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Great Output With Crap Input

April 30, 2003

It all started when I worked for a large retailer in the entertainment industry years back. They had the right to use movie posters, box–art, and generally copyrighted material for the purposes of promotion. However, they didn’t have access to source material. Solution? Go and steal from the web.

The legality might seem shady, but the assumption was that anyone else using these materials had the right, so it wasn’t much different than grabbing them from the distributors. With a real need to get the job done, I didn’t question it. I used these low–resolution JPGs and dithered GIFs, and eventually mastered the art of Stealing Other People’s Source.

Since that point, I’ve found the skills I developed have come in handy almost daily. Whether clients don’t have any material other than what’s on the current site, or their print designer is uncooperative, or heaven forbid you have to scan printed material for source, there are times when you just don’t have a good starting point. So you fire up Photoshop and flex your image–editing skills, because it’s gonna get ugly.

Luckily we don’t have to go to quite the lengths the print industry has to. The general solution in their case is to re–create a logo or wordmark. Photographs must be provided, or substituted, there’s no way around it. We don’t need the resolution they do, so it’s often times possible to fudge it with the existing image and some tweaking.

Masks, colour adjustments, blending modes, and the good old–fashioned Eraser tool all have their part to play in this method. Creative level adjustment can drop out almost the entire background. Selection strategies can reduce the time it takes to mask and guarantee no stray fringe pixels.

But you have to be really comfortable with Photoshop to do it. Over the next little while, as I have time (and as I catch myself using the techniques!), I’m going to start putting together some basic intros on cleaning up low–res GIFs, fixing harsh JPG artifacts, and generally using Photoshop for good. Er, and evil, if you’re so inclined, but don’t say you learned it here.

First up: Creative Masking, Part I. Coming late next week.

Reader Comments

Jason says:
May 01, 03h

It happens in the print industry too, it’s just harder to do.
When you work for a newspaper, people send the lowest resolution photos and we usually have to grab stuff off of the web. Sometimes it’s amazing how well a 72 dpi image will reproduce with a 110 line screen…

Keith says:
May 01, 10h

Whew. I thought I was the only one! Heh. I don’t do this quite as much anymore, as I just don’t have the need really. Oh, that and my digital camera affords me all sorts of generic source material. I think you mentioned that a few posts back – damn thing is a wealth of good, er, “building blocks”. Anyway, can’t wait to see your intros. I’m sure I’ll find a good nugget or three to add to the photoshop arsenal.