Friday, October 16, 2015

Top Pick Pics from NASA! - From the Desk of Thomas Dunlap

This post comes directly from the desk of Thomas Dunlap, the IT and Digital File Expert at Competition Printing:

Several years ago, we got into basic wide format printing. Our first wide format printer was a 6 color 60" HP DesignJet. I needed some sample prints to see the color capability and UV compatibility of our new printer. Naturally, I started with our Company Logo, which has several gradients, but only a little color. I realized I needed something more exciting.

I began to search for very high resolution images I could print, and also be worthy of putting on display. During my search, filtering through images of trees, bugs, and cities, I stumbled across a link to the Hubble Space Telescope archive of images.

I remember seeing images of nebulas and galaxies earlier in life, but never anything more than a pixelated snapshot of what looked like organized static. Everything else was an artist's rendering, or fake image that some artist created of what something might look like, if we could see it clearly. With this in mind, I figured it would be a bunch of pixelated images of space, so I thought I would at least take a look out of pure curiosity.

What I discovered was AMAZING:

NGC 3372 "The Carina Nebula"
The Carina Nebula: Star Birth in the Extreme

It turns out, the Hubble Telescope has some extremely high resolution capabilities! Early on, I selected some of my favorites at the time, and had them printed as samples. The prints were promptly pinned on my office wall, and I have received numerous compliments as people walked past my office, stopping to question if the pics were real.

While my collection at my office and home continues to grow, here are a few of my favorites, which are the ones currently hanging in my office (and they are, in fact, real images of space):

NGC 6543 "Cat's Eye Nebula"
The Cat's Eye Nebula: Dying Star Creates Fantasy-like Sculpture of Gas and Dust
A dying star surrounded by gas and dust.

V838 Monocerotis
A stellar explosion echoes off dust surrounding V838

NGC 6302 "Butterfly Nebula"
Gas at more than 36,000 degrees fahrenheit expands across space
at more than 600,000 miles an hour.

NGC 5189 "Holiday Ornament"
The intricate structure of this bright gaseous nebula resembles a glass-blown
holiday ornament with a glowing ribbon entwined

All of the above are nebulae, which are essentially heated gas and dust floating in space. While they are attributed as some of the most exotic images. The images that will really make you think about the insignificance of our existance are the images of galaxies and galaxy clusters:

UGC 1810 and UGC 1813 "The Rose"
Two interacting galaxies, causing distortion to both, creating
the rose shape.

Abell 2744 "Galaxy Cluster"
A "small" cluster of galaxies known as Abell 2744. Some of these
objects are 13 billion light-years away!

All these images, and hundreds more are available from NASA at the HubbleSite Gallery:

Since the images are taken by NASA, a government owned organization, they are in the public domain. That means you can use them for just about anything you wish. You could even have us print them for you to hang in your office too!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Top 5 Common Mistakes when Designing for Print

For anyone that has been designing for print for any period of time, certain design elements can become second nature. That, of course, is not necessarily the case for an amateur designer, or even web designer that tries their hand at design for print. Here, we go over the top 5 common mistakes that we see in some so-called "print-ready" artwork:

#5 - RGB vs CMYK vs Spot Color

While most modern print RIPs can provide adequate color compensation when handling RGB files for a CMYK output process, the subtle difference in color can, on occasion, cause a headache when color accuracy is key. The bigger problem is when CMYK or RGB is used for spot color handling.

Spot colors are used to define a very specific mixture of ink, like PMS 185, or Reflex Blue. While those colors do have a CMYK equivalent, they must be assigned as spot colors when printing the specified ink. It's sort of like taking a logo that is only black, making a plate, and replacing the black ink on the press with a specific ink, like Reflex Blue.

#4 - Incorrect Size

Yes, this one actually happens quite a bit, especially on amateur designs. 90% of the time this happens, the culprit is the program used to design the piece. There are dozens of "cost effective" or free programs that can be used to design artwork. Many of them output JPEG images of the designs, which tend to be both low resolution and an incorrect size.

Another program that is very common (and very wrong to use for print design) is Microsoft PowerPoint. While PowerPoint's ease-of-use can be tempting to design a simple layout with, it nearly always puts both the designer and printer in a state of frustration. The reason is that the default size of a PowerPoint document is 7"x10", which is not properly scalable to a standard 8.5"x11" sheet.

When MS Office programs are all you have at your disposal, the prefered program under the Office umbrella is Microsoft Publisher. While not a substitute for a professional design program, Publisher provides proper tools for page size, as well as resolution settings and the ability to export your art as a PDF file.

#3 - Insufficient Margins

This one can be seen daily, even in professionally designed pieces. A margin area (not the butter-like substance known as margarine) is a designated empty space from the finished edge to the content of the artwork. It's basically the space that is measured from the edge of the sheet to any type or images that should not be cut off. Without the extra space, the artwork can appear too close to the edge of the sheet, and give the illusion of being cut off or cut wrong, and even risks getting accidentally cut off entirely! The margin area on a typical piece is between one eighth inch (0.125") and one quarter inch (0.25").

#2 - Low Resolution Images

Another common mistake that both amateur and web designers make when entering the world of design for print. Web designers are accustomed to working with images at low resolutions, usually because websites use a resolution of 72 PPI (pixels per inch). Many amateur designers also download images from websites to incorporate into their designs, which are often still at 72 PPI.

While a 72 PPI image may look good on a computer screen, it is far from being a print ready image. In order to get a reasonable quality print, images and other design elements must be at least 300 PPI to not appear pixelated. The highest quality of printing processes can print at resolutions exceeding 1200 PPI! Don't worry, there are several places you can obtain high resolution images. Aside from taking a photo with your own camera, stock photo websites have huge stocks of images and designs available, and typically have several resolutions and sizes for each image.

#1 - Lack of Bleeds

Lack of bleeds, or too little bleed are the number one reasons for returning artwork to the customer for revision. Bleeds are an extra bit of art that goes outside the final cut area of a sheet. Anything that comes close to, or right to the edge of the sheet should bleed, or go beyond the edge of the sheet. A bleed is usually between one eighth inch (0.125") and one quarter inch (0.25"), depending on the final size of the piece.

Most of the time, it's an easy fix, seeing as all professional design programs have bleed settings built into the program, and it's just a matter of turning them on or adjusting the artwork. Occasionally, the art needs to be resized, and background elements need to be stretched to allow for proper bleeds. Sometimes, the margins are big enough that the artwork can be stretched, or blown up by 2% to create a pseudo-bleed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

File Compression - Part 1

Cloud storage and social media has become so robust, they have nearly eliminated the need for file compression for the common consumer. With most mainstream services being accessed from mobile platforms with little or no compression support, and even more bandwidth than ever file compression seems to be going the way of the pager.

There is, however, still a need for file compression on a commercial level. Large files are often compressed via file sharing services before the user can download them. However, when file sharing services are not available, or you need to send several files together, then the user must return to using a file compression program. Fortunately, the consumer programs are still being developed, and are fully supported by modern operating systems.

For most users, we recommend the open source project 7Zip, which is available for free for Windows, and there are even "unofficial" ports to Linux and Mac. 7Zip is very powerful yet lightweight, and fairly easy to use. You can select a group of files or folders, right click, and add to a ZIP archive. Adding files is as easy as adding files to any folder in windows. Simply click and drag files to add them to the archive.

A slightly more user friendly program for Windows is WinRAR. Similar in most respects to 7Zip, but it's free only for a trial period of 40 days, which is enforced only through an honor system; it does not stop working after 40 days, and there is nothing preventing you from continuing to use it for free. There are also Linux and Mac versions, but they're command line only, which can be quite irritating for the inexperienced user.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Beginning of Something Good

Half way through the summer heat and almost three quarters of the way through the year, we are still pressing for some major changes here at Competition Printing. As part of our plan to update and streamline our job flow, we are also continuing to update our web presence, so now I present our web blog!

It is here that we plan on posting news, as well as some of our favorite articles, helpful tips for printing, graphic design pointers, and digital file handling advice. As always, feel free to leave us your comments, or reach us on our website:

Thanks, and enjoy!

"A dream is your creative vision for your life in the future. You must break out of your current comfort zone and become comfortable with the unfamiliar and the unknown." - Denis Waitley