What Do You Mean You Can’t Make It Bigger?

March 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve worked in design for very long (or worked with designers) you’ve no doubt made this face!

One of my goals with this blog is to speak to both designers and clients and attempt to address some of the problems that come up in the client/designer relationship.

One of the first and most common issues that comes to mind is the use of images. More specifically, the issue of what images the client has and what the designer wants and needs from the client.

Following are a few facts about digital images in layman’s terms. (And I’m not just talking to clients here either. I’ve worked with plenty of young designers who do not yet fully grasp the concepts.)

Images can be either Raster Based or Vector Based.

Raster based images are created using a grid of pixels to define the image. Each pixel is assigned a color value and all of the pixels together create the image. To increase the size of a raster based image, the pixels defining the image can be increased in either number or size. Increasing the number of pixels or making the pixels bigger in an image results in the original data being spread over a larger area. Spreading the pixels over a larger area causes the image to begin to lose detail and clarity as seen below.

You may notice if you look at the information on the file that the file is XX dpi. DPI means Dots Per Inch. Most printing is done at 300 dpi. Most web images are 72 dpi. (For all intents and purposes, 72 dpi is as small as you should go.)

Raster files handle the subtleties of photographs very well as a general rule and can be very large if there is a large amount of detail and pixels in an image.

Raster based images, as a general rule, are created in a program like Photoshop. Common file formats will be .jpg, .png, .gif, .psd, .eps and .tif

Vector based images, on the other hand, are created by using mathematical equations to define the shapes and points of the image. If the image is increased in size, the equation is recalculated accordingly resulting in the image increasing in size with no loss of data or detail. As a result, dpi is not a factor with vector based images. In theory, your image could cover a skyscraper without a loss of clarity or quality.

Vector files sound like the way to go then right?

Unfortunately, vector programs do not handle photographs as well as a general rule. Photographs are still raster based and it takes an extensive amount of time and effort (budget often becomes a factor here) to recreate a photo as a vector. (Though it can be done! Look at some of the people here.)

Vector based images are generally created in a vector program like Illustrator. Common file formats will be .ai, .pdf or .eps.

(For even more detail than you probably want to know, see this post: Vector vs. Raster.)

Now that we have that out of the way, what does this mean to you?

For clients:

This means that if you have an image that is a 3″ x 5″ .jpg at 300 dpi on your computer, you have a raster file. If you want this file to be an 11″ x 17″ poster, you’re most likely going to be out of luck no matter how talented your designer. As stated above, increasing the image more 10% or so (not big enough for your poster) spreads the pixels over a larger area and will result in a significant decrease in quality.

Expecting a designer to make something out of nothing will make your designer pull their hair out and might possibly put a lot of strain on the relationship.

Possible solutions / tips for clients:

BIGGER than what you need is almost always better.

If possible, obtain a larger image. It might be a little more expensive if you are are using a purchased image, but larger is almost always better. Think of the final size you want and shoot for that, or consult your designer before purchasing with your ideas for guidance. After all, that’s what you are paying him/her for right? Their expertise.

If you have the image you want printed somewhere, scanning the image might get you where you need to be. Quality might be a little less, but not nearly as bad as an image that is “blown up” too much.

See if your designer has any ideas of how they might “stylize” the image, like with a simple, but elegant, redraw in a vector program or maybe an artistic effect like a watercolor effect. Or, if the image is small but of a high quality, Illustrator’s Live Trace feature might be an option. Ask your designer.

Opening a raster based file in a vector program like Illustrator and then resaving does not make the file a vector file! It’s still just a raster file saved from a vector program.

Avoid sending your file attached in a program like Microsoft Word or Xcel if at all possible. Your designer will not be able to get much more than a low-resolution screen shot of your image.

Your logo is the most important piece of artwork you have. Strongly consider having your logo created first in a vector program. Creating your logo in a vector program makes your logo portable. Tiny for a website, or huge for a 20-foot banner, you’re covered. (Think classic and solid too. Those cool beveled edges and  the sunburst in the middle with all the drop shadows may look kind of cheesy and dated in 20 years!)

For designers:

It’s easy to get frustrated. I’ve listened to frustrated designers yelling expletives and have come close to putting my head through my monitor a couple of times. And I’ve definitely yelled a few expletives.

But, always keep in mind that your client may have their hands tied. Maybe the tiny .jpg of their logo is all they have. Maybe the “corporate office” is not being responsive. Maybe the mom & pop client has no idea what you are talking about and barely knows how to use email and they are paying you to handle all that “stuff”.

Maybe they know what they have is junk and they are counting on you to make it wonderful.

If you do this job for any time at all, especially freelancing on the local level, you will encounter it all. If you have accepted the job, your task is to find a solution that works. If what a client has given you simply will not work, get creative and find a solution.

Lastly, don’t forget, you are a professional and you are being paid for your expertise. (Meaning, if the client knew all this stuff and knew how to do it themselves there would really be no need for your services.) If you are not being treated like a professional, that is another issue and one you should address.

Hopefully this post has brought to light a few of the issues that tend to come up in designer / client relationships and offered a few helpful tips. If you would like to add more, from either side of the fence, please add your two cents in the comments.

Photo by windchime

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