Digital Help
Q&A For Digital Photography

This column will attempt to provide solutions to problems readers may have in getting into and using digital cameras, scanning, and using digital photographic images with a computer and different kinds of software. All questions sent to me will be answered with the most appropriate information I can access and provide. However, not all questions and answers will appear in the column. Readers can send questions to me addressed to Shutterbug magazine, through the Shutterbug web site, directly via e-mail to: or by US Mail to: PO Box 2830, Lompoc, CA 93438.

Q. I often read the phrases, "Laser quality printing or laser quality text," in ink jet printer ads. From users of ink jets I hear of smearing and fading. Are there laser printers in the marketplace that can turn out photo quality prints? Do laser printers turn out non-smearing, non-fading text and images?
Joseph W. Milspaugh
San Jacinto, CA

A. The ink jet ads you refer to claiming laser quality text in ink jet printers has been the result of very substantial increases in ink jet technology, particularly much higher printing resolution--currently up to 1440dpi. The smearing you refer to has been with older ink jet printers and papers. The current ink technology is extremely fast drying and smear resistant using coated, ink jet paper stock.
There are now four color laser printers that reproduce photographic images quite well, with a look similar to photo reproduction in magazines. This image quality does not compare however to the photo-realistic, near continuous tone quality the "photo" grade ink jets made by Canon, Hewlett-Packard, Epson, and Lex-mark can reproduce. In addition, four color laser printers which will reproduce photographs well are many times more expensive than ink jets, roughly about $3000. This is due to the more complex, physical, design features required by multicolor laser printers, as well as the fact they are intended for office, networked applications rather than for a single user.
To date neither four color laser or photo-realistic ink jets achieve the archival lasting quality of photographs. However, new ink jet papers and inks are being developed by the printer companies and independent sources which will provide comparable longevity to photographs. These should be coming available within the next few months.

Q. I have an Epson Photo 700 printer and a Mustek 1200 111 EP scanner. I have Microsoft PictureIt and Picture Publisher 8 software. I am just scanning in photos (people), changing the size to 8x10, and printing them out. The problem I am having is that when there are dark areas of clothing, hair, etc. those parts of the photo look painted and almost glossy like. I scan at 300dpi and choose the 14,400dpi setting on the printer in Picture Publisher. I print on photo paper. Any suggestions appreciated. I am a novice so please don't get too technical.
Jack Casey

A. It sounds like the file you are printing needs a little adjustment, generally referred to as color correction. From what you describe I'd guess the information in your image file is not utilizing all of the space the 256 RGB levels in computer colorspace permit. In other words, the information in your image file covers a smaller range than the 256 RGB levels, referred to as the gamut.
With the software you have, choose Picture Publisher to open and adjust your images. Select from the main menu bar on top of your screen Map, which will drop down a selection of functions. Click on Tone Map.
This tool provides a charted view of the file information in an open image called a histogram. The vertical "bars" indicate image information. If there is a space on one or both sides of the Histogram chart where it is at base line and no information is indicated, you need to adjust, usually little arrows at the bottom of the Histogram chart to coincide with where the image information starts and stops. This spreads the image information out to fill the entire gamut and will optimize screen appearance and printing.

Q. I've been playing around with arithmetic operations on two images, using Photoshop 3.0 on a PowerMac 8500. They all have an option to check a mask box. When you do so, there is a further option to check "invert." What exactly does this do? My impression is that it makes a positive mask (or inverted mask, if you check "invert"). If so, how is this "mask" applied during the operation. (I'm guessing it's a multiple operation, since this would simulate "physically stacking" a mask over a negative in the darkroom/enlarger.) I did an Apply Image to a low-contrast subject with wide tonal range. Lots of shadow detail and highlight detail, to itself. It boosted the contrast of the low/medium tones (shadow detail) and maintained contrast in highlights (no blow out to white). It kinda behaves like an adaptive filter, i.e. behavior dependent on brightness-value. Anyone else run into this or have another way of achieving this effect?

A. Inverting a mask changes the application of the mask to select the opposite of what is masked or was originally selected to include. For instance, if you select an object and make the selection a mask, inversion changes the area selected to exclude the object and include everything else. In other words, invert means making the mask "inside out." If data is included inside the mask in its new mask layer, invert will apply to the image values providing a negative of a positive image.
Another more direct method is to use Photoshop's Curve tool. With the Curve tool you can change the overall gamma or you can lighten or darken any range of values by altering a portion of the curve with convex or concave shaping. Some variations and examples of what can be accomplished with the Curve tool are included in an illustrated article, Shapely Curves: in the August issue of Shutterbug.

Q. I'm seriously considering the purchase of a film/slide scanner (35mm, possibly API) for use with a Mac G3. I am looking in the US $1000 or lower range. My primary application will be black and white and gray scale, for newsletter work (600dpi output). Color may become important in the future, but at the moment I can't think of much use for it--personally--certainly nothing at the high-end glossy publication scale. Maybe some web page or PDF file work.
In the Mac media, information on film scanners is very rare. I know of the following models that may be of interest to me: 1) Nikon Coolscan III, 2) Minolta QuickScan 35, and 3) Polaroid SprintScan 35LE.
As far as I know, the Canon and Olympus products have no Mac software. Can you offer any opinions on these scanners or suggest others? Software quality will be a definite concern. Are there any magazine reviews I can read?
Howard Allen
Calgary, Canada

A. Considering you are aware of the fact the Canon CanoScan 2700f is available, you should know Mac software can be obtained as a download from Canon's web site. In addition, I have had one of these Canon 35mm scanners as I've been working with it off and on, testing it for a user report for Shutterbug. On the basis of the specifications relative to cost, it is a step above the competition relative to cost (under $700), providing fully professional level performance except in color depth, which is 30-bit compared to 36-bit for higher priced 35mm scanners. It is also very well constructed and its mechanical functioning is exceptionally smooth and reliable. The software is designed for ease of learning and use, providing largely automated color correction with adjustment selection based on thumbnail previews of optional changes to brightness, contrast, and color balance. My only criticism is that the hardware and performance of the CanoScan 2700f really justifies the addition of fully manual, color correction tools for those who might choose to learn and use them.

Q. I just got back a roll of Kodachrome slides and while viewing them on my projector, noted that (as usual), the cardboard-mounted slides are amazingly warped. As soon as they warm up in the projector beam, you can see (and hear) them pop into focus.
As I've been shopping for a slide/film scanner, I'm curious to know how scanners handle this problem. Do you have to remount cardboard slides into glass mounts prior to scanning and deal with the inevitable problems that entail (four more dust-catching surfaces, New-ton's rings, labor, etc.), or do the optics have enough depth of focus to compensate for unflat surfaces?

A. Yes, I would suggest remounting. You might consider a hinged, glassless, plastic mount like the one I use made by Wess Plastic, model No. GP GLSLS--041195 105/121. The company is located in Long Island, New York.
These mounts are very easy to use, and hold the film unusually flat, while the mount is also thick enough to not warp keeping the film plane flat at all times. For scanning I definitely would recommend not using a glass mount. The extra four surfaces can possibly add to light refraction and also possibly interfere with the autofocus function of some scanners.
I particularly recommend this model mount because it has an additional advantage of a frame window size that is larger than standard (paper/cardboard) slide mounts, that reveals and allows scanning the entire 35mm image frame. I have used this mount successfully with most brands of 35mm scanners currently available.

Q. I've been trying to figure out how to calibrate my HP PhotoSmart scanner and Epson EX printer with Picture Publisher 8, and I need some help.
As I see it, there are at least two ways to go about calibration with Picture Publisher. I can pick the right ICM profiles for the scanner and printer, plug them into Picture-Publisher's CMS profile selection boxes and go. Or I can build scanner and printer color maps, which get applied in place of ICM profiles. The first problem is that I don't think I have a profile for the scanner. I have a couple of Photosmart printer profiles in Windows 98, but the only other profile I have that might be close is an HP ColorSmart profile; don't quite know what that's for.
So if I go under the assumption that I don't have all the profiles I need, I should then go about building color maps. Sounds easy enough. The problem is I don't believe the scanner map is right. In theory, once I have a scanner correction map, I should be able to rescan the test RGB image and with the map applied, the scan should come out looking like the source RGB file. Thing is, it doesn't look anything like the source. So where do I go from here?
Tony Patalano

A. What you are attempting to do is essentially create your own characterizations of your scanner and printer and then use Picture Publisher's mapping ability to function as color management profiles. This would be possible if you had the measurement tools to accurately read an IT-8 International reference to plot the mapping. If you had these devices, you'd also have the software that goes with them and you could then generate ICC profiles which would work with Windows 98 ICM 2.0 color management. However, the cost of those color management devices and software is probably more than your entire system, so that's not a practical option I'm sure. Second, I don't believe your scanner's software can provide you with a raw scan necessary to create a profile from which to create a characterization.
I believe the ColorSmart reference you made is likely connected to the HP PhotoSmart scanner and printer, and functions as a closed, proprietary color management system in conjunction possibly with Windows 95 ICM 1.0. It may be your best option for reasonable success to use your scanner and printer without any modification of Picture Publisher's mapping, and then if your prints of your scans are off in color, make manual corrections to a copy of the image itself.
In the meantime, we must all wait until each manufacturer provides profiles for scanners and printers that are designed and configured to function with Windows 98 ICM 2.0 color management. This includes obtaining ICC profiles for your monitor, which is the essential middle link in the color management triad.

Q. I am an advanced amateur black and white shooter in 6x7 format. I do all my own printing and wonder if the time is right yet to pursue digital printing. My custom lab will do CD scans of my film processing, but at 42 MB--costing a fortune. Scanners for my PC also are probably too expensive for my print standards (I print 11x14 size). Should I wait and continue my present methods?
Jim Bonner

A. The time is as right as it needs to be, considering the cost of flat-bed scanners with 1200dpi optical resolution and a transparency unit, all for about $1000 or less. Try Epson Expression 636 or the Umax line, both companies are now offering very good scanners at excellent prices. The Epson Stylus Photo EX will print very fine looking 11x17 inch prints for under $500. By the way, you don't need a 40MB file to print an excellent 11x14. About half that will do fine. Plus, sometime between now and the '98 holiday season you'll probably see even more to choose from.