Monthly Archives: October 2007

Cheap Scans, Cheap Printers… Oh My!

swap meet art

These are good examples of analog-induced banding.

Cheap scans and cheap printers are problematic. I remember examining a file and proof from an advertiser which utilized both. It led to nothing but disappointment and heartbreak as we were always chasing the last mistake.

To wit:

  • It became evident in the conversation that the negs the customer used were not drum scanned, but scanned at a local lab using their med-format neg scanner [perhaps set at a lower scan resolution by the operator, etc].
    I remember that the files were mechanically within range (ie 300dpi), but it is unknown if/and how much they’d been rez’d up.
  • The customer was proofing these images at home with a really low-end Epson Photo Stylus, and thought it all looked great.
  • The custormer began to wonder if they did something wrong in the quality of their scans and proofs.

I explained that there are levels of magnitude in resolution between the original proofs, the returned wet proofs, and what they see on screen. Right there there are three modalities. Which one is right, and which one is producible is the big question.

Cheap printers interpolate the living daylights out of whatever they’re fed. They are designed to hide banding and other low-resolution file deficiencies— like digital snapshots and other casual documents. These organic defects will lie in wait and re-emerge when proofed from a high-caliber proofing device.


Adobe Illustrator: The Harsh Layout Mistress

beer-can house costume

I’ll keep this short and to the point: Don’t do page layouts in Adobe Illustrator. Ever.

I have no beef on AI’s remarkable tools for drawings and diagrams. It ain’t made for page layout. To elaborate:

  • It has a very kludgy interface for placing images
  • Type handling characteristics are not pleasant
  • There is no Collect-For-Output feature.
    You leave a file behind, you won’t know it until your service bureau/color house/pub calls and says “hello, bucko, you’re missing x fonts/images. Now what?”
  • When it comes time to save, the unwary are confused between “Save With Links” and “Embed”

I suppose some people started using AI back when Quark was the only page layout game in town, and they couldn’t get used to viewing a low-res image in a picture window.

Hint: Make a quickie PDF of that page/spread. It’s called a “soft-proof”

In the last several years InDesign has eaten a lot of Quark’s lunch. (It was long overdue, which will be the subject of another post).

However, in the context of this AI post–people liked the hi-rez preview. And I got to examine a lot of AI layouts. Here’s how I’d handle these files:

  • Start by opening the fonts in Suitcase or other font utility. Oh, how I miss Adobe ATM <sigh>
  • Now open the file. Do pushups while waiting, in some instances.
  • Watch for the missing image alerts
  • If there was an image folder/files available, try to link to them.
  • Sometimes, the designer had started with low-rez jpegs, and swapped out w/ hi-rez files. Maybe they even have the same names.
  • Now the file is open. Look at it in outline mode to see if there are ‘phantom files’ in the layout or margins. Its happened more than once.
  • Got bleed? Lotsa folks don’t understand that 1/16″ is precious little between a bleed and a sliver of daylight which can make them look like an idiot.
  • Go to the Links palette, and click the images one by one, noting size and enlargement. Anything over 300 lpi was home free. Hey! I’m not paid to make aesthetic judgements. To quote the late Brandon Tartikoff, “If I programmed what I liked, the network would be dark 4 nights a week”

Inshallah, everything checks out OK. The file is released to production.

There are some of you out there thinking “Gee Mr Pre-Press? How come you didn’t spank the file with Markzware Preflight??”

I wished it were so. What I discovered about PreFlight, a program I love, is that when it looks at AI files, half the time it does not dig down into the second and third layer below the surface. Like when a monster AI file is imported into an IDCS document just so it can be proofed. I got stung earlier in the season by a Workbook advertiser who sent a file that was incomplete that way, and it involved multiple catch-ups to get the file ripped and the proof back to the customer.

And that is the short take on why Adobe Illustrator Is The Harsh Layout Mistress

Size Matters: When Bigger Is Not Better

burning jeep

This summer I saw a file that took all available prizes in File Management. I saw the IDCS doc, and then a folder with a bloated AI file, and the Links folder.

file mgmt.jpg

The ground rules for submitting files to a CMYK pub are pretty basic. Four colors. No spots, no metallics. Even a boiled-down FAQ, which is rarely read. However this is my livelihood, so I dig in.

The following is an annotated and redacted memo which described the state of affairs.

From: Larry Gassan
Date: July 23, 2007 4:05:15 PM PDT
Subject: [Problem file]


This is the breakdown on the spread:


1] source doc is AICS3 [“customer ad”_r1.eps]
with embedded PS files. The embedding caused the file to swell to 514mb.

Embedded files cannot be extracted when color work be required.

Yes, the file can be opened in Photoshop, but you are limited by the exact cropping available, and if there are any masks, blends, channel work—you are constricted further

The AI file was then brought into an IDCS3 file [0000_customerdoc.indd]
to rip by the color house. The spool file on a 514mb document would easily
exceed 1-2gig if printed from the original document.

Someday for your own amusement, take a fully linked file and export it as a PostScript file. When its done, check the size. That’s your spool file when you send it to a printer. Then think about the times your printer timed out on you.


2] Pantone 877 is a metallic, and has no direct CMYK conversion.

Remedy: 50% gray.

3] Support files were included in a folder called “LINKS”.

Each embedded PS file no less than 45mb in its original configuration. Only
one file, the left-hand [original file], was appropriate to its actual placement.

The average size of each window was 3 x 4″—meaning the original file was reduced 40% to fit. But wait!

4] ea file was imported, and rotated 180 degrees in [Adobe Illustrator] AI. This also causes a
file to swell—each transformation requires much more memory than a file imported at 100% of layout size.

This was straight out of Quark, 1989. Moving along to other issues, like “Which File Were We Supposed to Link To?”

5] A preliminary look at the file TEST compared to “test-219_cmyk.tif” cast doubt as to whether or not the included file was relevant, as the colorcasts were slightly different. Files in LINKS included dupes of “[original files]”

[original files] [in cmyk and rgb]. Which one is it?

Another classic move. Especially with Photoshop and Illustrator, people get nervous, and they do one or more of the following;

  • submit files for “back-up” and “just in case”. Like, which ones did you want me to use?
  • are unaware that in Photoshop, once you import files, they are the document.
  • People who build files and put in FPO artwork, unaware of the reality that documents can now handle high-resolution files.

Calls were made to the advertiser. Eventually we got an Illustrator file, where the artwork was placed & linked, not embedded, CMYK and the files were actually size appropriate.

And that is the subject of another post “Adobe Illustrator: The Harsh Layout Mistress”

The Case Of The Color-Blind Photographer

color monster

I looked at a lot of files while I was with the Workbook. In a typical year I would be the first person to look at 1200+ pages. Along the way I learned a lot about the way people thought their files looked like. Which brings me to the Case of The Color-blind Photographer.

The customer’s Epson proof had the photographer’s notation on it that it was “not correct, and should be gray-green”, (analogous to Wehrmacht green). Very well.

The Color You Want And the Color That Is

We pulled a test strip on our Epson 4800, and it was not gray-green. Not even close. We even ran an output on the Canon color laser printer. No big difference here either.

what the customer wanted

Now things were getting interesting. The photographer clearly thought their green was a blue-gray-green. A spot-check of the background colorfield showed that the magenta was 42%, with a full 100% yellow and 38% black to really warm things up in a fine slurry.

what the customer provided

I discussed this with the Paul Semnacher, Director of Print Production. He was going to have to make a call to the advertiser and gently probe. He did. The conversation revealed the usual suspects:

  • an erratic low-end printer with an idiosyncratic profile
  • a monitor that wasn’t properly calibrated, and of an unknown vintage
  • customer’s wishful thinking.

The first two items are nominally fixable, but the last item is the most tenacious, and one that is beyond the technical reach of any color or pre-press house. The conversation ended in a draw. We looked at each other. Finally he said “What if the photographer is color-blind?”

Whoa. Then it hit me. Paul’s elderly mother had just had cataract surgery. While she was recovering, she’d woken up on morning, gotten dressed, and noticed a bright yellow sweater on the dresser. She asked who’s sweater that was. Her daughter-in-law said that it was hers. She didn’t believe her…she’d never wear anything that bright.

Of course not. When you have cataracts, bright yellow looks like beige. Which provided a possible insight to our Photographer.

In the end, the photographer came around to the fact that 42% magenta made things very warmed. Paul wrote up the correction to the color house in Singapore to recurve the background closer to the desired color, and everyone went home happy. More or less.

Introduction, and Past Revelations



I’m going to share out observations, opinions, facts, and fabulisms about advertising, design, pre-press, Mac publishing and other incidental aspects of the work experience.

After 30 years in the business, I might have something to say that might be of some use or amusement to you, Gentle Reader. To paraphrase the late alpinist Willi Unsoeld; “sometimes I will tell you the truth, and maybe a few lies, and you will like it in spite of yourself”. Unlike Willi, I do not intend to die on Mt Ranier.

Twenty years ago I was putting together a catalog over in East LA at a print shop. It was a strictly industrial setting. My wee cubbyhole was under a flight of stairs. I would appear at 0730, and work until 1530 in the afternoon. The bike ride home was pleasant enough. When the presses would start up in the back of the building, it was if a steam locomotive was on rollers getting a workout.

In the midst of this funkiness I had an epiphany about work. Here was where Saul turned to Paul. It hit me that for the previous ten years I had been the most useless worker imaginable. And like all revelations, they appeared in numerical order. I cringed as they were revealed, but wrote them all down.

Now I had stumbled off the mountain, and with new zeal, had Share The Word. Specifically with undergraduates where I had gone to design school ten years earlier. I got the nod from my ex-teachers, and verily I Shared It Out.

I introduced my self by noting that I was a working professional, in the early middle phase of my design/advertising career. I wasn’t going to trot out My Greatest Hits, but instead discuss basics.

I started off with the No-Brainers, like Showing Up On Time and so on. A mere shiver of ennui coursed through the gathered. Not content with that, I quickly moved along in the outline. I told the dewy ducklings that sooner or later in their career they would face Three Things:

1] Getting laid off or fired
2] Getting stiffed by a client
3] Going to court and/or resorting to other methods to recover the money.

The train had now jumped the tracks and gone straight through the cornfield. A sudden still filled the classroom. As if on cue, feet began to tap nervously.

Finally, a girl in the back asked plaintively “Don’t you have anything nice to say about design?”

I said “Yes I do. Design is a chance to make some beauty and order in the world, but you have to understand that this is a business”.

Glassy smiles on all present told me that nobody wanted any part of it. My show was politely over, and that was that. Or so I thought. The following year I tried to give the same talk. By polite deflections the answer was “no” but I was invited to hear Michael Manwaring who was giving a talk.

His presentation was His Greatest Hits, and it was fun to watch his show, and see it through the eyes of the students. After it was over, I stood in line to shake his hand. And then I asked him The Three Questions.

“Have you ever been laid off or fired?”
“Have you ever been stiffed by a client?”
“Have you ever been to court to recover the money?”

He smiled and said yes to all three. I thanked him for his time and patience.

So. In the course of this blog I will use actual cases, and most of the time I will conceal the names of the attendees to whatever trainwreck or comedic disaster that occurred.

We’ll all have a swell time.