The problems of resolving size and resolution issues have been a continual theme in this column since the dawn of digital information, and that shows no sign of changing anytime soon, despite its almost complete adoption as a means of transferring images and artwork. In fact the gulf between those who use it and those who understand it has grown ever wider, and is likely to continue to do so.
Before digital it was all so simple. You had a hard copy of a certain size and you had to go to a professional to get it turned into print. When computers and electronic mail arrived many so called experts predicted the demise of printing altogether. That didn’t happen, nor did things change overnight.
What did happen is that people who needed them bought computers to use at home, along with a basic scanner and printer, so that they could do a lot of the preparation work without going back and forth to the print shop with time consuming major of minor changes. At the same time software companies - we I’ll mention them in the second part of this column - were giving birth to programmes that would enable them to do a more personal job in a more economical manner. I mention this to set the scene, and fill in the history for readers who have come freshly into a print industry already dominated by the mobile phone. These portable devices have transformed the way we interact dramatically, and not always for the good.
What they have created is what I have described before as the third generation customer. The first had no computer knowledge and therefore sought the expertise of those who had. The second had some, and therefore understood some of that nothing was either instant or simple.
The third has simply bypassed the experience of the previous two and doesn’t understand why there might be any issues at all.
That’s where present difficulties arise because although the digital revolution has made the creation and exchange of information easier, the speed and ease disguises the fact that the process is still extremely complex, and hence problems are easy to overlook and even harder to explain. It’s hard to remember, let alone describe how slow everything was at the beginning of the digital age, and how you had to accept things took time, and mistakes happened. We used to send a magazine to the printers electronically via a telephone line. A whole 25mb took hours of unpredictable hours and would often complete with an error message, and no clue as to what the error was. Start again from scratch.
When you’ve aged through the three digital generations, it’s hard to have any sympathy with the impatience of today. Yes, we know you’ve just sent a file but we still need to check it before we waste time and paper printing it, rather than assume you know what you are doing. Even we can make mistakes !
Then there is the basic issue that nothing is as simple as it seems to be transferring something from a phone to a full sized hard copy print, from a pixel constrained screen to a dimensional hungry one. It can take so long batting back and forth with a customer to get an image of a size suitable to print because they can’t actually visualise it from their point of view. I got so fed up with a repeating exchange of unsuitable files I sent the customer an image of the file representing the size she wanted a print superimposed with a small rectangle in the top right corner being the actual image she kept sending me.
We got there in the end. Working on a desktop computer with a full sized monitor in any photo or design programme, it is relatively easy to view actual file dimensions, and it the former, the number of pixels comprising the image, their ratio one to the other. These figures are all there to guide you. On a mobile device it’s almost exactly the reverse as if it doesn’t want to confuse you with all this surplus information, just show you a nice picture. In addition it may enhance that image with a complimentary filter, or an effect which will actual reduce the quality of the original for anything other than viewing on a small screen.
Of course all of the major software suppliers now have phone friendly versions of their editing programmes, but unless you are familiar with the working space and tools, it’s unlikely to be an easy option for the average mobile customer compared to more “user friendly” and usually free alternatives. But of course, you get what you pay for or not as the case may be.
Back in the early digital days, no one could have predicted with any certainty all the many developments it would produce and that gave those software gurus a dilemma in how to direct their products. Would they be vector based, using flexible mathematical formula, or pixel dependent images. Although Adobe’s first programme was actually vector based Illustrator, it was the flagship Photoshop which cemented its dominants in the market place as digital images exploded in popularity. Adding a layout capability in InDesign, and eventually a Creative Suite that could seamlessly put together all of the parts of the jigsaw effectively sealed the fate of competition like the once popular publishing option Quark.
Whatever happened to Quark, probably went the way of the floppy disc...................