Thursday, 31 January 2013

Fifty Shades of Greyscale


Whilst the Itinerant Poet scribes and the children study the work set by us, I should be providing illustrations.  These are done using a Wacom Bamboo tablet directly connected to my MacBook Pro. We have found they make children's poetry much more appealing to the readers even if the pictures are fairly basic.
One major frustration is that, despite the fact that I LOVE colour, I can only use greyscale.  Why?  Because of the huge expense of printing internal illustrations in colour.  I can indulge myself on the cover of the book but inside proves a little challenging.  Another  frustration is having to use free software to keep costs down (Artrage 2.5 and Photoshop Elements 6 came with my £70 Bamboo tablet).

Workarounds used to date:

•               Work in full colour in Artrage or Photoshop then convert it to black and white   in Photoshop
•               Work in greyscale in Photoshop
•               Only select limited blacks and greys in Artrage palette
•               Work in full colour then flip to greyscale in Word

I fell foul of the last of these recently.  We produced a poetry collection for children that was going to have the luxury of 20 full colour images.  Each page that contained an illustration was considered “colour” even if the reverse of the page was normal text.  This led us to put them back-to-back so two illustrations equalled one colour page.

At the last moment, after checking the colour digital proof, we decided the cost of production would be too high (over £2 per copy dearer).  However, the illustrations then printed very strangely - basically coming out black and lighter black with a bit of white despite looking fine on screen in the black and white PDF file.  I had to edit all of them and have another proof before printing.

The problem may have been compounded by errors in the PDF file format.  I have recently switched to using a Mac from a PC.  Although the PDF file format should be a universal, cross-platform standard, it appears this is not always the case.  The PDF supplied to the printer looked fine on my screen and printed out in perfect greyscale on my laser printer.  In submitting it through the internet and reloading on to a PC at the other end, some of the embedded fonts (namely Avenir – came with latest version of Word for Mac) had been replaced by a not-so-near match and the problem with the darkened images appeared.

Lessons for the future:
  • Work only in greyscale in the native software
  • Always have a second proof if you are at all unsure 
  • Choose fonts common to most software packages and check your digital printing company has them too
  • Have a good digital printing company like ours - Orbital Print Services
  • Don't start illustrations unless you are inspired (note to self) 

… well, maybe I will start tomorrow…