Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Temple of Flora

Published in 1799, Dr. Robert John Thorton’s masterpiece The Temple of Flora remains an awe inspiring work of botanical and artistic literature even in this modern day and age. After inheriting great wealth from his family and inspired by the work of Carl Linnaeus, Thorton set out to produce England’s finest piece of botanical literature to date. Hiring some of the most skilled artists available at the time, Thorton began embarking on this endeavor, however, after some time he unfortunately he ran into endless problems in getting the work published. Due to social, political, and financial factors, he was forced to trim The Temple of Flora down to just a fraction of his original vision for the project. His determination to have this work published left Thorton completely broke at the time of his death, however, his legacy continues to live on through the exquisite The Temple of Flora. Filled with lavishly beautiful full color illustrations, botanical information, and even nods to classic poetry, The Temple of Flora is truly without a doubt one of England’s premier pieces of botanical literature.

Thanks to the publishing company Taschen Books, this extremely rare work is now available to the general public as a set of high quality large format prints. Packaged in a presentation case, the 110-page offering features a 44-page booklet including author Werner Dressendörfer’s introduction as well as the texts of all 31 botanical plates and 33 loose-leaf Elephant folio-sized color prints for browsing or framing. For a preview of Taschen’s publication of these plates, follow this link:
The Temple of Flora @ taschen.com.

The Temple of Flora is also available through Amazon.com at the following location:
The Temple of Flora @ amazon.com

Mike Blomberg
Imaging Lab Coordinator
Missouri Botanical Garden

Thursday, September 25, 2008

An attempt at reprinting scanned material

Recently, we decided to try to reprint a book that we had scanned. We had been interested in trying out the services of Lulu, an internet website that allows users to self-publish their own works by uploading content and having it professionally printed out in quantities as low as just one. The book we ultimately decided upon was Culpeper's English physician and complete herbal. It is a popular title with both text and some interesting line drawing illustrations. We were hoping to try a book with nice full-color images to see how they would translate to a printed page from a modern day 4-color press, but in the end, we still decided that this would be the best book to give printing with Lulu a test run with.

There were some seemingly minor technical issues that we had to deal with before we could actually send the book off to be pressed. In an idea world, it would be great to just send a PDF file of the book as-is and not have to worry about anything. The reality of the situation, however, is that Lulu only offers a certain number of sizes, and we were going to have to resize all of our images in order to meet the criteria for one of these sizes.

Resizing all of the images seemed like a simple enough task. The pages seemed to be about 6.5” x 9.5” (16.5 cm x 24.1 cm) in size, and the closest size that Lulu offers is 6” x 9” (15.2 cm x 22.9 cm). Logically, it made sense to just shrink every page slightly to fit within these dimensions. I created an action using Adobe Photoshop that would automate this process. After running this automated action, I then created a new PDF of the book that would be uploaded to Lulu’s server and be ready for printing.

Then the problems began… I still am not sure exactly what the issue was, but I had a terrible time trying to upload this file to Lulu’s server. The PDF file was about 350MB in size, but for over two weeks, I could not get it to successfully upload. I would check on the progress of the upload from time to time, and I noticed it would always start over. Sometimes it would upload a small portion of the file and then stop, which in turn left numerous incomplete copies in our Lulu account. I was not sure if the problem was with Lulu’s server or perhaps our own Internet service, so I even tried to upload the file from home, but I still could not get it to work. Finally after a couple weeks of frustration (and determination that eventually it would upload successfully), I spoke with a representative at Lulu who also could not figure out what was going on. She suggested that I try it once more and see if it works, and if it did not, we would proceed from there. By this point I didn’t have much faith in their server. I still had quite a few of the incomplete attempts present in the available files for our account. I decided to try once more from scratch and deleted everything in the process before attempting to upload again. Afterwards I uploaded the file from home without any problems. Success!

We were excited to receive the book in the mail about a week later, especially after all the technical issues we had in getting the PDF for it uploaded. Just looking at the book, one can see that Lulu does excellent work. We chose a paperback binding, and the book looked very professional. Flipping through, however, we noticed some problems… Many times text would run into the gutters. In other instances (particularly towards the end of the book), text would be cut off at the top or the side. After digging a little deeper and figuring out what caused this, I discovered that the Photoshop action I used was inherently flawed. Because of the way we scan the books, the cropping on pages as we’re scanning them can be a bit inconsistent. Using the Photoshop action I created, this inconsistency in the size of the images ultimately led to the text getting cropped when printed. It was a very important lesson to learn should we decide to do something along these lines again in the future…

All in all, we were satisfied with the quality of Lulu’s printing and the turnaround time. My only complaint that I really had with Lulu was in the difficulty of uploading the PDF file to their server. Everything else that we were unsatisfied with (text running into the gutter, text being cut off at the edge of pages, etc.) were due to our own technical errors in preparing the material. I have never had to work on material in a prepress manner like this, and in the end, I found this to be a very interesting learning experience!

Mike Blomberg

Imaging Lab Coordinator

Missouri Botanical Garden