Handling images efficiently is key

Image Handling for Wraps

Dave Dorsey is president of Aurora Graphics, a developer of digital artwork designs for vehicle wraps and graphics, based in Wichita, Kan. Visit www.auroragraphics.net for more information.

In today’s vinyl business, if you aren’t printing you aren’t really competing. Digital printing is here to stay and the shop that doesn’t recognize this is destined to inhabit the present day dinosaur pit of relics from another era.

Sure, back in the ’80s when the first plotter was marketed by Gerber Scientific, it was a different story. You could spend the money, master the software and learn to digitize and then nest solid color vinyl parts and pieces to make a multi-colored image. There was plenty of solid color truck door lettering to be had back in the day. But in this day and age if you aren’t printing, especially aren’t printing very well, your competition will snake your profits away faster than a tax man in April.

But many shops that have printers really aren’t quite up to speed like they should be. Color Space, (aka color mode) file type, resolution and scale seem to be a challenge for many to grasp. So I’d like to address some of those topics here and hopefully help a few shops out there step up their game.

Color Space
If you purchase Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, both programs are supplied in CMYK mode by default. If you want to work in a different color space, you have to change it within the software. If you work in and save your work in CMYK mode and then output the results to your inkjet printer, you will get mixed results and muddy colors. Corel Draw is another that by default operates in CMYK mode. Most every RIP available wants the artwork to be supplied in 1998 Adobe RGB color space because the RIP engines are designed around Adobe’s 1998 RGB color. So Adobe 1998 RGB goes in to your RIP, and beautiful CMYK will come out of your RIP.

File Format
There seems to be some confusion within the market about printing with .jpg’s rather than .eps or .tiff or even .pdf formats. Many seem to think if the image is in .jpg format, which is a “lossy format,” it will not print as well as a .tiff or other file. After all, .tiff and .eps and also .pdf are not lossy formats, so they never lose quality from a save.

It’s time to shed a little light on this subject. When asked about it, I have heard various answers, But what everyone seems to be eluding to is the fact that .jpg is considered a lossy format, meaning when a .jpg is saved, it loses some data, thus theoretically reducing the print quality.

So we did a test to see when does a .jpg print poorly due to loss of pixel data that the file experiences upon compression when saving as a .jpg.

We created a brand new image file with considerable color and detail, then saved it out as .tiff, .jpg, .pdf and .eps, then printed each one. I left the room and someone mixed up the prints and then I came back to see which was which. It was impossible to tell the difference between the prints.

So the .jpg was “saved” again as a .jpg and then opened and printed. Still no difference in the prints. So I saved it as a .jpg again and again, printing each result. No one could tell any difference until the .jpg was on its sixth straight save as a .jpg, and even then it was mighty hard to tell for sure.

Because .jpg compresses so well, it is a valuable format for saving artwork. If you open the original .jpg whenever you want to use that file again, it will print flawlessly. If you open it, do work and then save, be sure to save it as the native format of the program you are using and you can then save it over and over until the cows some home, all with no loss of quality because it’s no longer a .jpg and thus isn’t losing data during compression.

The .eps file format has no compression and if the file is too big, saving as an .eps will simply result in a corrupt file that cannot be opened or RIPped.

So how do you save a print/cut image in a single file that retains both the vector cut contour as well as the print file and do it without corrupting the saved file? Save it as a high-quality .pdf instead. The .pdf format will retain the vector layer and the print layer so you can still open it and work on it, plus all RIPs will take a .pdf and print beautifully provided the artwork has good resolution and was saved in the correct color space to begin with.

*When saving your artwork out as .pdf, make sure your canvas size has been increased to at least the scale of the artwork you are saving or you will only get a chunk of the file actually saved, determined by the canvas size.

There seems to be a misconception regarding resolution of the print file. All RIP’s and printers have different quality settings. Most people print using the 720 x 720 for full or partial wraps which yields a great looking print provided the artwork had sufficient clarity and correct color space prior to output. The misconception is the printer operator, because he is printing at 720 x 720 LPI (lines per inch) thinks he needs 300 dpi or higher artwork to end up with a good print. This is simply not true. Some of the best looking wraps in the country are output at 72 dpi, 720 x 720 LPI settings. If you want even brighter colors and a sharper print, use the 1440 x 720 setting (or) High Quality setting within your RIP. You get a better print at the expense of a slower output, but some guys prefer to print using this setting.

If you are using Photoshop to prepare your print artwork (good idea) and are wondering how it will look when you print it, grab the magnifying glass and three options will appear in the center top of the interface: Actual Pixels, Fit Screen and Print Size. By clicking the first one, Actual Pixels, the program will zoom your artwork to 100. What you see is what you will get upon output. So if the image looks clear and no “jaggies” you will get a good print at the current scale and resolution. If the zoomed image looks fuzzy, pixelated or jagged, that is what your print will look like too. Oh yeah, don’t forget to work in and save out as Adobe 1998 RGB color space to get the best color from your printer.

* From the 2014 issue of WRAPS magazine.