Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Here's another example from the Digital Issues course where I spun a classroom assignment about doing computer coloring into a real-world, practical application. After a steep learning curve in some new tools + techniques I tried a test run out on a new Nuggets panel just to see how well the experimentation would carry over into print. Basically after a good amount of time spent on the phone with the newspaper's layout/graphic artist, the I.T. guy and the dude down in the actual press room, I learned a lot of new information on how exactly the color printing process works. Previous to this I'd been about as savvy as a raven at a dumpster playing with shiny objects - ooh! look at the pretty colors! - without much regard to the technical specifications involved. I always chalked up the mediocre end result as being the fault of printing on newsprint, ignoring the fact that my dirty colors (ie the CMY channels muddied up with blacks/the K channel) had more to do with not taking the proper precautions in preparing the image for color printing.  
These files actually go through a convoluted process to go from my pen & ink on Bristol board to reach the actual printed page. As an aside, previous to all this I'd erroneously believed that the native format for JPEG files were RGB, but as it turns out (duh) if the file is created in Photoshop in CMYK and exported as a JPEG, then it retains all the crucial digital information. Then the graphic artist takes the JPG and places it in InDesign for layout, after which it is exported as a postscript file, then using a Raster Image Processor it is RIPped and converted to a 1-bit TIF file, and from there goes straight to plate for offset web printing. Ta-daa. Another funny point of trivia was in the observation that the actual printing press was manufactured in 1964, so trying to retrofit it was the equivalent f living in my old cabin without running water but still having a bad-ass home theater system.

So this panel went through all the correct steps, including carefully ensuring no blacks made it into the other color channels (cyan/magenta/yellow) by use of a threshold adjustment (which I normally only use on the linework after scanning in a bitmap image and after conversion of that to a grayscale image before shading in my black & white pieces), and the colors were desaturated to compensate for a dot gain ("smear factor") of 15%, "trapped," and a "superblack" used, and everything double-checked. One final step was taken in optimizing the file in "color settings" through conversion to a specific profile (in this case "US web coated SWOP"). And for those of our dear readers keeping score at home, this'd also be the first time I didn't use the usual airbrush or polygonal lasso tools, opting instead to do all the rendering with a basic pencil to block in simple shapes.

So yesterday the finished file was emailed off for positioning in the editorial cue, if and when some real estate opens up in the newspaper for a color spot. Another interesting factoid I gleaned in conversation over this project was how comparatively astronomical the costs are for color inks: five bucks a pound versus ninety-five cents a pound for regular black ink, which can really add up. I sneaked this cartoon under the wire so as to hopefully get a copy of it's final appearance in print mailed down to me before the end of the quarter for show & tell.
One final irony in that this particular cartoon now effectively cannot run in a couple of my other client's publications since they only print in black and white, and well, that's the final proof that this piece ultimately is indeed a sight gag. 
On a related note of trivia, posted below is the original panel, which for brevity's sake I decided to edit down both image and text.

Special thanks to Prof. Anthony Fisher, plus Deedee, Craig & Brian at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner for their patience and help waltzing me through this colorful mess. See you all in the funny pages...

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