In Publishing, The Devil Is In The Details

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Earlier this month was a very happy moment for me. At last, I had sent my book, "Zane Grey's Forgotten Ranch: Tales from the Boles Homestead," to the printer.

I knew there was a possibility for bumps in the road yet -- after all, it ain't done till it's done. But mainly I thought they would be related to the PDF of the book I sent them, because PDFs can be created a variety of ways. I also knew that getting a good proof was important. After all, this is the first time that I've been through this process and I don't have as good of a feel for how light or dark my images should be. But I wasn't prepared for the e-mail I received from them. "We have 252 halftones at a low resolution; the resolution ranges from 75-201 dots per inch. We recommend a minimum 225 dots per inch."

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Don't look for this book by Tim Ehrhardt just yet. He just sent his finished product to his publisher, so it will be a bit before it is available for purchase. In the meantime, Ehrhardt shares some tips for getting the best copies of your old photos, in the event you plan a publishing project of your own.

Nuts.

This becomes a lesson in scanning pictures.

I know that a lot of people out there are scanning old family photos. But as my experience here shows, you need to educate yourself about it before you spend a couple days doing that.

First, let's define DPI. That stands for dots per inch. According to Wikipedia, it's "a measure of printing resolution; in particular, the number of individual dots of ink a printer or toner can produce within a linear one-inch (2.54 cm) space.

In layman's terms, low dpi means blurry photos, high dpi means crisper photos, but, high dpi on a photo shrunk down can also darken it up too much. I've been cautioned about that by Jayne Peace Pyle of Git A Rope Publishing, numerous times.

When you send a book to be printed, you want your photos to be in the neighborhood of 300 dpi. This is an area where copies can fool you. I had printed out my book numerous times at a local copy place. About the only thing I was able to pick up, with Jayne's help, was that I needed to lighten my photos. The look of them was deceiving. But remember, when you print a book everything changes. It's probably going to be run on a press and the paper will be different. This is why fundamentals are important.

So how should you go about scanning your pictures? I recommend a two-step approach. First, scan at a very high resolution and create a master file.

The Arizona State Library, Archives and Records recommends scanning at a length of 4,000 pixels on the long side or 600 dpi for photos and/or documents. You should save this master file as an uncompressed tiff. Since the file will be a bit bigger, you'll probably want to create a smaller file for more regular usage. The Arizona State Library, Archives and Records refers to this as an "Access" file in their document on digitization. Photos and documents should be saved at 300 dpi with unaltered image size. The file format that they recommend is JPEG, saved on the high end of the quality scale.

The way that I'm rescanning photos for my book is slightly different. I'm not doing the two-step approach since I know exactly what I need. Instead, I'm scanning at 300 dpi, with the output size of the photo being approximately the size that I'm using in my book. The output size is important. If I were to scan a 2-inch-by-4-inch photo at 300 dpi, then make it 4-inch-by-8-inch in my book, I'd have resolution issues, as I understand it.

Keep in mind that digital files are not permanent. This point is strongly made in the Arizona State Library, Archives and Records document about digitization. Specifically they say, "at present they are among the most unstable, fragile storage media available. Digital files should always be considered transient and will require ongoing care to protect them from obsolescence and corruption." They go on to say later in the document, "technology is quickly evolving. What we regard as a ‘high resolution' 1200 dpi file today may be considered unsatisfactory in a few years. Imaging software will improve, as will storage capabilities and retrieval and presentation options. Given this state of constant flux, the best method to follow is to balance the resources available and use these to determine today's guidelines."

Never throw away original photos, and do your best to preserve them.

Also, be wary of CD quality. Many of the run-of-the-mill CDs that you get at the store will only last a year or two. There are some high quality CDs and DVDs available archival stores. The company that I've ordered successfully from in the past is Light Impressions Direct.

As I mentioned, there's a terrific document online about digitization. You can find this excellent reference work at http://azmemory.lib.az.us/cdm4/policies/DigitalProjectGuidelinesv3.5.pdf.

Digitization is ongoing in the state of Arizona. The state project for digitization is the Arizona Memory Project, which involves a variety of institutions. It can be found online at http://azmemory.lib.az.us.

Amongst the collections that can be found there are the Gila County Maps that have been digitized by Gila County Recorder Linda Haught Ortega. This was mentioned in a Roundup article in 2007.

This collection, in particular, is pretty neat and I encourage you to check it out. There are also a variety of other collections from around the state on this site.

We've just passed Statehood Day once again and are now less than four years away from our state centennial.

Do you know what the plans are for it? Check out www.AzCentennial.Gov for more information, and to get involved.

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