The end of an era

It was widespread news last night that Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple, Inc. resigned after being on medical leave since January of this year. This comes after several other medical leaves, which included a bout with pancreatic cancer in 2004 and a liver transplant two years ago.

He had always said that his medical condition was personal. Certainly Wall Street did not like this, but I can understand his position. I’m saddened, however, that his ongoing poor health likely is what has caused him to step down. In his letter to Apple’s Board of Directors (and Apple community), Steve said:

“I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”

So, what exactly is causing him to not meet his duties and expectations? You’ve got to wonder that his health has deteriorated to a point where he is exhausted. With his positions that remain at Pixar and Disney, even the healthiest person would be spread thin. We’ve seen him lose massive amounts of weight over the years, becoming a frail man who could barely keep his jeans pulled up.

My Wife and I in December 2002, just prior to being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes

Having personally endured the onset of Type 1 diabetes, I can understand just how weak you can become. Over a six month period, I lost almost 100lbs before being admitted to the ICU, where as a six foot man, I weighed only 118lbs. Luckily, there were medications and devices available to treat my condition. Unfortunately for Steve, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

I hope that I am completely wrong. That we will see Steve continue his role as the public voice for Apple (seeing as how he remains as Chairman of the Board and Apple employee). My fear, however, is that Steve’s days are limited.

He is a truly revolutionary genius. I thank you Steve for what you have given. Not only to the Apple community, but to the entire world. Your extraordinary vision and leadership has proven to be a quality that many will fail to exceed.

This has been today’s Clarified Butter.

Mask like a BOSS

Image mask, applied to digital images to “cut-out” the background or other unwanted features, created by using clipping paths.

Thanks Wikipedia!

Now, why do we need to mask? Quite simply to make subjects appear cleaner or to use them on backgrounds for which they were not intended. I mask a lot of product photos. Often the background of these photos is not the best. Poor lighting, odd placement and other quirks lead to an useable photo. Luckily, we can mask all of that unwanted ugliness, and be left with an image perfect for an online store.

When I first started my career in graphic arts, I was trained in the techniques of paste up. That is, physically cutting and altering artwork to fit your needs. I guess it was needed for all of that old hardcopy artwork that was lying around that never made its way to the computer. Beyond becoming proficient with an X-Acto knife (to the point where I prefer it over scissors), I saw little to no benefit from it.

I guess it could be said that the training did benefit me in the skills of digital image masking. It’s not quite different… you just happen to be using a mouse instead of a knife and glue.

So how do I mask? I’m not sure how others do it, but I have a preferred method that produces remarkable results. With a mix of Photoshop and Illustrator, you can create masked images that dazzle your clients.

For the purposes of this tutorial, our desired result is a transparent background. This is beneficial in both online and print materials. If a client sends me artwork in high resolution, I will keep the image’s original size, and mask to transparent backgrounds. This saves me from having to re-mask if the client wants to use that image in future print materials.

Step 1: Get your image ready.
After receiving the image from the client, open it in Photoshop to verify resolution. If the image is high res, but set to 72dpi, set the resolution at 300dpi at the same pixel dimensions. Select the entire canvas and cut, then paste. This will create a new layer with your image. Delete the Background layer. Save your image as a Photoshop file with layers.

Step 2: Fire up Illustrator
Create a new Illustrator document that is larger than your image. Place your image onto the page. Set your zoom level to 300%, choose your path tool, and set the border and background colors to none.

Step 3: Create your clipping path
Using the path tool, outline the part of the image you want to keep. Make sure to stay very close to the edges of the piece you are masking, removing any shadows that might be present from bad lighting. After you have outlined all parts of the image you want to keep, set the fill the white with no stroke. Also create a small white box, with no stroke and align it at the top left corner. Select your paths and the small white box and copy that to the clipboard. Note: I have increased the transparency of the image to better show the clipping mask.

Step 4: Get back into Photoshop
Open the same Photoshop file (the one you placed into Illustrator) in Photoshop. Paste your clipping paths from Illustrator, creating a new layer. They will be pasted centered in the canvas area. Using the white box in the top left corner, move the layer so that the white outlines snap to that top left corner, perfectly covering what you want to keep.

Step 5: Select Inverse
Select and delete the white box in the top left corner, it has served its purpose. Select the entire canvas and hit your up then down arrow on the keyboard. This will make a selection of just the white areas. Choose Select > Inverse. Go to your Layers palette and choose the original image layer and hit the delete key. Choose the clipping path layer, and delete that layer. What you are left with is a perfectly masked image with a transparent background.

Now you can do whatever you want with that image. You can place it on a different background, collage it with other products, or apply image effects such as drop shadow. There is no limit to the possibilities.

So there you have it, what I consider the easiest, cleanest, fastest way to mask a product image.

This has been today’s Clarified Butter.

Color Correct Printing

On two recent occasions I’ve had clients contact me with concerns they’ve had with the printing of artwork we’ve designed. In both cases, it’s been offset business card printing. The first client had been using a printer for years, successfully getting a brushed steel background to appear as a, well, brushed steel background, without the use of metallic ink. However, on a recent run, the background appeared more like a muddy green color. Certainly not what was expected, and nothing close to desirable.

After contacting the printshop, it was determined that they had changed their press since the last run. I had asked about color matching, and their response was pulled from their Terms & Conditions:

Color Proofing
Because of differences in equipment, paper, inks, and other conditions between color proofing and production pressroom operations, a “pleasing color” variation between color proofs and the completed job [as determined by generally accepted trade technical methods] is to be expected. When such a variation occurs, it will be considered acceptable performance.

The problem here is the phrase “pleasing color” that is considered “acceptable performance.” That is certainly up to interpretation. The good news, however, is that they have a 100% satisfaction guarantee. The client received all of their money back, including shipping, and took their job elsewhere.

With the other client, they had a background that appeared more purple on the newer cards, and color-accurate blue on the previous cards. Again, after contacting the printshop, they admitted that they too had changed their press.

This seems to be a widespread problem with these “online” printshop… offering incredible prices on business cards and other stationary items, with sometimes horrific results. Of course, true color accuracy could be achieved, but not by any of these more affordable printshops. Your best bet is to find a local printshop that will guarantee color correct printing. It’s going to cost you, but if having color accurate results is important to you, then it’s certain worth it.

This has been today’s Clarified Butter.

Don’t nickel-and-dime your clients

I’m not sure how else to say that. You’d think that the title of this post sums it all up, so I will do my best here at making a post of it.

We’re already super-fast when it comes to developing new ideas, or making changes, whether it be for web or print work. So, to say that our clients are really getting their money’s worth is an understatement. Regardless of whether clients are established, satisfied customers, or have just discovered us, we don’t start the clock rolling unless it’s substantial work. Certainly substantial can be open to interpretation, but as a general rule, if it’s going to take us less than 5 minutes to open your project and make a change, we don’t add that to your bill. To be honest, it’s probably easier for us not to add it to your bill for the sake of saving the time to actually add it to your bill.

We have clients that will send personal projects (or projects for their clients), such as photo touch ups, and ask that they personally be billed. As long as this is not substantial work (there is that word again), we won’t charge them.

So why do this? Well, it’s no skin off our teeth to make our clients happy, even if that comes at our expense. We want our clients (and potential clients) to be satisfied. Not only with our speed and prices, but also about our work ethic. We want to be there for our clients, so that they may know they can contact us for any needs they feel we specialize in. A lot of times, we get questions from clients wondering about a specific piece of software, or a service available online. We’re happy to provide advice. Advice that doesn’t cost you any extra.

I like to say, that if we are not designing, editing, or coding, the clock is not running. We never charge for discussions via email, or the occasional phone call. We never charge for back-end server changes (as long as they are using our preferred host).

ProGravix does not nickel-and-dime. I hate when it’s done to me, so I don’t do it to my customers.

This has been today’s Clarified Butter.