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Tricks for Fixing Bad Images

(September 2003) posted on Thu Sep 25, 2003

Coudray describes techniques you can use to overcome resolution, color, image-quality, and file-format issues.

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By Mark A. Coudray

If JPEG is so bad, why is it used? JPEG works well if the image has high pixel density. In other words, if the image were 300 ppi or higher, the visible nature of the artifacts would almost be impossible to see. Virtually every digital camera saves captured images in JPEG format. But this is tolerable as long as the picture is not enlarged. We already know we receive images that are the wrong resolution, and when that's the case, JPEG is a death sentence for the digital image.


Web-based screen grabs are another example of where JPEG is very problematic. These are low-res (usually 72 dpi) images that are already in JPEG format to make them load quickly. If a client does a screen grab, or downloads the image from the Web, the damaging artifacts will be everywhere. Immediately converting the file format to TIFF (.tif) or Photoshop (.psd) is the best way to prevent the damage from getting worse.


There are several filters on the market designed specifically to repair damaged JPEG files. Alien Skin's Image Doctor and Visual Infinity's Grain Surgery are examples of commercially available Photoshop plug-ins that run on either Mac or PC. These plug-ins do an excellent job of saving damaged images.


Inappropriate design programs


How many times has a client of yours provided a layout in Microsoft Word or PowerPoint? It seems ridiculous that someone would prepare art for printing in a presentation program or a word-processing application. Alternately, a customer may provide a CAD drawing file generated with AutoCad, Solidworks, or similar software and ask you to produce screen prints from it. In both cases, the clients figure that if they can lay the drawing out and print it on an office inkjet printer, it also should work in a commercial printing environment. Well, these files don't work, and there are serious consequences in store for those who think otherwise.


In the case of Word or Powerpoint, your options are limited. About the only thing you can do is try to extract the images and recreate the layout in the correct program. Keep in mind that images embedded in these types of programs are often too low in resolution to be useful.


CAD-generated images are a bit different than those produced in Word or PowerPoint. Most of these files are high-resolution and, therefore, suitable for graphics work. The key is to translate the files to a format compatible with the color-separation process. Programs like Equilibrium's Debablizer can be invaluable for doing file-format translations. Debabilizer supports the file-to-file translation of more than 100 different formats, including animation-rendering formats, such as PIXAR and SGI. In the end, however, you'll find there's simply no substitute for properly prepared and submitted artwork.


Calling the art police


It would be nice if there were "art police" patrolling our customers--you know, guns drawn, shouting, "Step away from the keyboard and keep your hands where we can see them!" But the reality is that you must deal with less-than-perfect design files yourself. As computer technology progresses and more of your customers assume greater roles in art production and preparation, your job is to find ways to make their bad art look good. You'll be able to do this and save a boatload of money and grief by learning and remembering the tricks suggested here.



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