If it was easy everyone could do it...

April 01, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

With the enforced furlough we may not be able to do actual work but it doesn’t stop developing our knowledge base - something that’s not always easy during more frantic hours dealing with customers demands. So it’s opportune to review best practise and what we may be able to tune.
As this blog is all about digital imaging, photo editing tools are key, and although we always stress other software is available, most perform very much like Adobe Photoshop, even if some of the tools have different names, the processes are inevitably similar because of the nature of pixel based files.
Pixel editing files are more useful in the day to day duties of preparing files for print, because unless you are going to delve into colour and density controls in printer management - regardless of the type of printer - it’s a lot easier to simply manipulate the information you are sending to the printer because you are looking at it on a screen, not waiting for it to process and appear in the output tray. 
It is vital for a modern digital printer to grasp this as most customers are working from apps that they do not completely understand, as they are able to save files without getting involved in the complicated process of actually creating them. Even those who claim a knowledge of photoshop cannot entirely be believed, as they may have only a basic understanding or be familiar with only an earlier version of the product with limited functions. It may not even be the Adobe product itself, as photoshop has become such a generic term, not everyone will appreciate the difference. 
Most importantly what will make the difference is learning how to use, and develop,  the tools we have available - not just pressing a button and hoping they will do what you want. 
There are plenty of helpful tutorials on line, from Adobe themselves, and many other experts from different disciplines whether it’s photography or graphic design, so there’s no excuse for sitting around with nothing to do. And if there is a particular problem, a decent search engine will provide a queue of know-it-alls ready to show you exactly how to solve it. As with anything in Photoshop, there is never only one way to do something, so always check several options. That’s because Adobe appreciate we all like to do things differently, and find one approach will work better than another for no other reason than personal preference.
The most common task for customer supplied files and images is resizing or reshaping to fit the print area. And while this may sound simple, unless you are aware of the number of pixels in the image and their proportions, you are at risk of decimating or distorting the original. Both of these options are typical of customers trying to do the job on their own on a phone. There they may have only the options of small, medium or large, just like ordering take-away chips. Only a proper photo-editing programme will give you the all-important specifications. 
Because it’s easy to display an apparently sharp and colourful image -even a movie - on a modern phone, you can understand that it’s difficult for the non-specialist to grasp how much information the printer requires for faithful reproduction of something that is effectively a hundred times bigger in real terms. 
One of the key things that sets Photoshop, and other professional programmes apart is the use of layers, copying an original or adding another working surface above it.
Layers have been around in Photoshop from the beginning, but improved functions, together with the tools, makes them more powerful and useful. By using layers you can create a duplicate image over the original, or several, and then work on any of them to apply any changes without affecting the first. This non-destuctive editing enables you to explore lots of alternatives, and still be able to refer to the one you started with, and without committing it to history. You are also able to alter the strength of any effect by changing the opacity of any layer, or the position of it, to achieve the desired result. It means you can quickly see a before and after view by unchecking the edited layer, and if you have gone the wrong way, simply delete it rather than having to trash the whole thing.
Probably the most common problem in preparing most customer digital images for print is adjusting the level  of brightness to allow for a backlit view to be translated into hard copy. This is the first thing that should be anticipated to avoid wastage of time and paper, and sometimes patience. Always remember the customer comes to you because you are supposed to be an expert. 
It might be easier in print terms to consider it a matter of density as the printer will produce solid colour with no light leakage from behind to highlight individual pixels. And because you are then viewing the light reflected by it, rather than that coming from behind, it will inevitably look darker than might be expected. 

Using simple tools to lighten the image is not ideal as it can change colour hue and saturation. Better to use Photoshop’s powerful layer options for much more precise control. Create a duplicate immediately above the original and then work on that, so that you then have the previous version to compare directly. There are a number of ways you can attack the highlights or the shadows to reveal detail or cover over exposed areas. By retaining the adjustments in a layer, you can use the opacity or blending feature of that layer to further refine the effects over the original, or if you are entirely happy with the transformation, simply delete the latter and save the new version.
I’m concentrating on shadows and highlights here because they are the usual suspects when comparing the image viewed on the screen, bright and backlit, to that which eventually outputs in print, and which is likely to be darken and flatter by it’s very nature. That’s where a little bit of preventative surgery comes in handy before the customer has seen the result. That’s when you get that all too familiar, didn’t expect it to come out like that moment. If you get to that you’ve already lost a little bit of confidence from the customer’s point of view.
You have to try and second guess what the customer expects these days, even if it does mean at some stage being a mind reader. You have to accept they spent a large part of their time staring at a brilliant, high contrast, and slightly blue hue screen and that it is the way their world looks, even before they have started putting fancy filters over it.
That’s also why it’s good practise to look at reducing the density of the image for printing long before starting to mess around with the colours because so often the customer, with an inexperienced eye, will announce that there seems too much red, for example, when actually all of the colours are too saturated, it just that they don’t like the red !
Changing colour hue is a much more involved process and will almost certainly result in chasing your tail all the way to ending up with a result not much more distant from the one you started with - just a little bit lighter overall ! That’s fine if the customer is prepared to pay for your time, or even accept that your opinion is valuable. Otherwise it’s a quick fix and as good as it’s going to get for the price. 
Hopefully some of these links will be helpful as we are all still learning. Even Adobe appreciate your feedback, and remember we are the ones who are supposed to know these things. If it was easy……..anyone could do it.



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