Take One: The Mausoleum|
Mike Pasini, The Imaging Resource
(Thursday, September 11, 2003 - 03:40 EDT)
Day One of Seybold San Francisco was absorbed with a full presentation by Adobe that we promised not to disclose (don't hold your breath) before we enjoyed a session on stock photography. Day Two began with a thorough exploration of inkjet technology that was complimented with a presentation by three artist/authors who all happened to use digicams. Our report follows....
SAN FRANCISCO -- Seybold San Francisco has moved to the new Moscone West, an edifice so imposing it resembles a mausoleum for dinosaurs. The ceilings are not visible with the naked eye and the hallways can not be traversed in the course of a day.
What could this place hold but remains of extinct species?
And for our first two days taking the interminable escalator to the second and third levels and walking by the bocce ball courts in the corner, we wondered if publishing itself had become extinct. The exhibit hall on the first level was sparsely populated with vendors and the crowd, well, "crowd" was a euphemism.
The press room was as busy as Rip Van Winkle in the prime of his life. News? There was none. And that's the headline.
But Seybold has always been more than the glint in a salesman's eye. It's always been about education. Behind the "pavilion" and the "news" releases, there's always been a curriculum. Which is something you can't say about Comdex, Macworld, etc.
We took our medicine this year and went back to school. And we were glad we did.
There's no way one person can do justice to the full slate of lectures, so forgive our sampler. Day One was absorbed with a full presentation by Adobe that we promised not to disclose (don't hold your breath) before we enjoyed a session on stock photography. Day Two began with a thorough exploration of inkjet technology that was complimented with a presentation by three artist/authors who all happened to use digicams.
Corbis' Patrick Donehue (http://www.corbis.com), Veer's Sheldon Popiel (http://www.veer.com) and Punchart's Joseph Pemberton (http://www.punchcut.com) made up the panel for "Stock Photography Grows Up."
All three observed the dramatic evolution of stock photography from the heavy flip-through books of yore to CDs to Web sites. The unlimited storage of the Internet translates into a breadth and depth of style, Donehue noted.
Popiel said that even though there's some "great photos" available, a lot of it is filler. He noted the trend in style from posed shots with props to unstaged images taken directly from life. But, he added, this was devolving into an Oprah/Martha look that emphasized personal enrichment, let's call it.
Pemberton found that the general quality of stock photography has improved and agreed that subjects were more popular if not staged. But if staged, he added, they tended to be humorous. Photographic cartoons, in short.
Technology has forever changed the stock photo business, they all agreed, giving buyers a lot more choice but, at the same time, making it very difficult to find the right image.
Popiel championed image zoom tools that show buyers a thumbnail of the whole image imposed in a scrollable full-resolution crop. The crop is restricted to only parts of the image, but it gives the buyer some idea of the quality and style of the photo they're buying before they purchase it. He also recommended using a collection's image research assistant to help focus the search for an appropriate image.
Pemberton seconded that, saying there's value in the old phone call to someone familiar with the archive. He was pleased to see Web sites go beyond mere transactions to professional research and rights management pricing.
On the mysterious subject of assigning keywords, Donehue cautioned it isn't just the keywords but the searching methodology that makes things interesting. Popiel added that keywording is essentially a tedious process that becomes more manual the more abstract the keywords get. Pemberton said he still marvels at Getty's clarify feature, which can help narrow a search down to more specific keywords.
He also was impressed with being about to share the results of a Web search and being able to email those results to collaborators. Presented as "lightboxes" or Web pages of thumbnails, the results can often be saved as links and emailed.
So when might you not want to use stock photography? Obviously when you can't find an image, Donehue smirked. But he praised the old fashioned pleasure of starting with a blank piece of paper. It gives you a "really great feeling," he noted.
Popiel observed it's all about control "because designers want to control everything."
But Pemberton said you needn't use just one or the other, showing slides that used custom photography for the main images and stock photography for background images.
They all warned that you don't want to use stock photography for "iconic" images of an ad campaign or corporate identity unless you're confident you can control the environment in which they'll be seen. It's probably safe to use stock for a trade show, for example, but not an ad campaign that will be displayed on the side of a bus.
Custom photography competes directly with two kinds of stock photography, they explained. Rights managed stock photography involves the purchase of an image for a specific use. In contrast, royalty free stock photography purchases the image for unlimited use. As the more flexible option, royalty free has been squeezing out rights managed images. But generally, rights managed images are of higher quality, they observed.
Finally, the panelists touched on how collections age. A search of office workers shouldn't, for example, display a secretary wearing clothes fashionable 10 years ago. It's incumbent on collections not only to refresh their wares but to age them gracefully.
Dr. Ross R. Allen has been researching inkjet technology for Hewlett-Packard since 1981. His early morning presentation opened our eyes to a marvel we've frankly been taking for granted.
The thermal inkjet of today, he said, delivers 32 drops of ink per pixel through hundreds of nozzles that are one-third the width of a human hair at a speed of 50 kpm and only about 1mm from the surface of the paper. Quite a technological feat.
Thermal inkjet printing, he argued, has some significant advantages over piezo technology. Piezo uses a mechanical compression to force ink through the nozzle of the ink channel. Besides having an issue with moving parts, this strategy also introduces air bubbles into the chamber that have to be regularly purged by flushing ink onto a waste ink pad hidden inside the printer.
All inkjets flush their heads now and then, but piezo inkjets have a significantly larger waste pad than thermal inkjets. More of a thermal inkjet's ink ends up on the page than a piezo's, he said.
That's because thermals use a solid state design to heat a gas. As the gas expands it forces a drop of ink through the nozzle. No moving parts and the solid state design is manufactured like any other integrated circuit. Only the ink moves.
These heaters on a chip are so small these days that half a million of them would fit on a postage stamp.
So much for the delivery mechanism. Dr. Allen continued with a dissection of the inks themselves.
They aren't, he observed, "just colored water." Although, he admitted, they are mostly water. Apart from the colorant itself -- which is either a dye or a pigment -- ink contains what's called the "ink vehicle." These are the chemicals that keep it liquid in the cartridge but make it dry on contact. Chemicals like surfectants, humectants, binders, etc.
Dyes and pigments are the colorants.
Dyes are dissolved molecules, brighter and more colorful than pigments (which is why you can't get that turquoise from your Epson 2200). Dyes are just too small to scatter light. But dyes can fade although their light- and water-fastness depends a great deal on media-dye interaction. The paper, in short, counts a lot in that equation.
Pigments, much larger than dyes, are not dissolved but dispersed particles. The ink vehicle has to coat a pigment, which can be tricky. Pigments have a hard time on glossy surfaces, where uniformity is difficult to achieve. They work best on satin paper finishes. But they are fade resistant. As the outer layer deteriorates, it is replaced by a fresher layer, much like an onion. Shelf life can be an issue because the particles are dispersed. Some manufacturers recommend shaking pigment cartridges.
Ink-media interaction is a complex topic, subject even to weather conditions. Among the other factors, HP measures and tests are the kinematic spread as the droplet hits the paper, the effect of wetting the paper with the drop, diffusion into the paper coating, cellulose hydration, solubility, vehicle separation, capillary flow and color-on-color interactions (color bleed).
A recent ink test program at HP used 22,000 liters of ink and 1,200 cartridges.
HP sells ink packaged in cartridges capable of holding more than one color. Printers use either a two or three cartridge design.
Two cartridge designs offer either a 4-ink all-purpose combination (K plus CMY) or a 6-ink photo combination (K, CMY and cm). K represents black, C)yan, M)agenta, Y)ellow, c a light cyan and m a light magenta.
Three cartridge systems like the new 7960 offer either a 7-ink versatile or 8-ink photo combination. The 7-ink combo resembles the 6-ink arrangement above with the addition of a pigmented black for text. The 8-ink combo uses CMY plus cm but adds a cartridge with three grays: a light, medium and dark black. The grays make it possible to print black and white images with "excellent shadow detail," he said, with clean neutrals and no color cast. The 8-ink combo can create 72.9 million color combinations (although the human eye can only see 12-16 million).
Media, Dr. Allen continued, is the second part of the equation. No paper, no print, after all.
It's characteristics are nearly as numerous as ink's. They include curl, surface finish, caliper, stiffness, flatness, dry time, cockle (or waviness), permeability (for duplex printing), opacity, brightness and color, dot gain, additives and treatment, gloss.
There are two main kinds of coating.
Encapsulating coatings swell when the ink hits it and then shrinks, encapsulating the ink as the ink vehicle evaporates. It suffers poor water and wet smudge resistance but has excellent fade resistance because it is protected from airborne chemical contaminants.
Porous coatings fill their open pores with dye. The dye isn't protected from the air so it suffers lower permanence but does dry instantly. But a porous coating can only hold so much dye before it begins to flood, so print settings are critical. They exhibit very high, uniform gloss.
Slice a sheet of photo paper and you'll find a number of different layers. They include the imaging layer, an undercoat, a resin coating, a photo base paper (the same as used in silver halide photo printing), another resin coating, a back coat and a stacking layer. The stacking layer in HP's Premium Plus is actually very small plastic beads to allow the paper to sit on top of a previously printed sheet without offsetting.
It takes HP about two years to develop a new paper, he pointed out.
So what kind of longevity can you expect?
There are a number of factors. Magenta is the most fugitive dye, he observed. Some pigments actually have dyes bonded to them to make them more colorful so these can fade, too. And finally some pigments are better than others.
For the best results match the paper to the ink. Independent tests reported in June by Wilhelm Imaging Research (http://www.wilhelm-research.com) claim HP 7960 prints will last 73 years. The report also claimed 27 years for Canon i950 prints, 22 years for Epson dye prints and 56 years for Epson 2200 pigment prints.
UV filters (like glass) and dark storage also increased a print's lifespan.
Dr. Allen then described how this science has evolved into HP's recent printer lines, of which there are three. The Deskjet line for general purpose printing (starting at $39, which is less than replacement cartridges), the Photosmart printers ($99-$299) and the All-in-One printer/fax/copier/scanners ($99-$399).
He was most excited by the new Photosmart 7960 8-ink photo printer ($299) with its LCD and built-in card reader that can handle 10 formats and 16 ppm color speed. But it sports a few other notable features including video action prints (frames from digital video) and a Print New Photos option that can print what hasn't already been printed on your card. Additionally, an index of thumbnails can be printed for any card, which you can then use to indicate which images to print and in what format. The marked proof sheet is then fed back into the printer, scanned and your wish is its command.
An 8x10 costs $2.50 and a set of cartridges can print up to 50 of them.
MASTERS OF MODERN MEDIA
We thought we'd balance the morning's science with a little art, so we dropped in on a panel discussion featuring Bert Monroy (http://www.bertmonroy.com), co-author of "The Official Adobe Photoshop Handbook"; Cher Threinen-Pendarvis (http://www.pendarvis-studios.com), author of "The Painter 8 Wow! Book"; and Sharon Steuer (http://www.ssteuer.com), author of "Creative Thinking in Photoshop."
All of these artists are also authors, as we noted. But they are all also pioneers of working in digital media -- including, it turns out, digital photography.
Threinen-Pendarvis uses her digicam to photograph compositions and elements of a composition which she then copies to a layer of her Painter or Photoshop work in progress. She uses it as a reference or a sketch, drawing and painting over it.
Steuer told how she had been stuck for 10 years on one image until she took a digital snap, brought it into Photoshop and played with it harmlessly until she found something she liked. Then she printed it out and took the printout to the studio to finish the work.
We'll have images and more reports from Seybold by the end of the week. So stay tuned!