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Rivkah רִבְקָה

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Printing in Black & White - Lesson 1 of 20 [Jun. 19th, 2009|08:00 am]
Rivkah רִבְקָה
Printing in black & white is quite possibly one of the least understood processes in printing today. In a culture that has come to celebrate color, black and white has settled into the historic background, a lost and nearly forgotten art. Why print simple black and white when you can print in strawberry reds, sunshine yellows, and prussian blues? Why would ANYBODY?

Because many people actually prefer black and white. But more importantly: because of cost.

Printing in color is expensive. Not only is the paper stock more expensive (often requiring a varnish and a fine paper with a minimum of dot gain bleached to brightest perfection) but so are color inks. There's CMYK process printing, Hexachrome, and an endless supply of Pantone color choices from which to choose. Which is great for covers and prints, but what about all those interior pages? Coloring is time consuming. Color is expensive. If you don't have your monitor calibrated, color never comes out the same in print.

So before you even begin any comic, you have to ask yourself: does your work look any better with color, or is your muse painted in black and white halftones??

Many comics look as good if not better in black and white than they do in color. A poor color job can take away all that hard work you spent on layouts and inks. Black and white creates a starkness of mood that is difficult to catch in the colored page. Black and white is easier to manipulate, to edit, and often easier to experiment with and correct.

But boy do people not know how to prepare or print it! Most people understand that color is printed at a standard of 300-450 dpi, but few understand the why, therefore creating complications when it comes to printing black and white line art or greyscale tones. Black and white production causes endless frustrations for those unfamiliar with its specific techniques. In order to tame this beast, you must first understand how it functions.

The purpose of this series of tutorials is to take you through the print production process so that you better understand how to scan, prepare files, and send them off to be printed ... or print them yourself. Topics will include:

Intro to Printing
The Halftone Cell
Dot Gain
Converting to 1 Bit Black & White
File Sizes & Types
Creating Tones From Scratch
Converting Flat Grays to Halftones
Variable Tones & Dithering
Choosing (and Using) a Laser Printer
Offset Lithography & Flexographic Printing
Choosing a Paper
Paper Resources

Along with a number of subcategories, numbering 20 lessons total (so far). Tutorials will include a combination of written essays and comics, but mostly comics. When I began to realize how lengthy this lesson was becoming, mon homme suggested serializing and turning it into individual comics, giving me the opportunity to experiment with different, tools, inks, techniques, papers, etc. So, for the first introductory comic, I started as basic as you can get: good ol' gel pen on 100% cotton paper. The two did NOT combine (the pen didn't like the toothiness of the paper), so there was an awful lot of cleanup in photoshop afterwards, but hopefully ....

You can still enjoy: :)

Updates will be when I can afford the time. Thankfully, they're at least all already written. :) This first one is, by far, the SHORTEST and the SIMPLEST. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Next Lesson: Explaining LPI and its uses

[User Picture]From: solipsistnation
2009-06-19 06:12 am (UTC)
That's a pretty good writeup of what the heck is going on with halftones. I've seen student newspapers where apparently nobody pointed out that just making plates of photos and sending them to be offset printed wouldn't work so well, and they ended up with big smeary messes.

I remember waaay back when, my high school newspaper had various sizes of halftone screens for printing photos... That was before desktop publishing, though. I think laser printers have made it too easy, since you CAN mostly get away with just printing photos like that, and it's only when you get to actual ink printing that halftones become an issue.

It's been a while since I've had to deal with this stuff though, so I may not be remembering quite right, but every so often (I work at a college) I run into another newspaper or magazine where they didn't halftone the art or photos and it makes me sad.
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[User Picture]From: lilrivkah
2009-06-19 10:02 pm (UTC)
Many imagesetters still make film for use with screens to create the printing plates, but it's nice knowing that much of the technology has been replaced with laser technology. It's a heck of a lot cleaner, neater, and uses far fewer chemicals. But even with laser-made plates or direct laser printing, they're still printing in b/w halftones, the same as a film. It's just the printer usually choosing the kind of halftone to use.

Which creates all sorts of problems in the long run ... ;_; It's easier to send an image to a laser printer without understanding the technology than it would to create a screenprint by hand.
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[User Picture]From: solipsistnation
2009-06-19 10:35 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it definitely is.

I think the problems I've seen have been people using laser printer default lines per inch, which although they're okay for toner, they're too small for ink on newsprint and they get smeary as the ink in those little tiny dots bleeds.
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[User Picture]From: lilrivkah
2009-06-19 11:29 pm (UTC)
Ah! I'm so happy I'm not the only one who sees the problem in that! ;_; You are SO gonna love the rest of these lessons because they address EXACTLY that: figuring out the optimum ideal resolution for each individual print job is a heck of a lot more complex than the usual "300 dpi" so many people quote. And also people who tone WAY WAY WAY too dark, not realizing exactly what you pointed out: that there's gonna be dot gain, and instead of the nice, crisp tones they're getting on their screen, it's gonna be one giant blob of muddy ink.
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[User Picture]From: solipsistnation
2009-06-19 11:46 pm (UTC)
Cool. I'm looking forward to the rest, then!

...of course, I don't really do anything with printing any more, but I know people who do... Every year students at the printmaking department at UC Santa Cruz hold a print sale. I have a bunch of lithographs and photo intaglio prints and stuff from the past couple of years' sales. This I was moving house and totally forgot to go. :(

That all ends up being pretty different from making plates for printing on newsprint, though, I think. You have to know your medium pretty well...

Also, way back when I was messing with Aldus Freehand (yes, Aldus. It was that long ago.) it had the option to print photos using line screens rather than dot screens. That was a really neat effect, especially if you took something with strong vertical and horizontal lines and overlaid a really low LPI diagonal line-screen. Uh, I guess it _was_ the 80's, so triangles and drop shadows and junk like that was fashionable, but still. I liked that look. 8)
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[User Picture]From: solipsistnation
2009-06-19 11:48 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, I see you have 1-bit B&W coming up. Sometimes I miss my old Mac Plus.


Dang, those screens were SMALL.

Edited at 2009-06-19 11:50 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: wyldkyss
2009-06-19 02:17 pm (UTC)
Oh, swift. Thanks for delving into this. And illustrated to boot :)
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From: (Anonymous)
2009-06-19 02:19 pm (UTC)
Great comic. I really liked the lettering. I'm looking forward to the entire series.

Ed Sizemore

P.S. Van Gogh's Starry Night is one of my favorite paintings. I'm glad you used it.
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[User Picture]From: lilrivkah
2009-06-19 09:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I actually struggled with the lettering, at least the body text lettering. Doing fun header fonts is the easy part, but making a crisp, readable body text by hand ... I had to reletter it several times just to make it legible. And I think there's still lots of room for improvement. Lettering with capitals is not my forte.

And originally I was going to use a Seurat painting, but I couldn't find any that were high enough resolution to see the individual dots and also appropriate for the context. but Van Gogh's "Starry Night" is still similar and has way more visual impact than a Seurat, IMHO.
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[User Picture]From: jkcarrier
2009-06-19 02:36 pm (UTC)
Awesome. This is desperately needed! Thank you!
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[User Picture]From: sojiro_chan
2009-06-19 03:25 pm (UTC)
That was quite useful. 'im looking forward to see the continuation of thoses.
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[User Picture]From: momopeachie
2009-06-19 07:20 pm (UTC)
Oh, wow, this is very useful! Can't wait to see the rest of these tutorials!
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[User Picture]From: rosalarian
2009-06-19 09:34 pm (UTC)
I look forward to the rest of the series! :D
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From: (Anonymous)
2009-06-21 01:11 pm (UTC)
This is wonderful. I've been wondering about these things lately but didn't know where to start. Thank you very much for doing this. -Sam
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[User Picture]From: joshuasmeaton
2009-06-21 09:03 pm (UTC)
This series is a great idea. I could have used the whole thing now :( I'm currently prepping my book to be professionally printed (full color) and it's all kind of overwhelming.

So I'm learning on the fly, trial and error. I'll be sure to stick around to see what I should have done. So thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge. It really is quite nice of you.
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[User Picture]From: lilrivkah
2009-06-21 09:15 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Though the series is dedicated to black and white printing, I'm sure you'll find a lot to apply to color printing as well, especially the first few (LPI & Resolution) and the last ones about outsource printing and choosing paper.

I love print. It gets me as excited as making comics does, and it's a real treat to discover that I can combine the two while adding in a dash of my passion for sharing knowledge. It's a fascinating field, and even having worked in all aspects of it for over ten years now, there's still more that I'm learning every day!
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From: (Anonymous)
2009-06-22 08:34 am (UTC)

Thank you

This is a wonderful tutorial, and I really love the combination of substance and entertaining presentation. I know nothing about printing, don't really need to know, but am looking forward to learning more just because you make it so entertaining to read about. Wish there were more tutorials like this!
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[User Picture]From: tekende
2009-06-22 03:25 pm (UTC)
This looks to be an excellent resource; I'm glad you're doing it. I added you, by the way.
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