Category Archives: page layout

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.

Due Diligence

rail crossing

Rail crossing, San Joaquin Valley, Dec 2010

Over the years at various jobs, I had downtime. Sometimes for several minutes, occasionally for days, even a week or two. Reading the papers got old. So I began to practice working on problems.

In the paste-up days, I’d xerox and make assemblages. It kept me nimble. Later when the agency I worked at went digital, I’d set up problems and situations for myself in Quark. Yes Quark, the Error 39 Dark Star of my firmament. While the guys next door were sitting in their office with their fantasy baseball leagues, I was skulling out the business of how this goddamned program worked.

Sooner rather than later, I began to encounter actual old-school typographers who’d washed up into ad agencies. They worked with the invisibles on, frames and all. I was hooked. They willingly taught me about style-sheets. Often times I’d outrun the then-feeble processing capacity of the machines I was working on.

As a freelancer I always had to stay ahead of the full-timers. They had a certain security, while I could be more obviously bounced. That is an unfortunate trade-off, one less and less certain as each new day passes in these grim times.

I too became complacent. Until one day I realized I need to know a whole lot more about Photoshop. So off to night-school I went, and discovered that for over fifteen years I was a mouse gnawing my way around a very large cheese. I’d never cored into the program.

Now I was scared. I went to school for the next 2-1/2 years. Always night, on my own dime. That way I didn’t owe shit to anybody. I’d hear from guys I’d worked with over the years the following statements. You might know them too:

  • I’d go to class if somebody paid for it
  • I’ve been meaning to do this
  • It’s too expensive
  • This shit’s too hard

When I started into Photoshop night school, it was about 18 months before the economy went straight into the shitter. I had several classes, one of which was blighted by a perfect storm of self-centered overtalkers, in over-their-head clueless, and some people who just didn’t take it seriously. One night, I’d had enough, and opened up a can of whoop-ass.

“For those in this class who haven’t noticed, the economy is about to go into the toilet. There are some of us in here who would like to live in a better quality of cardboard box than at present. If you don’t have anything positive to contribute, I’m going to ask you to [shut the fuck up], because your talking disrespects the professor, your classmates, and mainly yourselves…”

Dead silence.

The situation improved slightly. The instructor’s hands are tied, because they can’t tell these idiots to shut the fuck up, because then said idiots would cry that their rights had somehow been violated, and so on. For the record, I’m a stone-cold liberal, but this manner of disrespect I will not abide.

Time took care of them. By 2009 the poseurs and clueless were gone, replaced by a full class sitting stock still, eyes forward, terrified by the economic apocalypse unfolding daily. However the “Special Olympics” mentality is deeply entrenched. Too many expect somehow that just showing up gets them a finisher medal, and a victory lap around the track.

And that’s when getting into a community college was easy. Now that education funding has cratered,  just try getting into those classes. They are probably twice as expensive, and half as long as they were before.

What are your choices? Maybe its what you have to do.

But back to my working life. I make war on bad layouts inside the InDesign Creative Suite, currently 5. I taught myself the mysteries of tables, because where I work, they live and die by them. And I was fed up with working on weird-ass legacy documents where the previous operators had glued all kinds of random shit together with drawn rules, color boxes, tab-delimited text boxes, floating in an ambiguous space, with no definite margins.

Which you’ll never see if you work with the invisibles off.

Here’s the bottom line, ducklings: if you think your skills are the end-all and be-all, you are sorely mistaken. Because they probably aren’t. So if you aren’t going to school, and you go home and drink, watch whatever’s on TV, maybe you ought to slice off an hour and begin to study a problem. Put it on a flash drive, and take it to work, and when shit ain’t happening, study it there too.

All this is out on the webs. Ask the question. And here’s the hook: When you’re sitting at work, surfing, you’re slack. You’re not engaged. Eventually people notice.

But this requires a spark of intellectual curiosity.

So. What are you going to do about it?

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.

Design and Production: Two Agendas That Eventually Meet

cali fires11-2003

So…Whaddya Know?

A prominent senior designer once asked me what I knew about Quark. There was amusement in his query. He was designing the 1998 Pac Bell annual report. I was an unknown freelancer. What did I know?

I asked to sit down in front of his keyboard, and began to analyze his comp by asking questions in a walk-through manner as I looked through each part of the layout

It went something like this:

“Page layout? It looks like a spread, with a cluster of pulled guides, and what looks like a 2 column grid. Let’s go to page masters. Create master page A, set up a 2-column grid, apply said Master page to spread. Nudge and tug the master page columns a bit. Now the text starts looking a little more secure.”

“Common text box tops? Go to baseline grid. Set first line to strike at 1.5” (18p). Now all the text boxes can be moved and parked accordingly if that’s the plan. We’ll adjust the line leading later, but we’ll leave it at the default 12pt.”

“Well lookie-here. All the text boxes have a default inset of 1 point. Eliminate that, then the text boxes can slam up against the guides without fuss.”

“Formatting type? Hmmm…no evident style for anything. Body text looks like Centaur Book, 10/12.5. There was a gummed in initial cap in its own box with whack runaround. Not good. Let’s set up a style sheet for the main body text, and pull a dupe style sheet to accommodate the init cap (3 down, 1 over) paragraph, and use a character style sheet for color, etc. Now define a style sheet for alternate first, middle and last paragraphs. And forget the part about hitting returns on the end of the ‘graph. Specify the space after each paragraph. Ditto subheads, pull quotes and sidebar info”

“Colors? How many is this project going to use? 4+3 spots and a varnish? Nice. Go to color palette. Lose or convert all RGB colors to CMYK, unless the RGB green is being used as a die-line FPO indicator. Otherwise kill it.”

“The folios in the bottom look improvised. Go back to master spread. Create folios using automated page characters. I can think of more fun things to be doing rather than chasing improperly formatted folios and where they are placed.”

“Text rules? Inline text ital/bold/? Character styles!”

“And that is what I know about Quark”.

His grin had frozen in place. Which leads to the next idea.

Style Sheets Are Your Best Friend

Design and production have two separate agendas: The designer is creating multiple variants to sell one. The print-production expert has to take that one idea and make it jump multiple times. This is where a solid command of style sheets will make your waking working life considerably happier.

In 2002 I was contracted to produce the 355-page Hancock & Moore catalog through Dan Lennon’s design office.

On arrival, I was handed a sample spread containing text blocks with grouped AI eps files. It looked a lot like this:


Behold the famed Quark “Duct-Tape Xtension! The delightful things one sees when you turn on Invisibles and Guides. Whoa!

I then asked the designer if this was it. He said it was. I told him that I would use this design to set up typographic solutions for this set up. He was skeptical.

This highlights the difference between a one-off idea and a production-line execution. If I used this exact setup I would be in deep trouble. Why?

  • it was a collage, subject to unintentional ungrouping
  • the rule combination was a different enlargement for each text box
  • it was unmodifiable on a production set up.
  • Hard returns after every line, tabbed everywhere (indicated by arrows), spacing (indicated by dots). All of these can (and eventually will be altered by unwary edits)

Clients will change their minds. Count on it.

This is an example of what the finished style sheet looked like for a main copy block. Everything is handled through the style sheets. The rule combo, distance from main head to descriptor body. The subsidiary listing is described by another style sheet.


(top line is highlighted, showing relevant style sheet, with Invisibles turned on)

Remember what I said about the Client changing their mind?

Three chapters into the book they decided they didn’t like the look. I was idled for a long weekend while the designers went back to the boards. What you see here was the final-final round. Converting the previous style sheets only took several hours. Imagine what it might have been like had I not set up the original style sheets in the first place. Not a pretty picture.

HM Sample spread

One final note: While I was putting this project together I thought the type was a bit fussy and small given that the target audience was likely to be 50+ and a bit farsighted. Secondly, furniture galleries have subdued lighting, unlike Ikea or Target. The following year the catalog had an insert that used chunky 12pt bold type…