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Estimate Software- Printing software that helps you find the hidden treasure in your business.

Scan, Edit, Save, and Create: Innovative Sign Design

"What you see is what you will get."

By Staff

When new customers enter your sign shop, you do not want them to leave unless they have put down a deposit or paid in full for a new or redesigned sign. So you must be able to impress them with a guarantee of quality results. The best way to impress customers is to show them a sample of the new improved sign that looks as "real" as the original photo of the sign. Then, if your sign painters are reliable, you can almost promise, "What you see is what you will get."

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  • Too create a lifelike sample of the new design, you must first take, as discussed in "Photography and Signs: An Efficient Tradition," a well-planned quality photograph of the sign.

    After you have a quality photograph of the original sign, creating a new design is only a matter of scanning the photo into your favorite photo editing software and manipulating whatever features need improvement or replacement.

    In the last few years, the price of professional quality scanners has dropped so much that you should-if you haven't already--purchase your own scanner. This is more convenient than having your photos scanned at a service bureau.

    You will also need to make sure that your computer has plenty of RAM and a large, fast hard drive. Too little RAM and hard drive space will make photo-editing a slow, frustrating, and counter-productive process.

    Usually, the software comes with documentation (instructions) that suggests the amount of RAM and drive space needed. You can also visit your local computer store and get advice about whether or not you need to upgrade your computer system. Upgrading may cost a few extra dollars, but you will make up for them in the amount of time and hassle you will save.

    If possible, scan the photo directly into your photo-editing software. This scanning saves you time because as soon as the picture is scanned, you can begin working on the design.

    Usually, you will be able to choose the resolution at which the photo will be scanned. Common sense tells you that the larger the image and the higher the resolution, the more disk space it will use. Resolution is measured by the number of dots per inch (dpi). Typically, you can get a decent image by scanning at 150 dpi to 300 dpi, although most shops are using 600 dpi quality images.

    Though your scanner may be able to scan at a higher resolution, you need to be sure that your computer has enough RAM and drive space to work efficiently with a larger file. Plus, your printer may not be able to print at as high a resolution as you scanner can scan. It would be pointless to waste the time and space a high-resolution scan would devour if you would not be able to print at that resolution.

    Normally, the original photo size is 3.5" x 5" or 4" x 6." You will want the new design sample to be larger, from 8" x 10" to 11" x 14," (depending on your printer's capability) so that the customer can appreciate the details of the new sign idea.

    Most programs allow you to proportionally change the size of the image before scanning, just as you would use the enlarge option on a copy machine. If you are printing onto 8 1/2" x 11" paper, enlarge the photo about 200%.

    Some image editing or scanning software also lets you rotate and crop the image before you scan it. This is an important step whether you do it before you scan or after you scan. Some background is okay so that the customer can see how the sign will look in its chosen location, but too much extra space will distract the eye and lessen the impact the new design will have on the customer.

    You can also improve the presentation of the final design by feathering the edges of the scanned image (not the sign itself). This softens and dissolves the edges of the image onto the paper on which it is printed.

    As soon as the photo is scanned, save it in your computer. Then using the duplicate or "save as" command, make a second copy of the image. This way, you can quickly recover the original image if you are not satisfied with the results of your initial image editing.

    Unless your computer has an automatic "save" default at a given time interval, update the backup copy periodically, so that if problems occur, you can at least go back to your last successful editing result.

    Once the photo is scanned and saved, the fun part begins. You get to experiment with your ideas for a better sign design. Or, if your customer wants an "hands-on" approach, you get to attempt to recreate your customer's sketch or verbalized version of the ultimate sign.

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    Unless you are creating a totally different design, you will want to use the masking tool when editing the image. Masking is used to protect parts of an image from change while using other editing processes. For example, by protecting the fashion model in the foreground with a mask, you can experiment with a multitude of backgrounds until you find one that better sets off the image. During this process you will not have to worry about accidentally distorting the image or blotching it. Masking assures that you won't go outside the lines.

    You mask an area by selecting sections of it. Each time you select an area, save the mask. The mask is gradually built as you select and save each area.

    The type of file that you save the mask as will depend on the program you are using. Some sign designers save the mask as part of the original image's file, while others save the mask as a separate object.

    Most programs are very forgiving during the masking process. If the mask initially does not come out right, you can easily add to or subtract from it. Just be sure to save your changes.

    Masking might be a tricky process if you don't work with image editing software everyday. Patience and practice will help you master this tool.

    A new design can be created with drawing or illustrating software. Depending on the type of new design, you may simply be able to import an image from the scanner or a stored file, or you may need to create a new design image yourself.

    Remember that you want the new design sample to look life-like and to be a usable example. So you must make sure the design is scaled in real-world dimensions. It is not fun to create a stunning design only to find that it could not, unless distorted, fit on the original sign surface.

    Save the new design in a bitmap format.
    As you move through the following process, be sure to save you work often.
    Before copying and pasting the new design into the original scanned photo, feather the edges of the new design a little. This effect will help it blend into the original photo.
    Copy the new design. Then select the background or section of the photo that the new design will replace. You may have already defined this area with the masking option.
    Feather this selection, and paste in the new design. Edit the image as needed by pulling corners, adjusting the perspective, skewing it, or simply moving the new design so it fills in the old one. Don't be afraid to let the new design go slightly outside of the lines.
    Finally, you need to do some fine-tuning to make the new sign design look life-like. Blend the designs and create a consistent color tone by making adjustments with the noise, blur, and shadow tools. Skipping this step may result in a very unnatural amateurish design that resembles the quality of those crazy head swapping designs you create with the kids on your computer at home. Your customers will not be impressed.
    And unless you charged a fee for the design sample, your valuable time is wasted and your pockets are empty.

    At first, creating a realistic looking new design may be a frustratingly tedious process. But with patience and practice, you will get more familiar with the capabilities of your image editing software.

    Experience will ease the design editing process. The results will make customers happy, and they may even come back to your shop with money and friends in hand.

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