One of the problems with getting photos from customers is that the quality of the photo is out of our hands. A lot of people do not realize that the success of any photo that is lasered engraved is directly related to the quality of the original photo. The better the quality of the photo the better the photo will be reproduced on the laser.
Back in earlier years when we where given a photo and asked to scan it into our computer we at least had the opportunity to control the quality of the photo that got scanned in. Our only problem tended to be the moire pattern that occurred. Now most of the photos that we get are digital and we receive them via email or memory stick. The problem that we have with receiving images this way is that we are at the mercy of the image settings that where setup in the digital camera. This tutorial will focus on the ins and outs of working with digital photos.
The most important thought you need to get from this article is that the reason a lot of photos do not turn out is because they are not good quality photos to begin with. They suffer from a number of issues such as to much compression, bad lighting, too many other background images interfering with the object, bad focus the list goes on. To do good with photos requires that you are good recognizing what is a good photo and what is not. The same way we try and recognize what constitutes a good logo and a bad logo.
Here is One of our Test Files
Here is one of the test files that I will be working on. The file was originally given to me as a jpeg file. The size of the original photo was about 1.1 meg. It was in a JPEG format. Now I am not going to spend a lot of time on JPEGs we can save that for another lesson, but what you need to know is that a JPEG is a file format that compresses a file. Thus it is known a lossey file format. This means that it is throwing information away to make the file smaller. A file format such as TIf is a lossless format as it is keeping all the information in the file. Thus lossey file formats are smaller than lossless.
What you need to understand here is that when you compress an image you throw away a certain amount of information that is in the file. With JPEGS you can establish the amount of compression that you want to use either in the camera that you are using or in the program that you are exporting the file out of. You can do this when you export as a JPEG out of a program such as CorelDraw. It is this compression that can cause us to get a bad photo.
Here is an JPEG Export Filter
If I export an image out of CorelDraw I am presented with a dialog box as per the above. Note: most Jpeg export filters have similar settings. Our Colour mode has to be RGB (1). The Quality setting by default is 80% (which is the default (2)) Note: the default setting is not 100 % it is 80%. This means that when I export out the photo it is not only compressed but it is compressed by a further 20% by default. The quality setting can be set to what ever we want in terms of a percentage. As I lower the quality my file size becomes smaller. The problem is that as the file size becomes smaller the quality of the image goes down. The lower the quality the more compressed (“blurry”) our image becomes. Make sure that anti aliased it turned off. This should only be on for images that you are going to display on a monitor (3). To keep the file size down uncheck the “Embed Colour Profile” (4). If you fool around with this tool and change the quality setting you can see in real time the file size. If you lower the quality the file size goes down (5).
So the lesson here is that a Raw format file or one that has not been compressed is the best (such as a tif or bmp format – saved from the raw format). The problem with these files though is that they are big and not easily transported. JPG’s are smaller and can be easily emailed between people. For the most part all Digital cameras output JPGs that have some amount of compression done on them. Plus they are at 72 DPI which than means that they have to be made smaller by almost 50% to get a half decent quality image to engrave. Let us look at some examples of compressed photos. Note: Make sure that your customer does not take a JPEG and save it as a TIF or a BMP because they are thinking it is making the file better. It is not.
Here is an Image With No Compression
Here is a good test. I have 3 images to show you. The first is the raw photo that was given to me. The file size was pretty hefty at 120 meg I resampled it down to (20meg) but it had no compression. You can see that the digital image has little degradation in the file. Mind you the photo does have some artificing from the digital camera’s sensor. But the that is another story.
Here is the Image Engraved on Anodized Aluminum
Here is the image done on black anodized aluminum. You hopefully can see from this image that the quality is excellent. Personally the problem here is that the photo does not give justice to the final engraved image. This photo was probably one of the best photos I have ever engraved.
JPEG Image With 100% Quality
Here is the same photo as the original. This time I have exported it as a JPEG but with the least amount of compression that I can. I have used the 100% quality setting. The file size was 770K. Quite the drop in size.
Here is the 770K Image Engraved
Here is the jpeg image engraved on the same black anodized aluminum. This photo comes close to the previous image. So because of smaller file size this is a good alternative.
JPEG Image 70% Compression
Here is the same image that has been exported as a JPEG image. I have used the 70% quality setting. The file size was 100K
Here is the 75K Image Engraved
Even through when we zoomed in on the image above and you saw how bad it looked the final product that came out on the anodized aluminum was not bad. I can see a certain amount of degradation in the photo but again it is possible. Most customers would be ecstatic with this.
The thing that I am trying to show you here is that the better the quality of photo that you get the better the chances of you getting a good representation on your final product. Although getting a photo that is the same quality that I had for this exercise is hard it is still good practice to at least ask. Sometimes you may be getting a copy of the original file. If you are it is best to ask for the jpg to be saved with least amount of compression or the best quality. Thus you should be asking for a TIF or a BMP and not one that the JPG has been exported to.
Here is Another Photo
In this photo there is a lot of compression that has been applied to the photo. Look at the cards there is almost a “heat wave” around the cards. The face is very blurry and will cause me issues when I go to make my adjustments. This is because the more blurry the image is the harder it is for the adjustments I make to take effect. The best adjustments are those that are made on an image that has clear pixels not blurry undefined pixels.
Here is the Image Laser Engraved
This is actually two laser jobs laid side by side of the same image. Each one was processed the same the image on the left had a more dramatic adjustment made on it. You can see in the each photo that the engraving was not good. There is a lot of banding on the forehead (1 and 5). That cards are showing the compression around the outside (2 and 4). While the collar in each image (3 and 6) show the blowout of the image. It took a large adjustment to get this photo to engrave at least half decently. The harsher the adjustment that I make here the better the image is. This is important to remember because this works the same with bad material. The worse the material the harsher our image had to be. Regardless though you can see that this image because the photo is of bad quality is going to cause me problems when I laser engrave it.
Image Engraved on Anodized Aluminum
Here is the above image lasered onto anodized aluminum. I used a couple of different settings. As you can see the image looks better but still has issues. The image at the top is a grayscale image and the one at the bottom is an image converted using an error diffusion algorithm. Which one is better is a matter of discussion – the old beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The image at the top shows more detail which I like. Note: If in doubt a about a photo laser engrave it on to a piece of anodized aluminum you will see any imperfections in the image. If it does not engrave right on the anodized aluminum than it will not probably laser on anything else.
Here is Another Bad Image
Well it is not to say the the Baby is bad but what we have here is a photo that has a huge red cast. Along with the fact that it is blurry and is very compressed. That nice purple blob is not very appealing either.
Here is the Image Converted to Grayscale
Again not very appealing and certainly not a good image to be working with to have it laser engraved. There is not a lot of detail that I can pull out of this image.
Here is the Image Lasered
Here is the image laser engraved onto a piece of anodized aluminum. As you can see the image is not very good. Note: this was an image given to me by one of my customers. The quality is just no good and can explain the issues that they where having with the image.
Still no Good
Even with a good dose of Contrast Enhancement this photos suffers because it just was not a good photo to begin with. The eyes are really hard to see. Thus this photo is really not going to turn out very good even on anodized aluminum as it suffers from to many quality issues. If we make the customer aware of this in the beginning than we will be better off in the long run.
Here is the Image Engraved
Here is the image lasered onto black anodized aluminum. Again the adjustment can not make up for the quality issues that this photo lacks.
Here is Another Problem Photo
The problem with this file is not that it is bad quality but it has a lot of other items in the photo that really do not need to be there. These are distracting and take our focus away from our what we are suppose to be looking at – the guy on the tractor. For example doing a quick crop will get rid of the fire truck and some of the other trucks. This file is differently a candidate for the cutout command in PhotoPaint. It is important to see that you need to clarify what can be taken out of the photo and what cannot be taken out with the customer. This is best handled when you are talking to the customer.
As hopefully you can see in this article there is a lot of issues that we need to deal with when we are reproducing customer supplied photos. Compressions, blurry image, colour casts, background objects, out of focus and a number of other factors contribute to how the photo is going to appear on our material. This is why I stress that buying a so called one click program is not the way to go because it makes you complacent and you do not consider these issues. If you consider these issues I will show you how in CorelDraw within 60 seconds you can have a photo that will engrave with the best quality you can get. Look at the wedding photo. That photo is perfect because I had the proper photo to work with.