This is part 2 of a 2-part series on publishing magazines at MagCloud. If you have not read part 1 please review that first, and review the recommended post before continuing. See the updated soft-proof profile post before proceeding. (8/8/2011)
In part one of this series I tried to explain the impact of the binding and number of pages had in the published magazine as MagCloud uses a different stock of paper for different binding. Along with that the printer profile used in the process also varies based on the binding you choose. Publishers can control these only by knowing the impact of their choices.
In preparing the photography for publishing we must pay attention to our working environment and make sure that we use a repeatable and reliable process. Of utmost importance is the calibration and profiling of the monitor, careful selection of images, and proper editing of them in Photoshop or Lightroom. In this section I will focus on a process I call “smart proofing” when ordering proof copies to maximize the information gained in a controlled and repeatable manner.
Smart Proofing at MagCloud
Purpose of smart proofing is the make some decisions up front so that every and any proof we order serves a purpose rather than saying “let’s see how it will come out.” If the process is not purposeful we will likely not know what it is we do and do not like and how to fix what does not work. Here is what I intend to do in the future and I recommend that you give it a serious thought.
1. Decide on the number of pages and binding, this will in part determine the paper choice
The first level decision for a smart proofing strategy is the choice of binding, and in the case of saddle-stitched output the number of pages. That will immediately inform whether the number of pages will push the decision in one way or the other. Yes, there is an extra $1 charge for perfect binding, but I think it is money well spent for many projects. Clearly, it is only for publications that will have at least 20 pages for it is not available as an option for magazines containing fewer pages. The paper stock used is consistent between 20-384 pages and the cover stock is heavier cover stock.
2. Order a minimum number of pages proof that will use the same paper as the final output, along with the previous item, your magazine’s paper choice has been made.
If you order a 10-page saddle stitched proof where the final magazine will have 50-100 pages, you will likely get your proof printed on a different weight of paper. If your pages are over 60 and you want high-quality photographs you will probably not be satisfied with saddle-stitched magazines. To see that, order a proof that has the minimum number of pages that will push to the next paper choice in weight. That’s where perfect binding has an edge for me, 20 pages or 300 pages the paper and print quality will not change. I like that. If the final output will have 56 pages and saddle stitched your proof should have at least 20 pages to assure the same paper will be used.
3. Select some photographs to include in the proof and lay them out in pages about the same size they will appear in the final magazine
In my last issue, I have over 80 photographs in 80 pages. There is no reason to include them all in the proof. Choose some challenging ones either on tonality or color or both. They may look fine on your monitor but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The printed photograph may have blocked shadows, blown highlights that lack texture, may be too saturated or not saturated enough, or any combination of the above. Do your image sizing and the other preparations in Photoshop as Lightroom will not be able to use the technique I will outline.
4. Resize the photograph in Photoshop to its final dimensions at 300 ppi and adjust it so that it looks as good as it can
It is important to properly size and adjust the photographs to retain sufficient detail in both the shadows and the highlights while presenting meaningful and strong shadows, and textured highlights. Also important in color photographs is the color correction and saturation adjustments. Some photographers think more saturation is better, but not every picture of the sky must be dripping blue paint. There is limited gamut the printing process can handle on any given color.
5. Obtain the ICC profiles MagCloud uses, install them in the profiles folder on your system and do soft proofing to catch obvious out of gamut areas
Soft proofing is not a substitute for an actual print proof, but it can tell us what parts of our images may be outside the printing color gamut. There is no sense in rowing against the current, if the printer will not be able to handle the color, we need to bring it in line. After you install the ICC profile, set up the proper soft proofing. When it is set up, go to “View/Proof Colors” and turn gamut warning on, “View/Gamut Warning.” Now look for areas that turn gray, those areas have colors, tones, and saturation levels that will not print well. Using your favorite tool, add an adjustment layer and apply the needed corrections to minimize or eliminate the gray areas that give you fair warning. Some small areas being outside the gamut may not hurt the image, but large areas with gamut warning will likely be unacceptable in print. See the sample images in progression along with the adjustments I had to make to bring colors to fit the ICC profile gamut. (For more detail on this, read the Printing Workflow article)
6. Now let us go against step number 5! Bracket Proofing a single image
After you get your proof, you may find the printed copy somewhat lacking, lacking in saturation or in tonality. Remember, soft proofing is just a visual “approximation” of the output, it is not the output. The actual print may actually be able to handle more saturation or different tonality. The question is how much more of the adjustment may be necessary. Create a copy of the image if you like but the following steps will use adjustment layers that can be turned off when necessary. Let us deal with the question of how much more saturation may be necessary for the image if any.
- Add a Hue & Saturation layer
- Adjust the saturation to increase to a satisfactory level, then push it over, your image will be over saturated now
- Add a layer mask, filled with a gradient fill from white to black. This will apply one side of the image 100% of the adjustment (white edge of the mask) and the other side 0% (black edge of the mask). If you want, you can posterize the smooth gradient to have 5-7 steps which may make later comparison easier.
The purpose of this step is to include an image that we will use to judge the necessary increase in saturation, 0-100%. More on that later.
7. Now let us turn this layer off and add a tonal adjustment layer, my choice will be the curves adjustment although levels may work but with less finesse.
This step may or may not be necessary depending on the photograph. If you have much subtle detail in the shadows you may want to go through the following steps. Otherwise, you may ignore. But, what do you have to lose if you are ordering a proof for print quality and you have some empty pages?
- With the tonal adjustment layer, say curves, target (select and mask) and open the shadows until they show sufficient detail and then push it over to be a little too much (see the Printing Workflow article mentioned earlier for details)
- Put this layer in a group by itself and add a layer mask to the group, filled with a gradient fill from white to black. This will apply one side of the image 100% of the adjustment and the other side 0%. If you want, you can posterize the smooth gradient to have 5-7 steps which may make later comparison easier.
8. Now turn off these adjustment layers and using your favorite tool for this, apply print sharpening to your image. (Optional step)
I use PixelGenius Sharpener, it is non-destructive and produces very high-quality results. Do your sharpening on a merged layer if you are not using PixelGenius Sharpener. Sharpen a little more than you normally would and mask it using the step 2 above. This will tell us how much sharpening works best for MagCloud printing process when we get the proof copy.
9. Export four copies of the image, one with no proof adjustment layers, one with the Hue & Saturation layer, one with the tonal adjustment layer, and one with sharpening applied.
This step may or may not be necessary depending on the layout software. If it accepts PSD files, you may be able to leave your files the way they are but save multiple copies with different layers turned on. To keep things simple, you may prefer to export them to TIFF format to make sure that an unexpected layer is left turned on. Make sure the name them to reflect the adjustment they represent.
10. Repeat the steps above for other images you wish to include. Pay attention that they fit in the number of pages your proof will have.
Carefully save all the images, with all their layers and layer masks intact. You will apply a final adjustment if necessary after seeing the proof. Keep backup copies, you don’t want to lose hours of work.
11. Lay out the images you exported with the intention of reviewing for image quality
Using your layout software, include these four photographs in their original size preferably on pages with nothing behind them so that you can put them side by side for comparison. If you have too many images you want to test and cannot leave the backs empty, lay them out so that one set of images are on the odd-numbered pages and the next one on even-numbered pages. This way, you can put 4 test versions of one image side by side for comparison with no difficulty. In this stage, I use InDesign CS5 but whatever you are using may work as well. Make sure the exported photographs have ICC profiles embedded, and the color space is converted to sRGB.
Repeat the above steps for the other photographs you want to include, add text if you like in appropriate places for easy identification of the test images. Use the pages in this stage not for testing the layout but to test the print quality. However, if you have available pages use them to try different typography, column size, headings, etc. When you have the test document ready in your layout program make sure you have the correct number of pages for the desired type of binding, for saddle stitching 4-100 pages in multiples of 4, for perfect binding 20-384 pages in multiples of 2. Then export to PDF and upload the document for proofing. Make sure to order the type of binding you will eventually use. And now be patient until you get your proof.
12. When you get your proof, review the versions of each photograph for the best output quality.
Remember, one side of the image has 100% of the adjustment and the other side has none. Somewhere in that spectrum is the optimum level of that adjustment. Be very critical at this stage, careful comparison of the strips in each image and comparison of different adjustments are essential. Pay attention to the viewing light as the brighteners in paper coating responds differently to different light qualities. I found this the hard way, but lesson learned. For my print evaluation, I use several OttLite brand fluorescent lights. They are reasonably close to daylight and affordable.
For each image look for the best strip, and when you reach a conclusion mark that strip. Ideally, on most or all of the images, you mark the same strip for the same adjustment, say Hue & Saturation. That will give you a consistent level of adjustment that needs to be added to every image you include.
When you find the strip that gives the best result for saturation, tonality, and sharpening you are ready for the last set of adjustments. Then proceed as follows:
- Open Photoshop and load one of the test images
- Turn on all the MagCloud adjustment layers
- Target the saturation layer’s layer mask
- Select the Fill tool (paint bucket) move your cursor in the image area and find the best result strip
- Hold the Alt key pressed and click on the strip that gave the best results to load that tone of gray
- Now press Alt-Delete to fill the layer mask with that tone of gray
Repeat the steps above for the other adjustment layers in step 3 and your image should now be properly adjusted. It is possible that superimposing the tonal adjustments over saturation adjustment layer may push one over the edge. Use the soft proofing once more to make sure the colors and tones are still within the gamut. Make small adjustments as necessary.
To make replicating the results easier, create a blank document which does not need to be large, an 800×600 pixel canvas is sufficient. Now copy each MagCloud adjustment layer except sharpening to this document and save this as your MagCloud output adjustments. You can now manually copy these adjustment layers to other images whenever you need them. If you need to process many images you can create an action to make the process more efficient. Remember to apply sharpening to each image with the same parameters and then fill its layer mask with the tone of gray you chose in the test image. Alternately, you may tweak the amount of sharpening parameters to do away with the layer mask and filling it with a shade of gray.
Although the process may sound too complicated at first reading, it actually maximizes information value of a MagCloud proof, thereby reducing the total turnaround time and the total cost of proofing while maximizing the image print quality. All desirable outcomes in my opinion.
May your prints have the best gamut and shine with the best D-max!