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General Digital Information

Information sheets on design, illustration, digital imaging, photography and other related topics. Compiled and written for my clients, students, and my own work. Provided here for your convenience. If you take information form these sheets to use elsewhere, please provide the appropriate credits along with the information.

For more information on these and others, please contact

Digital Imaging in general is a relatively recent and fast growing field. New equipment and software becomes available almost daily. Because of rapid advances in technology the procedures and prices are also in flux. The amount of information out there makes it virtually impossible for any one individual to be "an expert" in every area. What is more common are individuals with current expertise in specific areas and a more general knowledge of the "surrounding areas."

Beyond experience in design (traditional and computer) and fine art, I've spent many years* in computer-based design, commercial retouching and photocomposition; heavily weighted toward RGB output devices (high resolution film recorders and screen display.) The requirements of resolution, dynamic range and color spaces are very different than those typically used in prepress/CMYK output. Most technical manuals and books on digital photo techniques focus on the prepress end. I will be adding articles and examples here covering the "other side" of digital photo work and its unique problems, as well as links to related references.

*For specifics, see Portfolio or Resumé.

Another point for discussion is the relative merits of doing the work digitally or by traditional photographic and/or hand methods. Based on the examples I have personally seen over the years I have a definite opinion - which is just that, an opinion, and subject to change when new data comes my way. Some aspects of the two are similar or parallel, and some aspects are very different. Both have their place and that which you choose depends on personal preference under the circumstances. Some of those considerations are discussed below.

In general, the traditional method requires a copy negative of the print, a large print from that negative (unless the airbrush artist is working directly on the negative - a tedious and tricky procedure!) for the artist to work on, patient hand work, a new negative of the finished work, and a final print.

The digital method requires the photo to be created in or converted into an electronic form (referred to as scanning or digitizing) before any work can be done. The image is then worked on in the computer, by hand (stylus or mouse), with various electronic extensions of the same "tools" used in the photo lab. The finished electronic image is sent to a device that either prints it or exposes the image onto actual photographic film (a film recorder), processed exactly like any other piece of film and a final photographic print is made.

The obvious difference, all things being as equal as possible, is that in the digital method only one "generation" or copy of the image is used to produce the final negative. As anyone who has ever used an office copier knows, the more times you copy an image the more it changes ... usually not for the better. Photography is no different. Whether the images in question will be noticeably affected my this generational loss depends on several things. To be brief, the factors are:

1) The condition of the original
2) The amount of money budget for the work
3) The technical sophistication of the camera lens or scanner lens, sensor, and software.
4) The calibration and condition of the equipment
5) The quality of the materials used
(photographic supplies, airbrush dyes, paper, etc)
6) The expertise of the camera/scanner operator, and the environment
(humidity, dust, temperature, etc.)
7) The experience and vision of the retouch artist

and most important

8) The expectations of the recipient

If both methods are working optimally at the same level of quality, precise reproduction of details is important and price is no object - digital wins, hands down. If price is the only limiting factor, traditional has usually been cheaper. They don't have the expense of several $100,000 worth of electronic equipment to support.

If the details from the original are the most important part - again digital wins. As high quality, inexpensive camera to digital printer systems become increasing more affordable, the price of a "photographic" print becomes less expensive... theme parks are using these systems all over the country.

If both systems are not comparable in ALL of the above categories, you are on your own with a best guess. But it isn't a guess to predict the the best traditional lab will beat out a mediocre digital lab, or vice versa. Check out the reputation and work of any one you are considering. All working relationships are just that - relationships. They need honesty, trust and open communication to survive the inevitable difficulties.

EVERY job is unique. This craft is more ART than SCIENCE. Experienced, talented people can get much more from mediocre or bad equipment than inexperienced or inflexible ones can from the best equipment.

Sandra Ragan © 1999
updated 2007

* hardware and software

The images and data on this site are the property of sandra ragan/plum grafik, clients thereof, and others as noted. Please respect their hard work and creativity by following the "Golden Rule,"
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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