05 3 / 2012

Your line art is no good and here is why.

I bet you’ve been faking it. I bet your Photoshop files are secretly a mess, and your line art layers are squishy and fuzzy.

It’s okay. This stuff can be hard. Here’s the right way to do it.

  1. Scan in full color, at 600 pixels per inch. Unless your drawing is significantly smaller than the final art will be, in which case you might bump it up to 1200 ppi. Don’t know how to scan? Read my post about scanning.
  2. Stitch your scans together. If your art is larger than your scanner platen, scan overlapping pieces then use Photomerge to stitch them together.
  3. Rotate and crop. You don’t have to commit to a perfect final crop now, but you definitely want your art to be straight at this point.
  4. Save this TIFF. You might need it later.
  5. Run my “Perfect line art” action. This will sharpen the edges, adjust the levels, and create a perfectly black and white version of your art. No grays, no fuzzy business. Every pixel is black or white. This is important. This action is based on steps for treating comics art shared by Dave Gibbons a few years ago.
    Drew's Perfect Line Art
  6. Using the Pencil tool, clean up dust and errors. Not a brush! Brushes have an antialiased edge, even if you max out the hardness. The pencil will either color a pixel white or color it black. No grays.
    Using the Pencil to clean up
  7. Double-click the layer to unlock it.
    Naming the Line Art layer
  8. Use the Magic Wand to select the white. Uncheck “contiguous” so you select every white pixel in the whole document.
    White pixels selected
  9. Delete. Now you have black line art and transparency. Boom.
    White pixels deleted
  10. Convert to RGB. Unless you’re not coloring your line art at all, in which case you’re finished.
    Convert to RGB Mode
  11. Create a new white Solid Color adjustment layer below your line art. This will serve as a background. You don’t want to go cross-eyed looking at the transparency checkboard while you color.
    Create a Solid Color adjustment layer
  12. Create a new layer between your line art and your background. This is where all your fills will live.
    Create a Fills layer
  13. Color your fills with the Pencil tool. Not a brush. Because you don’t have to worry about an antialiased edge, you can rough in the perimeter of every fill area, then use the paint bucket (check Contiguous!) to fill the interior. Don’t worry about the outside edge of a fill area. The lines will cover the edge up, right?
    Color in the fill areasOutline the area firstthen use the paint bucket to fill in
  14. Create a new layer on top of your line art. Your line colors will go here.
  15. Select the line color layer and click Layer → Create Clipping Mask or press Cmd-Opt-G. This uses the line art layer as the clipping mask for the line art color layer, meaning the colors will only show where there are pixels in the line art. Meaning you can be as sloppy as you want with your color layer.
    Create a Line Color layer
  16. Use the Pencil tool to color your line art. Experiment with lines that are a tint of the fill color, a shade of the fill color, and the same as the fill color.
    Color the lines
  17. If you have grays or textures in the original art, open the scan we saved.
  18. Use the Move tool to drag the scan onto the colored art file, holding Shift. This will align them exactly if you saved your scan after cropping.
  19. Drag the scan below the line art layer.
  20. Click “Add Layer Mask” in the Layers palette.
  21. Press D then X to select black, and click the paintbucket in the image to fill the layer with black. Remember, in a layer mask, black = transparent, white = opaque, gray = in between.
  22. Use brushes in white and black to unmask the grays and textures in the scan that you want to reveal. Make sure you have the layer mask selected and not the layer itself!
  23. When you’re done, run my “Save Flattened TIFF” action for an uncompressed, portable, flat, print-friendly file.
    Drew's Save Flattened TIFF action

Are there other ways to approach colored line art? Of course. After years of iteration and incremental improvement, this is my process. See any holes? Want to suggest improvements? Let me know.

04 3 / 2012

How to scan

Getting your art into the computer should be easy. The goal is to translate an image into pixels as simply and cleanly as possible, and make any adjustments in Photoshop.

The screenshots here show Photoshop CS4 and OS X 10.6. Some descriptions might be slightly different for other versions of the software, but the basic ideas carry over.

  1. Use Image Capture. Scanner drivers are notoriously unreliable, and in most situations OS X’s Image Capture is a simpler, faster way to go. It’s part of every OS X installation, so you don’t have to worry about installing it.
  2. Place your artwork on the scanner pane before you start Image Capture, because it automatically does an overview scan when it starts. Why waste that precious time?
  3. Adjust the selection box to fit your artwork. Or, if you’re scanning multiple pieces of a large drawing, scan the whole platen. That way, you don’t have to do an overview scan for every piece.
  4. I set the resolution to 150 for thumbnails and reference art, and 600 for anything that will survive in the final piece.
  5. Here are the other default settings I like to use:
    Default Image Capture settings
    I don’t try to massage the image here—it’s easier to change levels, crops, and whatnot in Photoshop.
  6. Hit scan. Image Capture will automatically number the filenames of multiple scans.

If you have a large drawing, you can scan it in as many pieces as you need, and let Photoshop stitch them together. No more giant scanners! Just make sure each piece overlaps the ones next to it a bit.

  1. In Photoshop, select File → Automate → Photomerge…
  2. Select your scanned files, and set Photomerge to “Reposition” so it doesn’t try any perspective oddness.
    Using Photomerge
  3. Watch Photomerge do its thing, then marvel at the automatic layer masking.
    Photomerge's layer masking
  4. If everything worked out, select Layer → Flatten image…
  5. Save!

23 8 / 2011

Kindle formatting is different.

A confusing ambush quotation from _Code Complete_

The Kindle’s been my preferred reading method for some time now. Here are some formatting suggestions for publishers of nonfiction work:

  1. Simplify your hierarchy. Your readers can’t see as much context as they can in a printed book, so there’s no need for eight levels of header. Two is probably fine. This goes for other content, too.
  2. Ditch the sidebars, or figure out a sensible way to integrate sidebar content into the rest of the text. Some “info box” content might be best grouped and given its own section.
  3. Ditch margin pointers and other widgets. Since you can’t flip pages and browse chapters the way you can in a printed book, these little visual aids don’t serve the same purpose.
  4. Make pull quotes distinct. The Kindle edition of Code Complete has a bunch of quotes flowed right smack in the middle of other text, with no divider before them. It’s easy for a reader to get all the way through a paragraph before finding out he hasn’t been reading the author’s words for a while.
  5. Rewrite simple tables as text lists. Nobody wants to scroll right, and we’re probably losing the benefits of comparing the alignments, anyway.

I’ll add to this list as I think of more.

Amazon encourages publishers to chuck whole Word files at their custom converter, but many nonfiction and technical books require thoughtful finessing to translate well.

Publishers, I would love to do that for you. Drop me a line.

Note: It has been pointed out that most publishers have no interest in spending time or money on converting their properties, and would wish this whole e-book thing into the cornfield if they could. Sad but true.

23 3 / 2011

13 3 / 2011

State of the desktop: 

With bonus dust!

State of the desktop:

With bonus dust!

08 3 / 2011

Edie and Edie

Edie and Edie

06 3 / 2011

48-star flag in the dining room. Thoughts?

48-star flag in the dining room. Thoughts?

03 3 / 2011

That’s Don Hertzfeld’s banana, right?

That’s Don Hertzfeld’s banana, right?

01 3 / 2011

01 3 / 2011

Apostrophe’s are not Ikeas strong suit

Apostrophe’s are not Ikeas strong suit