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Getting Bricked by Adobe

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

I received this email the other day from reader Randy Arnold:

I know you keep up on things like this, but just in case you didn’t know Adobe is changing their upgrade policy. This is where I found out.

I believe you have mentioned you are using CS3 now and it is probably like your favorite pen and you may not care to upgrade.  Wouldn’t mind hearing…seeing…reading your opinion on upgrading software on your blog.

This from Adobe on their new upgrade policy:

“Special upgrade offer for CS3 and CS4 customers. Take advantage of our special introductory upgrade pricing on Creative Suite 6 for customers who own CS3 and CS4 individual products and suite editions. This temporary upgrade offer is valid through December 31, 2012. After that date, only customers who own CS5 or CS5.5 products will qualify for upgrade pricing to CS6.”

This change in Adobe’s upgrade policy is pretty lousy. Up until now they allowed users to wait up to three versions to upgrade and still qualify for their upgrade pricing. That meant that if you used, for example, CS3 Standard, you could still upgrade to CS6 for the “upgrade” price of $275. As of January 1st, they will only allow the upgrade pricing break from the most recent full version. That would mean paying full price for CS6 if you use earlier than CS5. The full price for CS6 Standard? $1,299.00.

That’s right. $1,299.00!!


I can’t seem to find information on buying upgrades of older versions, which might be considerably cheaper depending on the pricing. If Adobe still allows users to buy an upgrade to CS5 somehow, and keeps the pricing the same, CS4 users could upgrade to CS5 for $275, and then buy the upgrade to CS6 for another $275, or a total of only $550. ONLY? Bleech.

This really is ridiculous. The upgrade pricing on Adobe products is already an outrageous amount. To force customers to upgrade to every new version, or have to go back to full retail pricing is a slap in the face to users who don’t resort to pirated software (very easy to get), and are willing to support the software developer with legitimate upgrade purchases. If a user already purchased the software at full retail price, and let me tell you charging $1,299.00 for a suite of computer programs borders on a criminal offense, then those customers should be able to choose when they want to upgrade for an upgrade price, within reason.

I am currently using CS5.5. I have no interest in upgrading to CS6. There are no features worth the $275 upgrade fee for me. Likely I would upgrade to CS7, simply because if you upgrade your operating system regularly, you need to stay reasonably current with major software as well or you may run into compatibility issues, and maybe this version does have some features I’d really like to have. Now Adobe is telling me if I don’t upgrade to CS6 by the end of the year, they are going to make me pay $1,300 to get CS7??? Unbelievable. No wonder software piracy is so rampant. This kind of pricing and practices like Adobe’s new policy are practically begging people to say “%@#$% you” and just steal their programs. I have NEVER used a pirated program and have always paid for legitimate licenses, even when I had to buy multiple ones for software like Microsoft Office, so each of my kids could have the programs on their laptops for school. Paying twice for the same program just so you can use it on several computers really rankles as well, but I get that policy and paid the money without complaint. Developing software costs money, employs people, and deserves to be supported. This new upgrade policy, however… this is just putting the screws to the people that do legitimately support Adobe and their products.

Why the change? I think they are trying to get people to switch to their new “cloud membership” program. This is a subscription service, wherein you pay a monthly fee, currently $50 a month, and you are automatically upgraded to the latest and greatest with every release.

I can see some attraction here for those who must have the latest version no matter what, but other than those types of users, I don’t see how this idea makes any sense. First of all, my math says that $50 a month equals $600 a year. That’s double the price of a next version upgrade even if that version came out in only one year, and word has it Adobe’s upgrade timetable is going to be about 18 months between major versions. That means you’d be paying $900 in monthly fees to get the next version in 18 months. Why would anyone do that, when you can upgrade for $275? The other features the subscription model offers, like 20 GB of cloud storage, is something you can get many other places for free or next to it. Also, who would want the latest version automatically? Adobe has sometimes added or taken away features I don’t like or didn’t want to see removed. Now I have to deal with that whether I like it or not? New software is also often buggy, and drivers for things like scanners or Wacom tablets/Cintiq might need to catch up to work. No thanks.

This new policy is terrible and a real disservice to longtime users like myself. I’ve been using PhotoShop since version 2.5 around 1993, and have only skipped two upgrades, version 4 and now version 6. I also had separate versions of Illustrator and PageMaker, then InDesign, and got the combined Creative Suite once that came out. I don’t know how much of my money I have paid Adobe over the last almost 20 years, but it’s been in the many thousands. I would think customer loyalty like that warrants highly preferential treatment, not the opposite. I think Adobe needs to step back and rethink their new policy, but I’m not holding my breath they do.

In the meantime, I don’t know if I will surrender to Adobe’s upgrade ransom… uh… OFFER, or stick with version 5.5 until it won’t work with my OS anymore.

Sunday Mailbag

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Q: I wanted to ask you a question about your Photoshop coloring technique: how do you avoid getting ‘spotting’ in Photoshop when you’re using washes? I’m referring to the crossover area between one wash and another: where they intersect there’s an area of brush-shaped darker color caused by laying down a wash with less-than-100% opacity and crossing over it with another wash of less-than-100% opacity. How do you avoid that? Your finished pieces never have that artifacting, which probably has a better term than “spotting.” The video tutorial, while fantastic on its own, does not have the resolution to show something that detailed. So I thought I’d take a shot in the dark and ask! I’ve found all the Mad artists I’ve contacted have been more than receptive to my questions (I had a 6 month or so running conversation about crowd scenes with Tom Bunk a few years ago). It seems like you like to answer fans’ questions too, especially something like this where other people may find it helpful too.

A: I don’t avoid it, I embrace it.

If I understand what you are asking about, that transparency effect is part of the overall effect of making the digitally colored artwork look little real media. Actual watercolor washes do the same thing IF the layer you are washing over is dry.

This study is done is done in real watercolor:

Noe here’s a close-up of a section of the image. You can see that each wash has that darkening of values and mixing of color as one is placed over the other:

Granted, this is not the best example because this is a loose study and not a finished piece, but you get the idea. It’s not something to avoid, it’s a part of the technique and something you have to make work for you.

Here’s a digital colored piece to demonstrate the Photoshop version of the effect:

Here’s a closeup so you can see the wash effects:

It’s smoother than the rough watercolor study, but you can see the same dynamic with the washes overlapping each other creating variations in value and color. The line work holds it together as well.

The basic technique digitally is the same as it is with real watercolor—you build form by building values through washes. All your washes have “holes” in them where you want the lightest values to be. That’s the white of the paper coming through. The next layer of washes has “holes” in different places, creating different values of highlights. When you work digitally, you have the added advantage of being able to completely erase or paint 100% opaque white back over the washes to create lighter values later, whereas with real media painting with white or lighter colors over your washes takes away some of the tranluscent qualities of the color and creates  “chalky” feel to it.

One more point, the process of printing really has an impact on the harshness of some of the edges of these values. What looks stark and blotchy on the screen melts together somewhat in print, giving you a softer and more blended look.

Thanks to Anthony DeLellis for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!

Sunday Mailbag

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

Q: Hey Tom! I sometimes find myself drawing fairly complex settings for many of my cartoon layouts and more often than I would like to admit I frequently end up illustrating things -especially oval related objects- using Photoshop tools. Earlier this year you posted an illustration of some folks washing dishes with stacks of plates all around the sink area. Do you use tools like the “Elliptical  Marquee Tool” to help you achieve some of your artwork or is everything done freehand?

A: Here is the illustration he’s talking about:

Click for a closer look…

While I am all for using the computer to make doing things faster and easier, I won’t do anything to interfere with the cohesive feel of the piece. In other words, if doing something on the computer will make it look out of place in the illustration, I won’t do it that way.

In this illustration, I had to draw several stacks of plates and platters of different sizes all about. The figures and the rest of the illustration were hand-drawn and inked, then scanned and the color done in Photoshop. It would have been easier to leave the dishes out of the inked drawing and use the ellipse tool in Photoshop to create them digitally. Then the dishes would have been perfect ellipses, easy to do and gone much faster. The problem with that is they would have been “perfect ellipses”, with uniform and perfect contours. That would have looked very out-of-place with all the lines and forms inked by hand. They would have looked “digital”, something I try to avoid.

I did use a trick in this illustration to simplify the stacks of dishes. Using an ellipse template (the old-fashioned plastic kind for drawing ellipses of different sizes) I drew just the top plate of each stack in pencil (no food or scraps on it, just the plate) and then inked it with the rest of the drawing. Then after I scanned in the drawing and separated the lines onto their own layer, I selected each top plate line drawing and cut/pasted each to their own layer. Then I created a new layer under each plate and colored it, then merged each with the lines above so I had a single full color plate on a separate layer at the top of each stack. After that it was a simple matter to copy the layers multiple times to create the stacks. I was able to make them “lean” and be somewhat uneven. I would maybe turn one of the layers slightly to break up the monotony. Then I added drips and scraps here and there.

The results are convincing as being totally hand-drawn and in keeping with the rest of the illustration because the lines defining each plate ARE hand-drawn. Using the ellipse template for the pencil drawing keeps the shapes accurate but hand-inking it gives it the right look, imperfections and all. In the same spirit, I hand-ink all the straight lines in the cabinets, flooring and tiles for the same reason… a cohesive, hand-drawn look.

Thanks to Nick Nix of Cicero, ID for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!

Sunday Mailbag

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

Q: I see whenever you mention working digitally, you cite “PhotoShop” as the software you use. Why PhotoShop? Painter seems to be more of an artist-orientated program with a lot more choices for emulating natural media. Why don’t you use Painter?

A: I have also heard that Painter, and least compared to previous versions of PhotoShop, was a much more artistically versatile program. I dabbled in it once and found there was a dizzying number of choices as to drawing and painting media, paper and canvas textures and ways to mimic natural media down to applying watercolor “wet” and then “drying” the watercolor whenever you wished before moving on. Amazing stuff… but for me it was overkill.

I taught myself how to color and paint in PhotoShop, and so that program is the easiest and fastest for me to accomplish what I want to accomplish. I don’t use many filters or tricks, but really just paint using the opacity and size control of a pressure sensitive pen and table (actually the Wacom Cintiq) to get the look I want. Probably there are a lot of easier ways to accomplish the same look, but it works for me. Therefore, I go by the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

No doubt if I had taught myself on Painter I’d be using Painter and not PhotoShop, but I didn’t. Painter offered too many choices and the learning curve was too steep compared to the relative simplicity of PhotoShop, so I went that route.

It looks to me that PhotoShop is closing the gap with respect to natural media emulation. I have CS5 but find myself still working in CS4 because some of the new features are a pain.

Thanks to Terry J. for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me your questions and I’ll try and answer them here!

Sunday Mailbag

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Q: Like yourself I prefer to ink and scan. I do use a digital pen for all the colouring, washes and so forth but for the fine detail of the lining I prefer the real thing. So, I notice not all of your artwork is black outlined, some of your work you colour the lining to match the area it is next to, so perhaps a brown for the lining around the skin, blue for jeans, gray for hair and so on. So my question is, do you alter the colour of the lines in Photoshop or do you use inks or paints on paper first and then scan it in?

A: A few years ago I began experimenting with a colored line style of illustration that was essentially my MAD line and color style but with… wait for it… colored lines. It didn’t change my approach at all but made the final results more painterly looking and softer, which many art directors like better than the more cartoon looking black line.

Here’s an example:

Click for a closer look…

I ink the illustration as usual with black ink, then color the lines in PhotoShop. It’s easy to do. First follow these instructions to create the linework on it’s own otherwise transparent layer:

  1. Scan line art as grayscale image
  2. Create a new blank layer, rename it “Inks”
  3. Go to the “Channels” palette, there is only one channel called “Gray”
  4. At the bottom of the channels palette, click the “dashed circle” icon entitled “Load Channel as Selection”
  5. In “Select” drop down menu, select “Inverse”
  6. Go to your “Inks” layer
  7. Press “D” on your keyboard to reset swathes so full black in active color
  8. Press “Option” + “”Delete” to fill selection with black
  9. On background layer, press “Command” + “A” to select and then “Delete” to delete line art on that layer
  10. Convert to RGB or CMYK

With the line layer as the active layer, go to the layer’s palette. Above the list of layers, there is the word “Lock:” followed by several icons. Click the first icon, the box with the checkered pattern. This locks the transparent areas of the layer. After that, color will only “stick” to the lines, allowing you to paint them any color with the brush tool and maintain the line integrity.

Thanks to Scott Evans for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me your questions and I’ll try and answer them here!

On the Drawing Board- 1/4/11

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

The Holidays through me for a loop, so I am very busy playing catch up on several projects right now:

  • Cover illustration for Reason Magazine
  • finishing 6 page TV show parody for MAD
  • Over 100 new congressional faces for the “Bobble Rep” app
  • finishes of illustrations for comedian/entertainer who can’t be named
  • January Marlin poster illustration

Speaking of Marlin workplace posters, here is last month’s illustration (click any image for a closer look)-

Final artwork

Pencil rough

Finished inks

Sunday Mailbag

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

Q: How did you execute your Holmes graphic (see above) ? Did you scan the material for the clothing and hat then skew it in Photoshop.  It looks very cool ! Maybe you don’t want to share your secret. I hope you do.

A: It’s not really any kind of secret. It’s just some simple Photoshop trickery. I didn’t save a “step by step” nor did I save the original pattern files, so I will just have to explain it. I do have the original unflattened file so you can see the various elements.

First, I inked the image and scanned it as I always do, then moved the line work to it’s own layer.

Then I painted the background using the paintbrush tool and some airbrush type brushes:

Then I painted the face using my techniques explained HERE:

Finally, the part you asked about… the clothing. Holmes is famous for wearing a type of pattern called “houndstooth”. A simple google of “Houndstooth Pattern” yielded several nice samples. Sorry I didn’t;t save the exact file and I couldn’t find what looked like the same one again, but any decent one would do. I created a single rectangle of the pattern, and then using the “Image>Adjustment>Hue/Saturation” feature I changed the color to a nice green/red for the hat. Then I simply copied the rectangle and moved it “under” each section of panel of the hat, between the seams. Then I used the “Edit>Transform>Distort” feature on the rectangle to create the illusion of perspective and direction of the pattern for each panel. I also would rotate or skew the rectangle to get it to fit in the bill or back of the hat. Then I would erase away the parts of the rectangle not needed to fill the particular panel I was working on. Then I did the same thing for the next panel of the hat.

I again used “Image>Adjustment>Hue/Saturation” to change the colors to a more brown/red for the jacket. I used the same method to alter the rectangle to fill in the various sections of the jacket. Here’s what that layer looks like with the rest hidden:

The shading was done using the “Burn” tool primarily, with some additional painting using a brush on “multiply” mode so it would not have any opacity effect on the pattern.

It’s a pretty simple way to approximate a complex pattern on clothing, but you have to use it warily as it makes for a shocking and out-of-place realism in an otherwise cartoon illustration. I generally dislike the use of realistic textures or patterns in cartoon illustration, and do not use it much. I did use the same method when I did some Spider-Man and Superman illustrations for MAD KIDS, but I created the patterns myself that time:

In this case I was able to use the magic wand tool to isolate the inside ovals or diamonds from the background material and create some shiny light effects that gave the costumes a little more volume and texture.

Thanks to Michael Garisek for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!

New PhotoShop Line Art Trick

Friday, June 6th, 2008

For years I’ve been using an easy trick to create a layer in PhotoShop containing my scanned, inked line art that remains intact as I color “beneath it” sort of like an animation cell. It’s a simple thing to do:

  1. Scan line art as grayscale image
  2. Duplicate background layer containing inked art, rename “Inks”
  3. Set layer mode to “Multiply”
  4. On background layer, press “Command” + “A” to select and then “Delete” to delete line art on that layer
  5. Convert to RGB or CMYK

Finished. Because “Multiply” mode means that whatever is on that layer in “multiplied” with what is below it, all the black lines stay intact and all the subtle gray lines become transparent and overlay the color I place beneath it, while all the white becomes transparent. Neat, easy trick.

Except nothing is ever easy, is it?

There are two difficulties with that technique. First, the white areas on the multiply mode are not gone, they are merely inert when in Multiply mode. This means that once you take that final step and “flatten” the image for sending to the client, all the white areas combine with the lower color layers. Since it’s in Multiply mode when flattened that just means any color below it takes over and the white in effect is gone. That works great IF you have only one layer of lines in Multiply mode. But what if you need to have different layers of objects in a given illustration for some reason? Then it does not work, because if you merge a multiply layer with another layer, any areas on the other layer that have no color in them become opaque white, and no transparency is transferred. In other words, if you want to have a single figure, inked and colored, on it’s own layer on top of a background illustration you cannot do that with the “multiply trick, because once you merge the multiplied inked figure layer with it’s separate colored layer, the “white” comes back all around the figure:

© 2008 Tom Richmond
The linework for the boat and the color beneath the boat are their own layers
in this image, with lines for background beneath and color for background beneath
that. It looks like this if flattened to all together at once.

© 2008 Tom Richmond
This is what happens if I just merge the boat line layer with it’s colored
underlayer. The white on the inked layer comes back.

You can select the white areas with the magic wand tool and delete them to create the transparency, but that is problematic as the wand tool doesn’t do a very good job of making good edges and you end up with a kind of “halo” effect that necessitates a lot of clean up around your image. I’m working on a job right now that requires a multiple layered final file, and this is a real headache.

There is a larger problem with this technique, though, and it applies to the process of four color printing. I just learned about this from MAD after I noticed that the blacks in my “30 Rock” parody seemed dull and washed out compared to other MAD jobs.

“Multiply” mode doesn’t just drop the black linework “on top” of the color… it literally multiplies it with the color below. That means that your black areas aren’t just 100% black, but they are black plus the cyan, magenta and yellow inks of the color beneath it. All blacks in a CMYK printed image are more than just 100% black ink… they have the other inks in there as well (in fact, PhotoShop has a setting for “rich black” in CMYK mode that is a specific combination of the four inks in percentages), but the density of the inks easily becomes very heavy when using the Multiply trick.

The problem with this in printing terms is that ink density (the percentage of each of the four colors) has it’s limits for the printer, yet PhotoShop literally dictates the ink density based on absolute percentages. You have 4 different inks in CMYK printing: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Each can be up to 100% coverage. Therefore the max ink density is 400%, meaning 100% of all four colors. Printing a 400% ink density is impossible… it will never dry. PhotoShop’s default color setting profile calls for a max of 300% ink density, but even that is a little strong and those settings do not apply in PhotoShop to an image you are working on, but only to those that have been converted to that color profile. So, you may be working in a profile like CMYK SWOP v2 (default North American printing setting) but you can easily exceed that 300% ink density when working, especially using the multiply line trick. Printer’s want lower ink densities. MAD‘s printer, by example, wants a max ink density of 280%. Working in RGB and then converting to CYMK will limit you to a 300% ink density (or whatever the profile calls for), but I don’t trust conversion like that to keep the colors right.

So, in an effort to figure out a better way, I discussed it with several knowledgeable PhotoShop gurus and found a different line art trick that works around these issues. It’s called the “Channel” line art trick, and it works just as well and almost as easily, but results in a layer of line art where the white is literally not there and yet the black and gray lines are merely transparent as opposed to being in multiply mode, which results in a lesser ink density.

Here’s the process:

  1. Scan line art as grayscale image
  2. Create a new blank layer, rename it “Inks”
  3. Go to the “Channels” palette, there is only one channel called “Gray”
  4. At the bottom of the channels palette, click the “dashed circle” icon entitled “Load Channel as Selection”
  5. In “Select” drop down menu, select “Inverse”
  6. Go to your “Inks” layer
  7. Press “D” on your keyboard to reset swathes so full black in active color
  8. Press “Option” + “”Delete” to fill selection with black
  9. On background layer, press “Command” + “A” to select and then “Delete” to delete line art on that layer
  10. Convert to RGB or CMYK

Using this technique, your line art layer will contain all your lines but the white will be gone, rather than just inert due to the multiply mode. So instead of this:

© 2008 Tom Richmond

You get this:

© 2008 Tom Richmond

The great thing is that the channels trick also preserves the subtle gray lines and any washes or values you had in the original inks, as the selection of the channel is smart enough to not just select the absolutes but also the transparencies of the image. You can use this trick to create as many layers of line and colored objects as you want and merge them at will to create layered images. best of all, the transparent black reacts differently to merging than the “multiplied” black, resulting in lower ink densities.

The one caveat here is that you should scan your lines in at a higher resolution for this technique to make sure you do not lose any linework. I do most of my inks at 200% of print size, so that is plenty large if I scan at 300 dpi. If I was inking at 150% or closer to print size, I’d bump up the resolution of my scan to twice print resolution, or say 600 dpi as opposed to 300 dpi.

I am sure this technique has been used by many people, is all over the internet and I am hardly the originator of it, but it was cool nonetheless to “figure it out”.

Isn’t shop talk fun?

PhotoShop Disasters

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Still under the gun with work before the big Reubens trip, but rather than post the Dreaded Deadline Demon I thought I’d share a link to a website I recently discovered that is both a lot of fun and very sad at the same time.

PhotoShop Disasters is a website that’s a little like Jay Leno‘s “Stupid Headlines” skits on “The Tonight Show“… except funny. Contributors send in bad PhotoShop jobs and the authors poke fun at the results. Here’s one from a recent post at PsD:

Ooops. One too many hands! That guys must have trouble with “hand” penalties.

There are many examples, some subtle enough you have to look for them and some so horrible you wonder how in the world some of these people got jobs. Sure, there are thousands of community art colleges out there cranking out tens of thousands of graduates with degrees in “graphic design”, but are there really people out there putting together print ads where they forget to place both legs on a model?:

These are fun to laugh at, although I would be lying if I said I hadn’t screwed up a few illustrations in my time with dumb mistakes… including recently where I literally gave one of the figures in a poster image two left feet. D’OH!


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