Friday, 11 April 2014

Graphic Design Basics: Colours (Pt. 1)


What are RGB and CMYK in the first place?
Well, RGB and CMYK are colour spaces. Colour spaces are abstract models or systems describing colours as numbers. CMYK is used for printing and RGB is used for monitors, scanners and cameras.

So what is the difference between the two?
There are several ways to look at it, but technically, RGB is an additive colour model, where red, green and blue light (hence RGB) is added together, producing various colours. It starts with a black base (absence of light) and it adds (emits), you guessed it, light.
CMYK is a subtractive model, it starts with a white base (a sheet of paper, for example) and reduces the reflected light via ink. The four ink colours are cyan (greenish blue), magenta (purplish red), yellow and black. (The K in CMYK stands for key, not for black. The key plate is the one that contains the details and usually uses black ink (if there are only two colours and no black, it uses the darker colour), so it's still OK to think of the K in CMYK as of black.)

In short, RGB combines light to create brighter colours and CMYK combines inks to create darker colours.

Here's a practical example: everything you see on your computer monitor, tablet, and phone is in RGB mode, and they use a direct light source to display colour. (What you see on your TV is probably in YUV mode, though, but that is an additive space too.)
The Game of Thrones poster on your wall and that ticket for the Arcade Fire concert you printed on your home printer are in CMYK mode. (Your childhood drawings are not strictly CMYK, because you probably used more watercolours than four, but they are still subtractive.) They use paint/ink to affect the amount of white light reflected from the surface, thus producing a colour image.

Or, the SUN is RGB, and the MOON is CMYK. (This is not right, of course, but you get the point.) The sun is a direct light source, while the moon reflects light. That's the second way to think of RGB and CMYK.

And the third way is even easier. You can imagine CMYK as a limited version of RGB in terms of brightness (this is technically correct only if we talk about what you see on your monitor).

On the other hand, CMYK has a greater number of colour shades, at least in a perfect world. CMYK is a four channel mode (cyan, magenta, yellow and black), and with 8 bits (2^8 = 256 colours) per channel this means 256 x 256 x 256 x 256 = 4.3 billion colour shades. RGB only has three channels (red, green and blue), which means 256 x 256 x 256 = 16.7 million colour shades.

In other words, CMYK has a greater gamut (colour range), while RGB has a brighter gamut (none of the 4.3 billion shades would be so bright as RGB colours can be).

But you can't really see the full glory of those 4.3 billions on your laptop or on your t-shirt.
First, the human eye itself can distinguish "only" 10 million colours.
Second, everything you see on a monitor is, as said, in RGB mode, which can simulate CMYK, but is still limited to 16.7 million colours. Or to 900,000, really, because computers work mostly with sRGB (the colour space created for standard use on monitors and printers). And even if you use Adobe RGB in Photoshop, that still gives you about 1,3 million colour shades.
And third, you don't need so many colours. In Photoshop, for example, you can only enter integer percentages for the CMYK values, which gives you 100 x 100 x 100 x 100 = 100 million combinations out of the potential 4.3 billion. Because, let's face it, C:55,00% or C:55,04%, it doesn't make any difference.

And in practice graphic designers work with a lot less colours. To avoid differences between what the client sees on a monitor and what is printed (to make things worse, different printers give different results), designers often use colours swatches. The standard here is the Pantone matching system. The Pantone process colour swatch book has 3000 colours (although there are some swatch books that go up to 20,000+) and the Pantone solid colour swatch book has 1,114 colours.

And now that I've mentioned Pantone, I think I should say a few words about:

Spot printing

We've been talking only about CMYK printing so far, or, more correctly put, about four colour process printing.
A spot (or solid) colour, on the other hand, is one that is printed with its own ink, and not with a mixture of different inks. As mentioned, the most widely used spot colour system is Pantone.
Spot colour printing is practical when you are using few colours (no more than three), otherwise it gets expensive (because you need a new plate for each colour).
Also, CMYK can't recreate all Pantone colours. It is a subtractive model as well, but it uses 14 base colours, unlike CMYK's four. The CMYK counterparts are usually really close to the Pantone colours, but sometimes the difference can actually be noticed by the naked eye and you might want to use spot printing.

I won't go into any more details (I couldn't even if I wanted to, I've never had to use spot colours and printing so far), I just brought the subject up because I felt the post would be incomplete if I didn't. If you're interested, you can read more about spot (and global) colour here.

This completes the first part. Check out part 1.5 for an answer to the question What colour space should I work and save my files in?

Coming up: Graphic Design Basics: Colours Pt. 2 - Rich/True Black vs Default CMYK Black.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Copyright issues and Zazzle content guidelines

Is my artwork/design infringing any copyrights? If you are asking yourself that, the answer is probably yes. Well, actually, copyright laws are vague and even if you are familiar with them, your interpretation might be different from that of the other party. So after having wasted some time on designs which turned out to be unusable due to copyright claims, I am now going only with "safe" designs. Here are some quick guidelines: 1. Typefaces are not subject to copyright; fonts (the software used to write with a particular typeface), however, are. Logos can be copyrighted too. So selling a t-shirt with this image:

would be illegal. But this would be OK:

2. Quotes are not subject to copyright, or at least partial quotes. You can't copyright a short phrase like "Baby, I love you", but you can copyright the lyrics to a whole song. The line between a "general" and a "distinctive" quote is vague, I guess, but overall short phrases are OK to use. That's why they couldn't copyright the "Keep Calm and Carry On" phrase, for example. 3. Movie titles and character names are also somewhat vague. Titles are generally not subject to copyright and you can't hold the rights for the name John, of course, but you can't name your dragon Smaug, that's already taken. That's why I had to remove any references to The Hobbit, Smaug and Tolkien from the description of this design:

So it became simply a random dragon. 4. Parody is apparently protected by fair use. But parody as in "criticism on the original subject", and not parody as in "something funny". That's way this design of mine was taken down by Zazzle:

Zazzle received a complaint from the copyright holder and simply notified me that they are taking it down. There wasn't much I could do. I thought this counts either as parody, or is original enough to be considered a separate work of art (I hadn't used any parts of the original "Get Lucky" cover design, I started from scratch, using the image only as reference). But that wasn't the case, or at least I wasn't willing to waste time arguing. At any rate, even if you use a photo/image only as reference, if it's close enough to the original, you can get sued. That's why the Associated Press filed a lawsuit against the guy that made the Obama Hope poster:

(Eventually they settled the thing out of court.) And that's why I can't use this design:

(Originally I couldn't find the copyright holder, but I was conscientious and looked deeper and find out that the photo was taken by John Wyatt. I don't know if this is the writer John Wyatt (1925–2006), but even so, there is still someone holding the rights. (Usually 70 years have to pass since the author's death before the work of art gets into the public domain.) Theoretically, I could find the copyright holder and reach an agreement with him (some people would let you use their work for free, if it is for non-commercial use, but for commercial purposes you'd usually have to pay royalties), but I don't think the wasted time and efforts would be worth it. 5. Depicting celebrities is also illegal. That's why I decided to go for a "stickman" Steve Buscemi in this design, and not for an actual silhouette portrait.

Due to Zazzle's content guidelines, I also had to remove the text below the quote, which said "Mr. Pink". Because Zazzle's guidelines are even stricter. You can find the full list here. The first point, which refers to copyright, is, once again, not very clear. - No text or images that infringe on any intellectual property rights including, but not limited to copyrights, trademarks and rights of privacy/publicity. It is nearly impossible to get a proper explanation out of the support team and my experience with them has been almost as frustrating as this guy's experience with Apple's Genius Bar. Basically what they say (if they say anything at all) is usually this:
Generally speaking, we are unable to carry products containing a copyright or trademark protected title, name, or image. Examples of infringing material include: --pictures and/or names of celebrities --names of characters from books, films, or television shows --titles of books, feature films, television shows, or magazines --images from films, television shows, video games, or the internet
And this doesn't apply only to the design itself, but also to the title, description and tags of the product. That's about it. I hope this might save you some time and troubles. PS Here's a tip - if you use Zazzle's "Quick create" tool to create a batch of products, they are going to be examined carefully and there is a greater chance that they will get rejected. If you create a single product, it gets published directly and while it may get rejected subsequently, this doesn't happen as often. I am not talking only about designs that are in the "grey area" of copyright, I don't condone cheating the system. But designs might get rejected due to other reasons as well, for example tag spam. I had a single product accepted, and then a batch of products with the same design and tags rejected, because of tag spam. (Even though the tags I used were all related to the design.)

PPS If you like the "Get Lucky" design, you can download the hi-res, 300ppi png file (with transparent background and without the StrayCat Graphics logo) here for free and print it at a local shop or whatever you like.

PPPS You can also download the Tolkien design for free here (12" x 12", 300 ppi, transparent background).