Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Illustrating Digitally? Sure No Problem

© 2015 Don Arday.
Before the desktop revolution in decades past in the age of film, an illustrator could be satisfied with solely knowing how to create an illustration. Illustrators would have their illustrations photographed or have original art delivered to a client or printer who would then have the illustration photographed. Only occasionally adventurous illustrators would learn enough about photography to photograph their own work. This was the exception rather than the rule. It was a printer that would scan the original artwork or a photo transparency, and then make technical adjustments to an image, apply crop and registration marks, and generate color separations for printing. Illustrators remained in a technology-devoid bliss.

Fast-forward to now. When it comes to reproducing illustration, film-based photography is a thing of the past having been replaced by digital photography, digital scanning, and illustrating completely within a digital environment. Even more than a change in technology, there has been a shift in the relationship of an illustrator to the production environment. 

In todays digital age, illustrators not only have to know the craft of illustration, but they have to be proficient with setting up files for a work-flow, using digital dimensions (resolution), understanding digital color spaces, making color adjustments and retouching, working with device profiles, and selecting output protocols including digital file formats. For illustrators who work conventionally, it is now a necessity to be adept in recording work and translating it to a digital state, as well as preparing digitized work for output to print or digital media.

All these areas of expertise are necessary because illustrators are now expected to integrate seamlessly with the work-flow of a project. Metaphorically speaking, we are expected to jump onto a moving train and know where it is going. Illustrators must be technologically savvy.

File Setup

File setup involves inputting the dimensional specifications for an illustration. This typically requires information provided by a client, printer, or webmaster including physical image size, orientation, and bleed requirements (if needed), units of measure, digital resolution, and color parameters.

Image Resolution

Illustrators must understand image resolution as it relates to image placement or final output in a print environment or display in a digital one. This requires knowledge of how ppi (pixels per inch) convert to dpi (dots per inch) or lpi (lines per inch) in print or screen resolution for desktop or mobile devices.

Color Spaces

Digital visualization software offers a variety of color spaces to suit the needs of digital and non-digital environments with each having its own purpose and uses. A basic understanding of all of the color options is now essential for illustrators. Spaces include RGB (the digital display model), CMYK (the print output model), HSV (the color theory model), Lab color (the color opposition model), Grayscale (the luminosity model), and Indexed color (the web compression model).

Color Retouching

In the past, making color adjustments to images and fixing minor irregularities was the sole proprietorship of specialists such as retouchers and color separators. Now however, illustrators are expected to be proficient in adjusting color and cleaning up images in preparation for display or output.

Device Profiles

To ensure proper display of illustrations in digital environments and for output through print devices illustrators must know how to use device/print profiles within their illustration files. A digital device/print profile is a descriptive index that is used by software programs to define of properties and limitations of a color space. A profile registry is a set of finite values that create meaning for digital display media or physical output media. Profiles exist for hardware devices, within software programs, and for physically displayed media.

Output Protocols

In many cases illustrators are responsible for preparing illustration files for final output or display. This involves managing file-handling protocols including print settings, color handling, rendering preferences, and other parameters that are required by a specific output device, display hardware device or other hosting situation.