ARCHIVED  August 1, 1997

How to prepare digital images

With so many recent advances in technology, it has become possible to bring almost any level of digital imaging capabilities in-house. The trouble is sorting through all of the different options to get exactly what you need.

The first step is to decide exactly what you need. Are you building a Web site on which you need to place images of your products? Are you going to publish a glossy catalog? A newsletter on newsprint with pictures of your staff? All of these require recording and manipulating images digitally – albeit in different ways.

You’ll need to begin with a computer. Because digital image files are typically very large, they require a very fast computer with a lot of memory. It should have a big hard drive (at least 1 gigabyte) on which to store the images and a lot of RAM. Random access memory is like the computer’s brain power – it’s what it uses to think through complicated problems such as a big digital picture. You can never have too much RAM. To work with digital images, the minimum RAM you should have is 24 megabytes. Also, make sure your computer has a very clear monitor at least 17 inches diagonal.Next you need to figure out a way to get the image into the computer. Typically this is with a scanner. There are two kinds of scanners of interest to people getting into digital imaging: flatbed and transparency scanners. Flatbeds are for scanning printed photos and drawings or paintings on paper (or anything that is thin and flat). If you’re going to do a newsletter, this is probably your best option.
Transparency scanners are for slides and transparencies. If you work mostly with slides, this is your obvious choice. Also available are digital cameras. These work just like point-and-shoot cameras, only they translate the reflected light from any given scene into numbers instead of negatives or prints. You can then plug it right into your computer and place it into whatever you need. This might be advantageous if you have an online catalog with a constantly changing inventory.
In choosing a scanner or digital camera, you primarily want to pay attention to its resolution. Digital images are comprised of thousands – sometimes millions – of pixels or tiny dots that blend together under normal human eyesight to form a picture.
Resolution means how many pixels a camera or scanner can cram into its images. The bigger the number, the smaller the pixels and the sharper the picture. Typically, a camera will give you photos that are 640 by 480 pixels. This means that if you’re taking pictures for the Web (which is at 72 pixels per inch), you can show the photos at a little under 9 inches by 7 inches with no distortion. For a glossy catalog, you’ll only be able to print the same pictures at a little over 2-by-1. For those jobs you’ll need a scanner. They can create images 1,200 by 1,200 pixels.
After that, you’ll need digital-imaging software. This will allow you to crop, change colors and contrast, resize and even do advance photo-manipulation techniques. The industry standard is Adobe Photoshop, but there are a multitude of other software programs available. Typically, you’ll receive a low-end digital-imaging software with your scanner when you purchase it. Again, your desired end result will dictate what kind of software you’ll need. To help you decide, ask other people who are already doing what you intend to do what software they use. They might even know about a good deal.
Now you’re ready to do digital imaging. Still, your journey has just begun. There are numerous levels of expertise within the field of digital imaging. The slightest difference in the way an image is processed can make a dramatic difference in the way it is printed or displayed.
You’ll probably want to take a class to gain a better understanding of the nature of digital images. In some cases, you might want to leave it to a professional. In such cases, you’ll need to seek out a service bureau that does digital imaging all the time.

With so many recent advances in technology, it has become possible to bring almost any level of digital imaging capabilities in-house. The trouble is sorting through all of the different options to get exactly what you need.

The first step is to decide exactly what you need. Are you building a Web site on which you need to place images of your products? Are you going to publish a glossy catalog? A newsletter on newsprint with pictures of your staff? All of these require recording and manipulating images digitally – albeit in different ways.

You’ll need to begin with a computer.…

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