes a bit more. I do not like deep indentations because they scream at the reader. A visual cue is just that, a cue. It’s a subtle indicator that enhances reading, no more.

When composing paragraphs of text, try variations on indentation until you create a coloration that is both visually pleasing and where the hints of new paragraphs are pleasantly present – but where they do not interrupt the reader.

Read more on indentations in the next blog.

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Microsoft Word and the newest Amendment to the Constitution

In my most recent essay on Typographic Discipline I discussed apostrophes and quotation marks. Those are important, and they are the most common typographic audacity I see every day.

In today’s essay I want to bring to your attention the 28th Amendment to the Constitution, that one having been snuck in there last month by an illiterate aide to an illiterate Senator, and signed into law by an illiterate President – all of whom shall remain unnamed.

That amendment is called the I can do it, by God I can, because Microsoft Word allows me to do it amendment.

This relates to one of the numerous typographic atrocities that are allowed (some are encouraged) in that popular word processing program. It is your Constitutional Right to apply “Italic” style to any typeface, even if the designer of that typeface did not intend for it to be Italicized – ever. You can also make type bold – even if it’s not designed to be bold (more on that another day).

The above sample was typed in Microsoft Word, and the Italic button was clicked to make it “Italic.” That doesn’t work! Use real Italics instead of this horrific “Italic” modifier, and show some class.

William Caslon, Claude Garamond and many other fine typographers are rolling in their graves at the grave typographical injustices that are possible in Microsoft Word.

Type design is an art form, one practiced by studious and attentive people with a mind for detail and the desire to spend months or years designing things that have noble purpose, but which most people simply ignore. Type designers will spend entire afternoons working on the subtle interior curve of the bracket of a capital T, or miss lunch over the descending part of the lower-case y because that’s what typographic design is all about. When a type designer makes a Roman alphabet – one that is designed to stand upright – she does not intend for that alphabet to be sloppily sloped by Microsoft Word! (To be fair, one can do this in Adobe InDesign also, but it’s much more difficult).

No! A typographic designer will spend a year working on the Roman, then spend an another year working on the Italic variant of an alphabet. I’m talking here about thousands of hours of work in the studios of serious typographers; it is not a casual thing to design an Italic typeface. And, Microsoft Word can destroy it all in a click of the mouse.

And the problem is that people do this all the time and they think it looks good. Au to the contrary! (as they say in French). It looks trés HORRIBLE!

So don’t do it. Avoid using the little I icon in Word. Slap your own hand if it ventures over that little icon! (and stay away from the B icon also!).

Instead, choose a legitimate Italic typeface to use for emphasis. It’s only slightly more work. Pull-down from the Font menu and choose the associated Italic font to the one you’re currently using. Make your type look professional and thoughtful by being a smart typographer. And, even if the 28th Amendment gives you the Right to do Atrocious Things in Microsoft Word, avoid the temptation and do it right.

Read about indentations in the next blog.

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Introducing Typographic Discipline

After taking several months off from blogging, I am back with a new special column called Typographic Discipline. In the coming months I will be writing and illustrating essays that describe how to create excellent typography.

I feel that this is necessary to counter a trend I see in many modern publications and books. The new generation of typographers needs to know how to make great typography, and they need to know why it’s important.

I’ll start with a conversation I had last week with a video producer who had presented a beautiful video about the story of Harriet Tubman. Though her visuals were stunning, her typography was riddled with incorrect punctuation. After the presentation I chatted with the producer and asked if she had access to the source files for the video (she did not). I ended up making sketches on Starbucks napkins describing typographic quotes and apostrophes, and compared them to the ugly ones that you get when you type in many popular applications.

I realize, as an old typographer (I will define this as being a guy who regularly sets type by hand with metal type, and prints from that type using a hand-powered printing press) that many of the new generation of creative producers have no historic context for their typography. Changing fonts in my world sometimes requires pulling-down a menu in Illustrator, and at other times it means shouldering a 50-pound magazine of brass matrices and loading it onto the Linotype machine.

Ground rules: I am not one who stands by rules for typography, as they have historically been too dogmatic (I have a wonderful 1930s-era book about typography that says one should not use sans-serif fonts because they will injure the eyes!) however, I see so much bad typography that I must resort to making some strong suggestions – very close to rules.

Very Strong Suggestion Number One: Never do anything in typography that interrupts reading. There are many, many examples of this, some of which I will discuss in these essays. I will refer to this Very Strong Suggestion often.

Typographic Public Enemy Number One: ugly apostrophes and quotes

When desktop computers entered the scene (about 1978) the apostrophe and the quote marks were taken from the ASCII character set (ASCII 34 and 39 respectively). There was no distinction between open- or closed-quotes. There were no left or right apostrophes, just a single quote mark, like the one on a mechanical typewriter.

And it is ugly!

The first Adobe type fonts (PostScript Type One) had correct typographic quotes, but those had to be accessed with a combination of keys (and often still do – see the chart below). Modern versions of Microsoft Word, Adobe InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop each enter the correct quotes and apostrophes using the quotes key on the keyboard, though they don’t always get it right (more on that below).

However complex the process to get them, it’s always worth the effort to use the correct marks in typography.

One of my students once asked why this is important. My answer was that punctuation is part of spelling. If you use the wrong quotation marks or apostrophes it’s the same as misspelling a word.

The example on the top is incorrect. The apostrophe faces the wrong direction. This happens when you type the characters in any common text editor. The example on the bottom is correct; it indicates that the apostrophe is replacing something missing to the left – the 19. To get this apostrophe, either type Option-shift-] or type something like x’50s, and delete the x.

When typing on the modern personal computer, the apostrophes and quotes are inserted correctly in most of the common applications, and you don’t need to think about them. There are exceptions, the most common of which is the leading apostrophe on dates like ’50s or I got ’em! These apostrophes should face left; they indicate that something to the left has been left off. If you type apostrophe followed by 50s in Word, InDesign and other applications, the programs assume you are opening a quoted phrase, and insert a right-facing open-apostrophe, which is incorrect. You get ‘50s when you want ’50s.

A simple solution to this is to type the letter x in front of the apostrophe, then the apostrophe, then the numbers: x’50s. Then delete the x. The result will be correct.

Complex quotations will often include one person quoting another person. For those, you occasionally need a pair of open-quotes, followed by a single open-quote, followed by the quoted phrase. This also happens at the other end where you might need a single closed-quote (same character as the apostrophe) followed by a pair of doube-quotes. Word will usually get these right, as will InDesign. But be careful to proofread to be sure that your text is properly punctuated, as these programs sometimes get spoofed.

Adobe InDesign will import (place) text and simultaneously fix the apostrophes and quotation marks as it imports the text. This is a really important point: InDesign will not do this if you paste text into a document. It will instead accept the text verbatim, and will not scan it for correct punctuation. I notice bad quotes in the local newspaper occasionally. They are usually in captions under photos, an understandable error. InDesign will do this better by placing the text, but you must set the Import Options once for it to do it correctly. Choose Show Import Options when placing text one time, then check Use Typographer’s Quotes. Once you have done it once, it will stay in effect until changed.

Read about the problem of sloping type to make it “Italic” in the next blog.

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Ink-jet dreams and realities

Sorry, dear readers, for my long absence.

I returned from Germany to a full schedule of classes that required me to work five days a week (I only worked two days while in Germany), and had to manage a full complement of students (178 in one class, 28 in the other). So it has been a really busy quarter, and I have not written any blogs since August.

Some interesting topics…

Sheet-fed ink-jet printing from Heidelberg
First is Heidelberg’s PrimeFire, a digital sheet-fed printing press that uses Fuji ink-jet heads to print on 40-inch sheets of paper. The press combines Heidelberg’s standard feeder and delivery units, any number of offset units and coaters, and a perfecting ink-jet unit in the middle. On my two tours of the Heidelberg factory in April, I didn’t see this machine. I wish that I had had an opportunity to see it in person.

This is the Heidelberg PrimeFire 106 press. At the far end is the console and two delivery stacks, one for good sheets, one for defects. Standard Heidelberg press units and coaters can be built into the press. Image courtesy of Heidelberg

Two things it does that are unique: one is that it has a reject delivery stack, where sheets that are imperfect stack up, removing them from the finished pile. This is a time-saver, as it eliminates the weeding of bad sheets from the delivered printing. I like that. The second is the most clever inspection technique I have ever seen (why didn’t someone think of this sooner?). The press console is in-line with the press at the delivery end. On request, the press will skip the delivery pile and feed an inspection sheet directly to the operator’s console (through the back of the console) and directly onto the inspection table. That is really nice!

As for printing quality, I have not seen actual output, so I don’t know. But, considering the source, I’m confident that it’s impressive.

This press joins a small number of production sheet-fed presses on the market from Komori/Fuji and others still in development. In both the Komori and Heidelberg presses are similar ink-jet heads from Fuji, called Dimatix.

I have long argued that ink-jet printing is the most important new technology in our industry. It affects everything from desktop printing to billboards, and its impact is being felt on all fronts. The quality of ink-jet is superb, the versatility is amazing, and the cost is coming down (right now the makers of ink-jet devices think that we’ll pay per-page prices for ink; that simply must change). The only weakness of ink-jet printing is speed. Both web-fed and sheet-fed ink-jet printing machines have mechanical/physical limits.

One cannot make an ink-jet droplet fall faster than gravity (without adding an electrostatic charge), and as a result, the speed of ink-jet printing machines hits the wall of gravity, which limits its speed. Where offset presses commonly print four to six sheets per second, ink-jet machines can’t be run that fast. This wall will continue to plague the process.

Gravity notwithstanding, a sheet-fed ink-jet press can spin circles around its offset brothers by printing without make-ready, by printing variable content, and by printing very short runs of very high quality printing. Machines like this have a home in packaging, commercial printing, and in fields we have not yet seen. These presses can print magic! It’s very exciting.

Page-wide ink-jet printing – in stores now!
On a similar note, Hewlett-Packard has finally come to market with page-wide ink-jet printers that are perfectly suited to supplant toner printers in offices. That company had tried this once before, harnessing their fabulous Edgeline heads. The problem with the first machines was (and this is painful) they were not designed to fit through a standard office doorway! The newer printers are the right size, have quality that rivals (or exceeds) toner, and speeds similar. There are a range of printers starting with desktop multi-function machines, and larger machines for office applications. These machines can print up to 70 pages per minute, making them faster than all but their high-end toner competitors.

One of numerous Hewlett-Packard PageWide desktop and office printers. This one sells for about US$700. It’s possible to add feeder drawers below this unit, making it more productive in an office environment. These machine print as many at 70 pages per minute, at about half the price of similar pages printed on a toner-based printer. Source: Hewlett-Packard

This is a field that I had once assumed would be dominated by Memjet, and by companies that incorporate Memjet technologies in their printers. These have failed to materialize, though Memjet does market a desktop office printer that is pretty impressive at less than US$700. HP, with far more R&D capital, has pushed their microelectronic-manufactured ink-jet print heads into an array of machines. Hewlett-Packard has desktop office printers starting at less than US$400.

Xanté, maker of a variety of clever printing devices, sells its Excelagraphics wide-format machine that uses Memjet’s page-wide ink-jet heads. We had one of these at Cal Poly for several years, but reached a point where the machine we had could not be repaired, so it was scrapped. Newer versions of that machine offer better quality and greater reliability than the early model we had.

The Xanté Excelagraphs printer uses Memjet page-wide print heads. It can print on a wide variety of substrates at speeds that are truly impressive. Source: Xanté (with modifications by the author)

Hewlett-Packard has not allowed this to be the only machine in its class. The HP PageWide XL 4000 Printer uses Edgeline heads to print engineering documents at tremendous speeds, and at a level of quality that rivals or exceeds the Xanté machine. I have seen output from this machine, as I have seen output from the Excelagraphics, and both are good. They print on a wide variety of substrates (corrugate, for example). The output is not as good as wide-format ink-jet printers that use reciprocating heads. And reciprocating ink-jet heads move (back and forth) much, much more slowly.

The HP PageWide 4500 printer. This is the smallest of a series of machines in this series. The model 8000 is 40 inches wide. All of them print an A1 size sheet in about five seconds. Source: Hewlett-Packard

Photo-quality page-wide is not here – yet
The promise of an instantaneous photo-quality ink-jet printer is still a promise. We will still be going out for coffee while our photo-quality prints are being produced, and we will continue to be pleased by the extraordinary quality of these photo-quality ink-jet devices. Page-wide output will take a while – but it will come. The demand is too great for HP and others (Epson, obviously) to ignore the opportunity they represent.

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Repatriation of the Blognosticator

After spending five months in Germany, teaching, learning, and exploring the region, we have returned to the U.S.A.

It was a wonderful experience, one that I would repeat anytime if I could. During this time I was an employee of the Federal Republic of Germany, an honor for me (I was supported by a grant from an organization called DAAD, funded by the government).

It has been especially nice to be teaching typography in the country where it was invented, and where the industry is thriving today. Want to see a Gutenberg bible? Germany has 12 of them! Want to see a limestone plate made by Alois Senefelder himself? Munich has many of them! Want to visit a paper-making factory running a 120-year-old Fourdrinier machine? Germany has several of them! Germany is field trip heaven for a college professor. I took the students to the Heidelberg press factory, and I took them to the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz to see the two Gutenberg bibles there. We visited the Bavarian office where the Senefelder litho plates are stored (we did that on bicycles and public transportation).

Emily Hoehenrieder and Martin Hämmerle make an impression on the replica press at the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz. They made a page of letterpress printing that is similar to the pages in the original Gutenberg bibles.

I also appreciate the students I had in my classes. They are serious, dedicated and willing to put in the extra effort to take a course taught in English, which is not their primary language. I had two Spanish-speaking students, a Ukrainian-speaking student, six of German-speaking students, and five English-speaking students in one of my three courses.

I would like to think that I challenged them; I know that they challenged me.The Munich University facilities were great for the courses that I taught. I was teaching on Windows – in German – using familiar Adobe applications. What saved me was the keyboard commands. I use the Creative Suite so much that I have memorized the keyboard commands, and those work in German just like they do in English (thank goodness!).

The students from Hochschule München at the Heidelberg printing press factory outside Heidelberg. Leading our tour, on the left, was Gunter Wittich, a longtime Heidelberg executive who is now retired, but returns to give tours of the facility from time to time.

Living in Munich was a life-changing experience. I have never lived in a big city (except Oakland, where I was born – but I left 50 years ago), so learning how to navigate in Munich was a great experience for me. They have S-Bahns, U-Bahns, and Deutsche Bahns (various kinds of trains); they have streetcars (called trams), and I realized after several months in the city that I had not been in an automobile for a long time (it was a relief). I was still paying for two automobiles in California, both of which were in storage, but I was not driving them, of course.

Now that I am home in San Luis Obispo, I have spent the days turning things back on: my printers, my insurance policies, my desktop computer. I am not going to turn cable TV back on, because I have discovered that I don’t need it anymore (and they are the utility I love to hate). I am not going back to AT&T because it’s too expensive. Mobile phone service in Germany is about $10 per month; here, the same service is about seven times that much on AT&T. I had such a great experience with T-Mobile (called Telekom in Germany) that I’m going to give them a try here. We’ll see how that goes (at only four times the price of German service).

I never got sick while in Germany, but managed to catch a nasty cold on the flight home, so I have been spending time in bed, and I’ve been using a lot of over-the-counter cold remedies. I feel lousy, but I will get better – I have to get on a plane again tomorrow to fly across these United States. I hope I don’t get a double-cold!

The Blognosticator is changing back to its original flag (without the German colors), and will continue as before. I thank my readers for sticking with me over the years. There will always be more to read here, so stop by from time to time.

Posted in Adventures, History, Panoramic Photography, People, Photography, Printing and Printing Processes, Technology, Typography | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Photographing the portrait-in-stone


In April, my students and I visited the Landesamt für Digitalisierung Breitband und Vermessung in Munich (Read that story here). In English, this is the state office of digitization, broadband and surveying. Among the things they do is to manage Geographic Information Systems data for the state of Bavaria. They do aerial laser mapping, conventional surveying, and digital data dissemination for those who interject digital data about the real world into studies about population, land use and much more sophisticated work.

The lithographic stone portrait of Alois Senefelder housed at the Landesamt für Digitalisierung und Vermessung in Munich.

Another thing they do is to maintain an archive of over 27,000 limestone printing plates that were created in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These stones contain images of the land of Bavaria – they are maps that were used in the 19th century for property line records, and ultimately for purposes of taxation.

The stones (or the images from the stones) were photographed a long while back, and are archived in a database of mapping information that can be accessed by the workers at the LDBV, and the public can order beautiful prints of the historic data.

The limestone slabs, each about 30 inches on a side and about three inches thick, weigh about 250 lbs. each. Thet were quarried at the famous Solnhofen Quarry, an operation that is still producing limestone for construction – and for printing plates.

Sebastian Söckler and I lift the limestone plate with the image of Senefelder from the display case.

When I visited the LDBV in April I was impressed by a limestone plate on display in a glass case in the press demonstration room. On the stone is a portrait of Alois Senefleder, the inventor (more properly discoverer) of lithographic printing. He was a German born in Prague in 1771 when that city was part of Germany. The son of an actor and playwright, Senefelder took up the trade and began his own theatrical work. But the cost of reproducing texts and scores for his performances proved too costly for Senefelder, so he developed a new method for printing that did not require the tremendous skill and experience of copper engraving or type-casting and typesetting used by printers at the time.

His method for printing involved nothing more than drawing (backward) on a polished limestone surface with a grease pencil. Then, by applying ink (oil) and water in turn to the surface of the plate, one made a printing surface which when applied to paper with a lot of pressure, would transfer the image to the paper (and some of the water also). This technique provided a new method for printing that was of high quality but is relatively inexpensive. The process is still in use today, though we use thin aluminum plates now instead of three-inch thick slabs of limestone.

My set-up for making the images of the Senefelder stone. I took four images for each final file, each a quadrant of the original. The camera is a Canon 5D Mark III with the Canon 100mm f2.8 macro – their sharpest lens. Photos by Patrick Lawler

I asked, back in April, if there was a digital image of the Senefelder portrait-on-stone that I could acquire. Later in the week I was told that the LDVB did not have such an image. But, my contact, Sebastian Söckler at the LDBV, told me I was welcome to return to their office and photograph the stone myself!

So, last Tuesday afternoon I returned to the LDBV with camera and macro lens in hand, along with my trusty Really Right Stuff tripod. Once set-up, Mr. Söckler and I removed the glass case from the cabinet and lifted Mr. Senefelder’s stone from the cabinet. We placed it on the floor where the light was acceptable (rather primitive, but acceptable).

Then, with he assistance of my son Patrick, I took a series of photos of the stone. I shot it in quadrants with the intention of stitching it back together in Adobe Photoshop. Patrick held a sheet of translucent plastic over my camera to diffuse the fluorescent light from above. The result turned out to be better than acceptable. The final image is excellent.

Once I had finished my images, we lifted the stone – which weighs about 80 lbs., – back into its display case and returned the glass display box on top.

Now I have a nice image of the portrait of Alois Senefelder that resides in the LDVB in Munich (and they now have that image also). With this I can teach about the importance of this man to the history of printing. In the third week of September, back in California, I will project Senefelder’s image onto the screen in my GrC 101 class and tell the students about the accomplishments of this gentleman, and the importance of his work on our industry.


Posted in Art, Education, History, Photography, Printing and Printing Processes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

250,000 readers as of this morning!

This morning, almost exactly six years after my first blog on the Blognosticator, the site has received its 250,000th visitor. Thank you!

I began writing blogs for Graphic Arts Monthly magazine in 2008, and the blog grew at that publication to have a loyal following of hundreds of readers. Epson was my sponsor for that blog. Midway through my career writing for Graphic Arts Monthly, the publisher asked me to write additional blogs for their sister publication, Converting. I did that for over a year. It was a great assignment, and it introduced me to the world of online reporting.

Unfortunately, Graphic Arts Monthly and Converting went out of business. My blog died with them, but the publisher returned all of my manuscripts (and the copyrights) to me.

I was a blogger without a forum. A few weeks later I was attending a conference in Philadelphia and there I ran into the editors of What They Think, a company that publishes a number of online publications for the graphic arts industry. They offered to pick up my blog and continue to publish it. I accepted, and was soon back online, publishing under the new monniker The Blognosticator.

The recession had hit our industry pretty hard, and it didn’t miss The Blognosticator. A few months later I was back on the digital street, a writer without a forum. I waited a few months and finally decided to put The Blognosticator on my own server – certainly I could get Epson back as a sponsor (never happened). I downloaded a WordPress blog template and practiced a few times. Then I posted my first new blog here. It worked!

I secured the blognosticator.net and blognosticator.org domains. Blognosticator.com is owned by a person who wants to sell it for a quite a bit of of money; I was unwilling to pay enough to acquire it. The two URLs have served me well, as have search results on Google and other search engines which find me quickly (Brian Christopher Lawler, the professional wrestler, always comes up ahead of me).

My Internet service provider leases my site to me with unlimited storage, so I can put a lot of blogs and images there without exceeding my server space, and the speed of their access is very fast, so there is never a problem with data throughput. It all fits together nicely.

Here are some interesting facts about The Blognostcator:

I have written and posted 254 articles on the site. There are 481 legitimate comments on the site. In the six years that the site has been running I have had an astonishing 470,320 spam comments, many of them “malicious.” I pay the WordPress organization through their Akismet group to filter those spam attempts, and they have an impressive 99.5 percent success rate. Spam comments, for the uninitiated, are comments sent in that have embedded links to web sites that sell counterfeit merchandise and other things. It’s tiresome to deal with these, but Akismet identifies and supresses most of them without my involvement.

My best day for readers was April 30, 2012, when 856 readers visited the site. I’m not sure what was so exciting that day. I had just written my first blog about the GigaPan, a robotic camera mount that I use to this day. The previous day I had written about the demise of Nikon Scan software and the Dear John letter that Quicken had sent to Macintosh users telling them that Quicken for Mac would no loner be supported, and inviting them to buy a Windows machine as the solution.

On most days I get between 150 and 250 readers, with recent peaks approaching 300 readers. 176,633 unique readers have visited the site from 214 countries. The most common is the U.S., followed by Great Britain, then Germany. Tonga is my least common country of origin, with only one reader. I have never received a visitor from North Korea.

Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. is the most common time for readers to visit (I don’t know which time zone). My statistics program offers no explanation for this Tuesday morning phenomenon.

I have the stats program ignore me, so the ten zillion visits I have made to my own blog are ignored. I check in often to find and correct errors in my work.

My best-read blog is one I wrote on July 22, 2012 about the practice of putting numbers in parentheses after they have been presented in prose. On a typical day I get 30 to 40 readers for that blog, and it is the one with the greatest number of comments – 75. That blog is also my most controversial; this topic gets a lot of attention, and people have strong feelings about the subject.

The second most common blog is one I wrote about the Macintosh operating system being able to repair damaged JPEG images (It can’t do this anymore). That one is slightly more popular than the blog I wrote about mounting large prints on foam-core.

I have spent six years writing blogs that inform and educate readers, and I will keep doing it. Why do I do this? Obviously it’s for the money. Oh, I forgot; there isn’t any money.

Thank you, dear readers, for reading these things. I am happy that you find it interesting.


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