From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, 'Dawson McKnight' <dawsonmcknight123 -at- yahoo -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 21 Aug 2003 10:03:40 -0400

Dawson McKnight reports: <<My team has written a document that an outside
design firm is laying out for us and sending out for offset printing. The
problem is this: Now that the firm has laid out the document, the
screenshots are almost illegible. On screen and in print, the screenshots
are pixilated and "fuzzy"-looking to the point of being worthless.>>

In both cases, the problem probably stems from the same source: a mismatch
between the original and final resolutions. Let's say you have a screencap
at 100 dpi (to make the math simple) and shrink it to 50% of its original
size. Piece of cake, right? Simply calculate one dot that takes the place of
every two dots in the original by averaging their values. (That's because
50% is half the original, so you need half the number of dots.) Now say you
want 66%: The software has to figure out how to break up 100 dots into 66,
and the number doesn't go neatly. Some of those dots get lost, and the
result is fuzz.

<<The design firm requested that we send all of our screenshots to them as
TIFs>>

They should be able to receive any graphics format, then convert it to a
format they can use. That's what you're paying them for!

<<The resolution of the screenshots is 92 DPI. The firm had to reduce the
size of the screenshots to about 60% of their original size to fit them into
the document.>>

Let's pick up on my previous math: 60% of 92 dpi is 55.2 dpi. You can't
print fractional dots, and this resolution doesn't map neatly to any of the
common screen frequencies used in offset printing (75, 120, 150, etc.).
There's the source of the problem right there. Ask them to pick a %
reduction that divides evenly into one of these screen frequencies and
you'll get much better quality.

In any event, if they know what they're doing at all, they should be able to
resize the bitmaps in PhotoShop (using resampling) to produce whatever
approach is that they'll see instantly whether there's a problem: if it's
fuzzy on the screen, there's a problem.

<<They are laying out the document in Quark.>>

Although you can resize and tweak graphics in all modern DTP programs and
many word processors, the prevailing wisdom in the prepress community is
that you should do this work outside the DTP software, then import the
"final size, final resolution" graphic. In addition to greatly reducing
rasterizing time (thus job costs), the tools provided by dedicated image
editing software and the algorithms used by these tools are generally an
order of magnitude better than those in the DTP software.

<<The firm says that they cannot improve the appearance of the graphics
because of the limitations of screenshots in general>>

They just don't know how to do it, that's all. Most design firms that don't
specialize in computer docs are populated by _graphic_ designers who have no
experience with the unique problems of computer documentation. The results
are predictable: they don't know what problems to expect or what to do about
them.

--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
(try ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca if you get no response)
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean

"I have always wished that my computer would be as easy to use as my
telephone. My wish has come true. I no longer know how to use my
telephone."--Bjarne Stroustrup (originator of C++ programming language)

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