I can’t remember the exact date, but it was probably around 1990. The company I worked for operated their own screen print shop. That’s how we produced solid color, large text and logo graphics. Photographic panels were subcontracted to a traditional photo lab, with a darkroom, chemicals, enlargers and other ancient and long forgotten, mothballed equipment.
For anyone under the age of 40 who is unfamiliar with some of the terms used in the last paragraph, call me and I’ll explain them. Otherwise, let’s move on because, as former Bears’ coach Mike Ditka says, “The past is for cowards and losers.”
I was meeting with a client to pick up artwork for a new job. Instead of the usual black and white, high contrast stat with overlays for additional Pantone colors, he handed me a 3.5” square piece of plastic with a metal edge on one side.
I swallowed hard and I’m pretty sure what followed was an audible “gulp”. “You can use this right?”, he said. “It’s in Quark Express. You’ll figure it out.”
Not right away, but yes, eventually I did figure it out. The use of digital files over traditional artwork like slides, negatives, transparencies and logo stats, to produce large format imagery was taking off, and there was no turning back.
There have been many more quantum leap changes in the production of large format graphics in the past 20 years, most notably the ability to stream mega-sized files without the need for expensive and bulky storage devices. Along with these changes, there are some basic terms and definitions that non-designers and file preparation specialists, should become familiar with. Below are a handful of terms that pop up over and over. Our Senior Design Director, Nate Becker, compiled a list of the most useful and current large format terms.
Useful Large Format Terms
Bitmap Images - Bitmap images are made up of pixels in a grid. Pixels are picture elements-tiny dots of individual color that make up what you see. Resolution refers to the number of pixels in an image and is usually stated as dpi (dots per inch) or ppi (pixels per inch). Because bitmaps are resolution dependent, it can be a challenge to increase their size without sacrificing a degree of image quality.
Vector Images - Vector images are scalable “images” that are resolution independent. You can increase and decrease the size of vector images to any degree and the lines will remain crisp and sharp, both on screen and in print. Fonts are a type of vector object.
Pixelation - Pixelation is caused by displaying a bitmap or a section of a bitmap at such a large size that individual pixels, small single-colored square display elements that comprise the bitmap, are visible.
EPS (or .ai) File(Encapsulated PostScript) - EPS files are vector based graphics files that can be opened and easily edited for type, color, etc. Bitmapped images may be part of an eps file.
Rasterization - The process of taking an image in a vector graphics format and converting it into a raster image (pixels or dots) for output on a printer, or for storage in a bitmap file format.
“Res” Up - A term used to give a bitmapped file the appearance of a higher resolution. Pixels are added where there may be few or none.
JPEG - A fixed-size image (bitmapped).
PDF File - Many programs allow the option to save a file as a PDF (Adobe Portable Document File) for viewing by a large, diverse group of users. A true PDF can be edited when saved from an Illustrator file (.ai).
CS- Creative Suite - a collection of graphic design, video editing, and web development applications made by Adobe Systems, such as Photoshop, Acrobat, and InDesign. The most current version is CS6. Files can be saved in lower versions but some effects or functions can be lost.
For the most part these terms did not exist, at least in their current forms, in the pre-1990 graphic production world. Who knows what they will be in 20 more years?
As far as a best practice for smooth production of large format graphics - make sure your designer (or technician who is setting up the file) and production company are on the same page. Know your designer’s capabilities for setting up digital files for large format applications, and the guidelines and specifications of your production specialists.
If you’re using these terms and you hear a muffled “gulp” on the phone or a receive a hesitant email response, just reply “You’ll figure it out.”