Putting it Together

Once most of the decisions were made it came down to the actual work of putting the book together. Creating a print-ready PDF.

Meeting with the Printer

One big step in my process was meeting with the printer to discuss my project. It made it real, and clarified the last few details that I needed to really put the book together. It was encouraging to meet with him (my contact) and see the paper they would use, the binding, etc. Here are some outcomes of that meeting.

The printer I worked with, Allen Print in Burnside, specialized in prints runs under 250 books and they did the perfect binding in-house. Mostly they did promotional material, but did print books some too.

He explained their printing process and how they print two identical pages per sheet of paper and then cut them to size. Printing 8” x 8” would be about the same price as 8.5” x 11” because of the shape of the paper, 8.5” x 8.5” would be the same as well. I decided to bump it up to that, just for a little extra space for the drawings.

As mentioned before, the gutter should have half an inch blank on the inside edge of each page. Text couldn’t be too close to the edge of the paper and the cover needed an 1/8” bleed around the edges.

They wanted a PDF file from me that included the whole book, and a separate PDF for the cover. He said I should “convert text to outlines” when exporting to PDF. This was a photoshop thing and I figured out that “convert to vector” did the same thing in Gimp.

He warned me that spine printing might be a bit off center and said they would adjust the cover to fit properly (it is printed as a wraparound). My spines actually turned out perfect. They would also generate a barcode for me and put it on the cover.

He said I should send in a couple sample pages so that they could print them on their paper and see how the dark and light drawings looked. They even mailed the pages to me so I didn’t have to drive an hour out to get them.

All in all it was a great meeting and I got all the information I needed to continue with my project.

Scanning and Cleaning

All the drawings in my book are done in traditional media, nothing is digital. Which meant that I had to scan everything. This amounted to 65 sketchbook pages and 238 separate drawing scans. As I went I learned a couple things about streamlining the scanning process.

It was recommended to scan each drawing separately, rather than the whole page and then crop drawings out of it. I learned that my scanner would allow me to select several pieces of the page to scan all at once rather than one at a time. This saved a lot of scanning time, but was still a bit tedious. Furthermore, the way the scanner and sketchbook worked, all the drawings ended up upside down. I found I could save one step in the editing process if I told the scanner to flip the scans 180º as I scanned them in. This meant that they were right side up when I opened them in my editing software.

And so I worked away at scanning 65 pages of drawings.   Holding the sketchbook in place, selecting each drawing, etc. I scanned at 300 dpi, because that is what book printers often said was good for images. Unfortunately, I think I should have gone with 600 dpi and saved in a lossless format (not jpg) for better quality. Something I will do better next time.

Once I had the drawings scanned, I needed to clean them up. I didn’t do any auto-whitening or anything with the scanner, I wanted to do it manually. Luckily most of the drawings are in ink, which is much easier to clean than pencil. Pencil drawings have small details that are similar brightness to the grain on the pages when scanned. To get the paper to look white, you often lose a lot of detail in the pencil. I had some pencil, but mostly ink.

Cleaning scan example screenshot

An example of the color curve that I use to clean the scans. I darken the dark areas and lighten the light areas. Original on the left, adjusted on the right.

I have often been quite gentle with color curves when cleaning pages in the past, but I found a harsh curve often produced a better result for these drawings. I could check for remaining grain by dragging the curve down and making every little speck stand out as very dark, then I could see how close I was to having it all cleaned up.

Checking for spots screenshot

Sometimes I would drag the curve way down in the light area to make any little spots show up. That way I could adjust the upper end of the curve to get rid of them, or erase them. Again, raw scan on left, adjusted image on right.

I use free open source software called Gimp for all my editing. It is a bit clunky, but it gets the job done. Gimp is like Photoshop, or any image manipulation software.

Page templates

Once I had all the drawings scanned and cleaned, I needed to start arranging them on pages. These pages needed to be of a certain size, and the drawings needed to be the right size on the page.   I decided that I wanted the drawings about full size in the book, the same size as they appear in my sketchbook. This actually made it easy to create the page templates.

Since I didn’t do any scaling on my scans, they were full size and would print the same size as they were in real life. Therefore, I needed page templates to do the same. Luckily, Gimp would allow me to create new images with inch dimensions. As long as I selected 300 dpi (to match the drawing scans), I could specify how big I wanted my pages in real dimensions and they would print that size.

My book was going to be 8.5” by 8.5” square. That was how big each page was, so my page template files were 8.5 x 8.5 inch. The printer recommended I leave half an inch blank on the inside edge of each page for the gutter (spine) of the book. Since it had perfect binding, it would be difficult to see or read anything near the centre of the book. With this in mind I setup a guide at 0.5” for right-hand and left-hand pages.

Template pages screenshot

Left and right hand template pages in gimp with guides for the gutter.

Placing Drawings

Once I had my page templates and cleaned drawings I just had to put them all together. Fortunately, I already had the layout done, so I just had to open the right files and add the drawings to each page as layers and move them around to match my template. I even knew which pages were left-hand and right-hand pages.

Since doing this I have learned that Gimp will open files as layers if you already have your base open. This would have been helpful if I opened the template page, and then opened the drawings as layers directly. It saves a lot of copying and pasting.

Adding text to pages

I ran into several problems with putting text onto pages and solved them all, basically. One issue was that I had to have the text all written up in a separate document. Gimp did not have spell check, so I needed to check the spelling elsewhere and paste the text in. The text boxes did not like having text pasted in and made one long line rather than forming a nice block of text. I learned that I had to size my text box to the space on my page, select ‘fixed,’ and then past text in. This worked much better.

The other issue I ran into was exporting to PDF. When I exported, the text would be converted to an image and did not maintain resolution. I learned that I had to select the box “convert to vector” when exporting to PDF. This made the text print much better, I tested it on my own printer and could see the difference. However, I had to check each page with text on it, because when it exported, the text sometimes changed size a little bit, and would go outside the page, or not fit properly anymore. It was very important to check every page before finalizing the project.

Making the cover

I must say, my cover was inspired by Jake Parker’s ‘Drawings’ books. I wanted black bands going around front and back with a drawing in the middle. The design was pretty simple, and it worked for the book. There were some tricky parts though.

The printer said the cover needed a 1/8 inch bleed around all the edges. This meant that I needed to make my cover oversized slightly and put in guides so that I took the cropping into account when I placed my text and image. That way things wouldn’t look too close to the edge when it was cropped.

One neat note, the tail on the cover gryphon was cut off in the original drawing, I ran off the edge of the paper. For the cover, I wanted it to be perfect, so I added a tip to the tail. I think I actually re-scanned that drawing at a higher resolution for the cover too.

There were some issues with exporting the cover text. This was probably a buggy Gimp problem, but ended up being very tricky to solve. The text color was set to white, on a black background. However, when it was exported to PDF with the ‘convert to vectors’ box checked, the text disappeared! It was the same color as the background. This was only a problem for the white text on black background, but proved to be quite the challenge to solve. I’m not even quite sure how I did it in the end, but I think it involved using Preview to add the text after exporting from Gimp. Or maybe I used a different version of Gimp…

The spine was a point of concern as well. I wanted the spine text centered, but didn’t know how thick my book was going to be. However, the printer said they would take care of it. Since my cover design was quite simple, it was easy for them to add, or subtract a bit of the image to make it fit properly.

The printer also generated and added the barcode that I wanted.

Written Pages

The pages with primarily text on them were actually written up in and exported in Word. I setup the page dimensions and margins to match the book and wrote up the pages like that. It was much easier to make things consistent this way rather than making text boxes in Gimp.

Here are some of the details on my document and page setup in Word.

Word setup screenshot

The Word document needed to be the same size as the book, 8.5″ x 8.5″ plus it needed a half inch gutter. I also set the margins to half an inch in addition to the gutter and selected mirror margins so the gutter would be on the correct edge for opposing pages.

Now, I did have a problem exporting these pages to PDF properly. When I tried to export them, Word would add a bunch of blank space and not preserve my desired dimensions. I looked this problem up and found I needed to make a print template and select it before exporting. Once I did that, the pages exported perfectly.

One other detail I should point out is that I had to leave some blank pages in the word document to make the indenting work out. I setup a gutter in Word, so that the page content would be shoved to one side or the other depending on if it was a right-hand or left-hand page. Since my content was at the beginning of the book and then again at the end of the book, I needed to make sure it started on the right page so the gutter was in the right place.

Compiling Pages

Once I had the drawing pages and the written pages exported, I needed to compile them into one big PDF file. This is not as easy as it sounds, because computers are difficult. It is not obvious how to combine a bunch of separate images into a PDF on a Mac. They have to all be opened in Preview, all selected and then printed to PDF. There is an option to ‘save as pdf’ but this doesn’t work as expected.

Once the drawing pages were together in one file, it was easy to drag and drop the text pages into place using the sidebar in preview. I ended up with one huge document with all my book pages in it, including any blank pages. It was 100 pages long.

The final document was 71.5 MB. Really not that big for all the drawings that went into it, but they were all in black and white and quite simple line drawings. It felt like quite the accomplishment to finally have it put together.

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