Category Archives: file management

Creating the “100 Mile Runners Book”


Cover: Jussi Hamalainen, 66. 2012 Angeles Crest 100
Jussi has finished all 25 AC100s. He won it twice, and all but 4 of his
finishes were less than 24 hours. July 22, 2012. Loma Alta Park, Altadena CA.

I started this project in the summer of 2008. After fits and starts, I paused on it in November 2012. It was 100 pages, ambitious, and still not working. I paused to work on LA:2012.

Fast-forward to several weeks ago. I had a conversation with an outdoor lifestyle photographer I’ve worked with before. The project got new impetus when I realized it had to get done well before the end of June, when the 40th anniversary of the Western States 100.

I looked at what I’d done up to November—HATED IT. Too long, bloated , etc. Using the example of “La Jetee“, which incidentally, is one of the 10 best films ever made, and only 27 minutes long. Make it concise, direct, and emotionally powerful.

LAYOUT Tech Details

Using blurb’s Book Creator has accelerated things enormously. Ballpark the number of pages you’re going to need. Create the pages document.


Blurb Book Creator

Churn through your revisions, etc. When you get to final, this is where the fun starts. You’re going to want to upload a PDF file that is completely void of PostScript and OpenType references. Otherwise your PDF and ebook will suffer bizarro font substitutions.

  1. Go to the Book Creator and generate the appropriate cover art
  2. Revise and correct as necessary
  3. Make identical copies of both Pages and Cover documents
  4. Convert all fonts to outlines.
  5. All folios have to be outlined on each page, not on the master pages. Otherwise you’ll have the placeholder letter from whatever master-page you’ve used.
  6. Check, re-check and double-check that you don’t have text and caption boxes that got overlooked when you converted. These will pass the preflight, but will set off alarms at the ebook conversion part. The good news is that you’ve got 15 days to pay blurb before they flush your file. Don’t order anything until you’re absolutely sure that your files are clean. If you screw up, delete the file, correct, re-upload for free.


Follow the blurb cues for pre-flighting and uploading your files. The image resolution preflight is solid. Now you’re ready to upload.

  • Write a snappy capsule description of your book. Have it ready in a free-floating text doc somewhere. You’ll be using it. When I’m uploading, I can brain-fart and forget something.
  • Have a tag list that describes your opus. Relevant descriptors like subject, location, details that will help people find your book.

If you have both a print book and an ebook, blurb has an annoying aspect that you cannot modify the description once both are uploaded. Sucks, but that’s a fact. You’ll have a URL for each format, like this for my book:

blurb ebook window

blurb ebook window

blurb book window

blurb book window

Hot pink circles show how the two different formats link up. Post both URLs, some people are gonna want one and not the other.

Now, on to the next project.

LA1980: I Build A Book

book cover.

LA1980: book cover.

This post is about  “LA1980: a photo memoir”. Yes, a naked, blatant plug. Bear with me, I’m going to talk about the technical aspects of making this project happen.

Self-publishing a decent proof-quality book has come of age. For any derision about ‘vanity publishing’ I’ll say “demo”. As in musician. How good it looks and reads is up to you. It’s your baby. Treat it with respect, but work it.

Introduction to Self-Publishing

I’d stumbled on in December 2007. The idea was seductive. A closer examination revealed some serious issues.

Blurb uses Booksmart, a proprietary software, as a gating/formatting choke-point. Booksmart  is not easy in the same way a complex program like InDesign is easy. Its a bucket with pre-fab templates you can drag photos into. You have little control over type kerning, formatting, stylesheets, etc. Which are all the tools I need to work with. More study was required. All told,I studied the whole Booksmart/IDCS stuff for about 6 months, read all the posts, FAQs, whining. I got to post some of my own later.

In LA, There’s Always A Backstory

“LA1980” surfaced during an interminable studio-traffic meeting last summer. I’d gotten wise to the ways of the massive organization I worked for, and used the dwell-time to sketch ideas in a notebook. I wanted to do a photo book using images I’d shot between 1979-1982.

I’d shot 100+ sleeved rolls of Kodak 5297 cinema neg stock; which was cheap in those days, and I was broke. The neg would be contact-exposed to the pos stock, and slides happened.

Periodically I would look at the slides, and go “Yipes!” because the color had gone seriously magenta. The prints I made back then were on a particularly putrid Kodak stock—soft, more magenta, muddy. The images went back in the boxes, and slept.


First sign of new life was 2003, when I got a used Nikon LS2000 film scanner. The scans from the slides were awful. The negs offered more hope. It was a toss-up between OK and awful. But it wasn’t good enough yet.

In 2008 I bit the bullet and bought the Nikon LS9000 scanner in order to scan my medium format negs. The Nikon scanning software worked fine with the Mac OS X 10.4. All well and good, until my elderly G4 died, and I had to get into a MacPro.

Now I discovered that I had two scanning software choices: Hamrick VueScan or SilverFastAI. The difference was about $600. Since the Lotto Fairy hadn’t swung by recently, I went with the Hamrick VueScan. HVS has a blunt, unfriendly interface. I also looked at SFAI, and its interface was blunt, and ugly  as well. I spent several weeks steaming in circles getting the hang of HVS. Finally it began to make sense, and I was up and rolling on that.

Building the Beast: One Image At A Time

The only coherent way to find out what I had besides what I remembered, was to literally start at the beginning, and scan every roll. I’d put it off long enough, and it was time to man-up.

  • Using a cast-off lightbox, I’d loupe the roll.
  • Pull an FPO scan of the roll, typically 1400dpi at 4×6″ for starters.
  • Implementing a workable naming convention. Now that I was scanning in bulk, and going back to pull high-rez images, I needed to find them again.
  • color profiles were set to sRGB, the default Booksmart colorspace.

When You Name It, You Can Find It

I’m done naming images, its alphanumeric for me. Names, descriptions, tags etc can all be handled in Adobe Bridge using Command-Shift-I, which brings up the dialog box for naming, tagging, copyrights, etc.

Here’s a peek:

Image browsing in Bridge

Image browsing in Bridge

Image 790700_08_06 is frame 06, from roll 08, from July 1979. Variations are indicated as -1, -2, etc. This will make my life easier every step of the way down the line, especially when I’m preflighting the InDesign doc, and swapping out missed lo-rez images.

All images start as jpegs. After the curves are applied, the psd is saved, jpeg is tossed.


Here is a typical image, in the before and after mode:

The raw scan and the recurved edit.

The raw scan and the recurved edit.

I scanned close to 1000 images, and had to work fast, smart, and non-destructive. Sometimes I’d recurve an image 4-5 times over the life of the project. I’d see something I’d overlooked the first time.

The Design/Production Workflow

The book was designed using InDesign. This gives me dynamic updates, unique page formatting, typographic specificity, PDF exports; everything lacking in the Booksmart interface.

Pay very close attention to the Blurb specs. They aren’t joking. The following is contingent on your layout being the exact right size, with standard 1/8″ bleed 4 sides.

  • layout all hi-rez images in IDCS
  • page export pages as singles, w/ bleeds, to PDF-x1a
  • open up PDFs as Photoshop PSD (300dpi)
  • save PSDs as Hi rez PNG (300dpi at 100% image size)
  • import PNGs into BookSmart layout
  • upload to site

First proof came back 6 days after sending it. Examined it,

  • looked at binding [OK]
  • color [OK]
  • trims [aggressive to outside margins].

Readjusted live so it was 1/2″ from trim, fixed pages that needed it, re-uploaded it.


I worked on this book 6 days a week, 8hrs a day from Dec 29 to January 21. It was my job when there was no immediately visible work. I decided I needed to get a project up and running that might have a wide/wider reach that would kickstart other opportunities.

The color is OK as a proof. Nothing matches ink hitting paper. However the advantage of creating crossovers with impunity is big fun.

I’m looking forward to my next book.

Every Pixel Tells A Story, Don’t It?


Quality halftone image reproduction is central to the print process. I’ll set aside vector art for the moment, as those are generated under a different protocol. And yes, numbers help, but they don’t tell the whole story.

Digitally-created images are unlikely to ever see the bright light of a scanner. But they are bound by the same rules as scanned files.

Scans are made from either flat art, or negatives and chromes. Flat art is scanned on flatbed scanners of varying horsepower, or drum-scanners. Film files can be scanned on a variety of scanners ranging from insanely excellent down to consumer-borderline competent. All scanners have their own proprietary anomalies.

For the purposes of higher-end print production, placed image is typically 350dpi at 100% in the layout. This is true across the board: Photoshop, Quark, InDesign and Adobe Illustrator.

(Note: In Quark and InDesign it is far easier to verify an image’s enlargement/resolution ratio than in Illustrator, where you have to dig. Read why Illustrator is unqualified as a page-layout application).

Scenario 1: High and Low

If you import an image which is 350dpi at its native 100% into a page layout scenario like Quark or InDesign at 100%, the ratio is 1:1, and everything is golden. However, if I import the same file and then enlarge it 125%, the image inversely decreases to 280 lpi.

350 / 1.25 = 280dpi

When I’ve encountered this numeric, I’ll flag it as a potential problem. When I’ve called advertisers about this problem, reactions vary, ranging from “uh-oh” to “it worked when I sent this identical file to Rolling Stone/NY Times Sunday Magazine” etc. This is when I tell them that the difference between art-book publishing and web-offset periodical printing is considerable. Images go soft, banding starts to appear, and image degradation becomes more evident. Oh.

However I’ve seen rare scenarios where images fell short numerically, and were saved by accidental or intentional bold contrasts, even halftones, and overall image quality as evidenced by the customer’s target proofs. The layout was given a pass and off it went to be wet-proofed.

But that is the exception. Like the drunk driver going over a canyon rail and walking away from the wreck.

The opposite doesn’t play out the same way. I’ve seen layouts where the original image is 350dpi, but is imported into a layout at 125%, equalling 437.5dpi.

350 x 1.25 = 437.5dpi

This is excessive, as current printing typically doesn’t require this.

On the higher end of grotesque, I’ve looked at layouts where a placed image is 15% of original, and the customer’s target proofs are 13×19. And printed out on warm toothy art paper, which typically will add 5% yellow and warm things up quite nicely. Which is fine—until the wet-proofs come back.


  • Under-resolution images need to be replaced by higher quality files
  • Over-rez files get reduced in either pixel dimensions (Quark) or percentage of import (InDesign)

My G5 Is A Beast, Why Bother?

An eternal production question. Because the monstrous spool file you are generating every time you print files that are massive is costing you time and money. Every additional calculation you make with an image (rotation, skew, horizontal/vertical flips) is an additional burden on the document and a clear sign to the pre-press guy or gal that You Are Ignorant.

Scenario 2: Real and Junk Pixels

For example: I open a customer file which is an 8-1/2 x 11″ page document that has the following image in it, complete with bleed. The placed image bleeds 4 sides in the layout.


Its starting to look like a good day. The file’s native dimensions are identical to the layout requirements.

Now look at the Image Size palette for this document:


Numerically the file is good to go.

Junk Pixels

So what happens when you get a file that numerically checks out, but just looks plain weird?

Imagine an 11 x 17 spread, and an extreme closeup of a young toddler. The child’s face looked like it had been put through a Photoshop Mosaic Tile filter. This is what the previous image would look like if it had been treated the same way;

low-rez scan

My first reaction was “Yipes!”

Was this…

  • a stylistic statement (I’d been to a lot of galleries lately)
  • an inadvertent mistake by a designer (ie, low-rez jpeg not swapped out)
  • a basic technical error.

The advertiser was contacted. We found out that the designer had put the original 2 x 2-1/4″ neg on a mid-level flatbed transparency scanner, and then enlarged it to fill the space available.

The pixel dimensions are identical, but the outcome is considerably different. Seems pretty obvious, but this is a continual travelling partner in the World of Pre-Press.

The Advertiser resent their file with a high-resolution scan and the results were considerably improved.


Image management is a combination of metrics and alchemy. The guidelines I’ve mentioned will go a long way in getting an image to print to the best of its original capacity. It has nothing to do with aesthetics—I’ve looked at many files containing images with proper numerics and zero content. The alert designer, pre-press operator, and whoever else that comes into contact with the file are all obliged to do their homework and make sure nothing falls between the cracks.

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”