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


At 4:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've tried Lulu as well, and although I didn't have any trouble uploading my PDFs, the first set of prints came back and all my fonts were bungled which was very frustrating as I'd printed the pdf on a different machine from my home machine to test it out. I then discovered that this was due to OpenOffice not embedding all fonts within the PDF (and even though I only stuck to standard, widely available fonts, apparently lulu didn't have these), so I had to round trip the PDFs through Adobe Acrobat to make press ready PDF's (I think it's something like 'Pre-flight' in the menus).
Anyway the final product is certainly good quality, although repassing the PDF through Adobe did result in slightly pixelated images in the document. I think OpenOffice's pdf processor has improved now (I was using OO 1.x at the time, and they're just about to release 3.0, so it may well 'just work').

I guess you wouldn't have had the font issues with the botanicus pages as they're all images. Interestingly I could only find a plate on lulu referring to culpepper - are you going to list your version in the lulu store?

At 10:48 AM, Blogger william said...

It was illustrated with many never-previously-seen photographs from episodes and behind the scenes as well as a number of memorable shots specially taken for the publication. Probably the best known photographs specially taken for the 'special' are the cover itself, showing Pertwee being menaced by a Dalek, Cyberman and Sea Devil, and the photograph of the three Doctors, Pertwee, Troughton and Hartnell, together.
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At 12:18 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Great work! I've been looking at your scans from time to time, sometimes needed a reference, sometimes copied pictures to Wiki Commons. This is another wonderful written post on reprinting scanned material. Indeed, I enjoyed it very much. Thanks!
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At 2:43 PM, Blogger The Metzinger Sisters said...

Great post, but may I ask what settings ( and scanner ) you used when scanning the pages to PDF? When I attempt to scan a book I'm not able to capture the text as crisp as the original, so I know I must be doing something wrong.


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