Hell in Living Color
January 24, 2013 3:34 PM   Subscribe

Jim Rugg reflects on the coloring in printed and digital comics. posted by gilrain (15 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- Brandon Blatcher

Hrrm. Well I'm glad he likes digital, and colors can vary between screen and page (I've been dinged on this a few times when subtle greyscale stuff has turned to mud on page) but I can't say I've noticed Hellboy in Hell looking crappy at all.
posted by Artw at 3:56 PM on January 24, 2013

Or you could just learn from our superhero friends how comic books are printed. Happy World Color Press Day, 1977! Though frankly, I don't remember quite the same concern over color fidelity back then.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:06 PM on January 24, 2013

The best artists make use of their medium. I.e. if drawing for paper they make use of paper's qualities. E.g. compare Kirby on newsprint versus high gloss paper. he drew for newsprint. Compare Bing Crosby in particular: his hair looks better on newsprint because the paper texture is part of the picture. It's sterile and cold on high gloss.

The best comics make use of their medium. As a kid I loved Krazy comic (1977, UK). They did all kinds of things that would only work on paper: like a back cover disguise, flip strips on the corners of the pages, and one joke I remember that asked you to run your fingers down the page, and the whole joke depended on you getting black ink on one finger and not another. Then there was Whizzer and Chips, a comic that relied on you pulling out another comic for rivalry purposes. Krazy's successor, Cheeky Weekly, was built around comics within comics (each page was a day that framed a story), and on Tuesday he would go in his Dad's attic and find an old comic and that was printed at an angle... ah happy memories...

Krazy featured the Buy-Tonic boy who premiered in a pull out mini-comic in Monster Fun. Pull out comics have their own tactile, secret, possessive joy, but don't have any meaning in digital. I remember cut out masks, strips that left space for the reader to draw something in, various pull-out-and-keep features, including a giant game that built up over six issues. (The big six IPC comics each had their own game that summer). Then there was the joy of the oversized summer specials...

Some of those 1970s IPC comics made really good use of their physical medium. But once we treat the paper as merely a way to get images to the user then, yes, there is no point in having paper at all.
posted by EnterTheStory at 4:14 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Man. That's a page full of misunderstanding about print. If I learned anything from it, it's that, apparently, the comics industry doesn't know squat about color management. One look at those digital/print comparisons and it's very obvious the issue is with converting RGB art to CMYK for print without using proper color conversion techniques and press-specific profiles. They look like they simply clicked the CMYK toggle in Photoshop and sent the files on.

Add to that the issue that, with rare exceptions, comics are never printed on the finest of paper. Good print reproduction demands coated, bright-white stock. Most comic book stock falls far short of that.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:17 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Going by the increasingly grey color of the "black" text in most books these days (at best #888), I'm guessing the color of matter ink is going up much faster than the cost of electron ink.

What mystifies me are the websites that use grey "ink" instead of black ... and sometimes on off-white backgrounds. Maybe it shows up better on their $3000 monitors???
posted by Twang at 4:50 PM on January 24, 2013

Oh how many times have I produced a CMYK proof on an Iris or Matchprint, and the artist whines that the colors aren't as bright as what he saw onscreen, or on his hexachrome inkjet printer.

I have been trying to explain this to artists for probably 20 years. If you create an image in RGB, it will look different when it is converted to CMYK for print. The RGB gamut is larger than CMYK, there are bright colors that cannot be reproduced in 4 color printing. If you create RBG works and send it to pre-press, they will do whatever conversion they like, regardless of whether it makes your artwork look crappy or not. If you want your printed work to look good in print, you will have to design it that way from scratch, with complete knowledge of the targeted printing process and what settings are appropriate for your digital graphics rig. If you're really good, you might find a good prepress guy (like me) who knows how to set up "touch plates" (CMYK plus extra spot or process colors), varnish plates, embossing plates, die cuts, etc. to take your work to another level.

What mystifies me are the websites that use grey "ink" instead of black ... and sometimes on off-white backgrounds. Maybe it shows up better on their $3000 monitors???

This is usually because of the "rich black" problem. A crappy print designer typically creates a black area by setting the ink color to 100% black only, no cyan, magenta, or yellow. This creates a weak black with a mere "100% ink saturation." A good designer knows to make a "rich black," composed of 4 process colors, up to the total permitted ink saturation for the target printing press. Example: a designer sets up Photoshop and starts drawing in RGB mode. The background is 100% "black" which means RGB color spec of R0 G0 B0. To make printing plates, it must be converted to CMYK. In the default settings for Photoshop CS6, converting that "black" to CMYK yields a C75 M68 Y67 K90 ink densities. Oh no, only 90% black ink? But the CMY colors have 210% ink saturation, yielding a 300% total ink coverage. You could go C100 M100 Y100 K100 for the densest black evar, but the paper would get oversaturated and get too soggy, it would tear itself to shreds on the press. I've seen designers push total saturation to about 320, maybe 340, but only with the total cooperation of the pressmen who print the final work, and for a mass print run, only with a press test.

So typically I see this problem where someone produces a Photoshop image converted to CMYK. Then they drop it into Adobe Illustrator or InDesign, and set the image into a black background, setting that to 100 Black only. Then when it's printed the 100% black looks weaker than the blacks in the photo, because it only has 100% ink saturation and the photo has 300% ink.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:05 PM on January 24, 2013 [7 favorites]

Looking at Hellboy in Hell in print right now. The blacks are as black as can be, the colors vibrant where they should pop and subtle where more restraint is required. The whole thing is beautiful and Dave Stewart has done an amazing job with it.

This guy is nuts.
posted by Artw at 6:21 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

A crappy print designer typically creates a black area by setting the ink color to 100% black only, no cyan, magenta, or yellow

I've seen more problems with misuse of rich blacks than the reverse. YMMV.

Anyhoo, if you want to see some gorgeous digital to digital work (as well as an awesome story) check out Saga. Fionna Staples is a witch, I tell you.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:31 PM on January 24, 2013

(Am I the only one who had the exact opposite reaction to those comparisons? Is subtlety dead?)*

*DISCLAIMER: I sell print comic books for a living, so I may be biased
posted by Ron Thanagar at 7:35 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

The whole thing is beautiful and Dave Stewart has done an amazing job with it. This guy is nuts.

I dunno, it's not like Rugg is saying Stewart's crap; you don't find the print version muddy/dull (Good to see someone in the comments bring up the effect/influence of scanning, though), especially compared to the digital?

More on colour and production: Here's a fun little exchange between Dave Sim & Neal Adams on colouring practices and policies at DC circa 1970 (And probably several decades before that).

More Rugg: While I love me some process posts, I'm finding myself fascinated by nut's and bolts production posts like this one more and more.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:44 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

EnterTheStory - That Kirby example might not be the best because that particular reprint example suffers from some really terrible quickie recoloring. A good colorist would be adding that missing texture.

I find this whole article interested but have to question the side-by-side comparisons. Did he photograph the pages? Scan them? At what settings? The suggestions he had about levels could be applied to his own reference images. Likewise, comparing two digital copies of Hellboy side-by-side, one on a new iPad with the brightness cranked an one on an older VGA monitor on power-saver mode, could result in similar differences.
posted by thecjm at 9:18 PM on January 24, 2013

What mystifies me are the websites that use grey "ink" instead of black ... and sometimes on off-white backgrounds. Maybe it shows up better on their $3000 monitors???

The black in the Netflix logo always jumps out at me because of this. I think their web and app designers just used the exact same CMYK asset that the envelope printers use, dropped haphazardly into their RGB design files.

It's actually kind of a nice look, with the dark grey in the logo on that red background, but it's clearly a happy accident and they've been fixing it here and there lately (fixed on the site but not a lot of apps, last I checked).
posted by jason_steakums at 10:35 PM on January 24, 2013

Discussing what you see on your monitor as if it is an accurate representation is kind of senseless unless you keep your monitor calibrated.

One of the biggest headaches of working as a house designer is putting-together a piece and having to send it around as a pdf to all the executives and managers for approval, knowing full-well that none of them will be viewing it on anything close to a correctly-calibrated screen. Wails of "everyone's faces are orange!" and "The logo is green, not blue!!!" or "It's too dark/light!" are guaranteed. The ensuing explanation about color management and monitor calibration only pisses them off more.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:32 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've seen more problems with misuse of rich blacks than the reverse. YMMV.

LOL a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Don't even get me started on designers that mess with stuff like UCR/GCR settings without really knowing what they're doing, and then surprise the printing press operators with unworkable plates. And then I got blamed because I made the imagesetter films. This is why I always get signatures to approve final output, so the right person gets blamed.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:23 PM on January 25, 2013

Conversing on Comics with Dave Stewart
posted by Artw at 10:36 PM on January 25, 2013

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