27 January 2011

High resolution

Comic letterer Jim Campbell has been doing workshops on how to letter comics on his blog. A recent post contained this nice summary about image resolution.

All printed material that has any kind of variation in colour or tone is made up of dots of ink on paper. The fineness of those dots in printing terms is defined by the screen frequency, which is measured in lines per inch or lpi.

There is a very complicated formula to enable conversion from dpi to lpi in order to work out optimum resolution, but I worked in newspaper and magazine production for ten years, and the rule of thumb which always worked in my experience is that, for an image that is 100% of printed size, optimum dpi = 2x printed lpi.

Old style B&W newsprint was anything from 45-75 lpi.

Most magazines are 100-120 lpi.

Really glossy brochures, art books and some high-end magazines might be as high as 150-175 lpi.

I would be astonished if there is any comic on the market printing at higher than 150 lpi on internal pages, and 175 lpi on the front cover, so anything higher 350 dpi (call it 400 if you think the artwork might be need to be scaled up at some point) at actual size is nothing more than a waste of hard drive space and CPU clock cycles.

In almost all instances, 300 dpi will be more than sufficient.

It’s nice to have vindication from a pro. Jim’s advice is in agreement with advice I offered before. His advice does imply that you can drop down to 200-250 pixels per inch and it will still look magazine quality.

But the “per inch” is important! Remember, when you’re working with the big canvas of a poster, a picture that’s 600 pixels wide will look great when it’s printed two inches across, but a disaster when it’s printed at twenty inches across. Remember to work out the final printed size will be!

On a related note on resolution, consider this comparison: A computer screen has a resolution of 96 pixels per inch. A printed page might have a resolution on the order of 2,500 pixels per inch. As a result, you can’t figure out how small text will look on the page just by making it small on a computer screen. So you should be prepared to print off at least a piece of your poster at full size and stick it up on a wall several feet from you to see how it will look.

Related post

Never let them see your pixels

20 January 2011

Poster Genius: Update

Poster Genius, which I reviewed here, now has a Mac version. As I’m not a Mac user, email me if you’d like to write a guest post reviewing it.

The SciGen Technologies folks are looking for volunteers to beta test a Linux version. A new PC version of Poster Genius is also in the works.

14 January 2011

Spaces are like yo-yo strings...

You only need one at a time.

Bravo to Farhad Manjoo at Slate for his analysis of double spacing after periods.

“Who says two spaces is wrong?” they wanted to know.

Typographers, that’s who. The people who study and design the typewritten word decided long ago that we should use one space, not two, between sentences.

He goes on to track how this strange convention emerged with the appearance of the manual typewriter, and how this dysfunctional behaviour has persisted for the same reasons so many others have persisted: people repeating bad habits they grew up with.

I thank goodness that the people working on HTML knew this, and made pages render so that multiple spaces are condensed into one.

Hat tip to Björn Brembs. Photo by by ollily on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

13 January 2011

Critique: First steps in Second Life

This poster comes via Pat Lockley on Twitter, who was kind enough to share this award winning poster and agreed that I could critique it. Most contests usually evaluate both the content and the graphic design, but I’ll just be focusing on the design. Click the picture to enlarge it.

Where this poster wins in a big way for me is that it has a fantastic entry point. The avatar on the left side is very effective, and follows the Cosmo principle. At a glance from a distance, I know what this poster is about: it’s about pregnancy.

The high proportion of pictures making up the poster is also helpful is making the poster visually appealing. The colours are harmonious, although there are perhaps a few more than there need to be.

The poster’s biggest problem is one that the poster makers acknowledge themselves. The flow from the big avatar to “Arrival and documentation” to “Options and facilities” is quite natural, but then I get confused about where I am supposed to look next. The authors put arrows in the background to try to guide people through the reading order of the poster.

When you find yourself guiding people with those kinds of devices, you’ve failed. You’ve stepped too far away from the rules that people use when reading every day.

I’m also a little bothered that the arrows from from blue box to blue box, leaving me again unsure about the order I’m supposed to read the text. Alternating between the graphics? The text actually flows well, because it follows a simple “top to bottom” sequence. There’s never any point where I’m confused about what bit of text comes next.

Still, even with some of the concerns I have with this poster, there is something quite likable about it. I think part of it is that so many academic posters that I see are so very data heavy that it’s a nice change to see one with so many people on it. Generous pictures and attractive colours go a long way in buying forgiveness for minor faults.

12 January 2011

“Information has never been so fun to look at”

The Scientific American Guest Blog has a post today about information design. Several examples are drawn from Edward Tufte’s books (which you have all read, I hope), but advocacy for increased graphic literacy is always worth a look.

11 January 2011

The coolest seminar announcements ever

While this blog is about conference posters, I cannot resist these wonderful seminar announcements. I’ve never seen so much effort put into advertising a research talk.

Picture by gigpsforscis on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

08 January 2011

Clearing house

There's a whole series of little links I’ve been meaning to point to, but none have quite been enough to inspire full length blog posts. So: compilation post!

Keeping track of typefaces is a chore, particularly if you have multiple computers. Wordmark previews all the fonts on your computer in a reasonably compact, “at a glance” format. Great if you’re looking for a the right look for one or two words.

A nice profile of the man who designed the Verdana and Georgia typefaces installed on so many computers, Matthew Carter. It also links to a nice feature on the design of a typeface for phone books (remember those?). I like it because it discusses the problems of making something legible when you have ink spreading over cheap paper.

Thinking With Type is a companion website to the second edition of Ellen Lupton’s book of the same name, and it’s been overhauled recently.

Here are two technical reports: one on City Statistics and another on Italian public transport. They look beautiful at first. A lot of effort has gone into them. But as look at them, ask, “What is the take home message?” The charts are so non-standard that they are almost impenetrable.

Speaking of examples of what not to do, there is probably good data hidden in this chart on health care costs in different countries. But it stands as a warning that glyphs and icons are best used in small numbers. (Hat tip to Junk Charts.)

One bad chart might be regarded as a misfortune. Multiple pages of text like this goes beyond even carelessness. When everything is emphasized, nothing is. (Hat tip to Chris Atherton.)

Finally, a roundup of links on the typeface everyone has an opinion about. Some think you should avoid it (except for a few special circumstances). Some say it’s criminal. But regardless, it’s always good to keep in mind that there are alternatives not only to the Font-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, but to many other common fonts.

02 January 2011

Your New Year’s resolution

If you don’t know how to use a graphic software package more complex than PowerPoint, make this the year to learn it.

It’s not just about posters any more.

As Andrew Sun points out in this very good post, more and more journals are asking for graphic abstracts. I wrote a little bit about these in my other blog. I like his assessment of the problem:

Some (graphic abstracts) seem like drawn with the Paint program of Windows with freehand (on the mouse); the lines are zigzag, and the colors are limited with a 16-color palette. Some use Comic Sans for texts(.) Some mesh up clip arts from different sources into one graphic which loses consistency in style. Some contain enlarged low resolution clip arts which are severely pixelated.

I disagree with this, though:

All of these are forgivable – after all scientists are not trained as professional computer art designers.

No. Not forgivable. Nobody would ever excuse biologists for not running statistical tests for their experiment because “they’re not professional mathematicians.” Nobody would excuse sociologists for giving rambling, incoherent presentations because “they’re not professional actors.” Nobody would excuse geologists for rampant apostrophe ignorance in manuscripts and papers because “they're not professional writers.”

We acknowledge, accept, and expect that being a professional academic requires a wide range of skills beyond just knowledge of a particular set of content. It is time to make graphic literacy part of that expected skill set.

The ability to create excellent graphics is easier than it has ever been. Yes, it takes practice and thought and is helped by studying materials outside your subject area. But people who can’t make decent graphics are increasingly going to be at a disadvantage to those who can. Don’t be like the unemployed managers who write their resumes on a typewriter.

Andrew goes on to evaluate several graphics programs, and comes out suggesting Inkscape, a free open source vector based software package (currently version 0.48 - quite a way from a full release). I will try review it later.

Additional: Grant Jacobs takes up this discussion at Code for Life.