Will Low Image Quality Destroy High-Quality Printing?

On February 17, Rachel Sterne, the newly appointed Chief Digital Officer for the City of New York, re-tweeted a post on the promotion of several EMS members. In her desire to share the event with her throngs of social media followers, she also re-tweeted a photo of the event on stage.

Photo Quality from a Blackberry Tour
Note the image quality from the picture taker’s BlackBerry Tour. Just like most people’s smartphones, the camera was probably covered with dust, pocket lint, and grime from daily use, which resulted in the out-of-focus image shared by Sterne. Sharing the image is great, good PR and all, but it undermines the public’s expectation of high-quality images.

Photography in the early twentieth century was nothing compared to what technology and digital image sensors can do today. Early photographic lenses, camera technology, and image-capture methods could only produce soft, poorly sharpened, grainy images. Film grain does add an aesthetic quality to early images that is difficult to reproduce with digital image sensors, but there’s no contest between an old image and a professional digital photo.

Traditional photographic printing technology, using chemical or silver-based processes, was designed to create a continuous-tone image where the human eye cannot discern the grain or image pattern. Halftone printing systems were created to mimic that continuous-tone process using a series of aligned dots separated by four printed ink colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). Using the weakness of the human eye, the halftone system can achieve pseudo-continuous tone with a sufficiently resolved image (300 dpi) and properly executed print quality (line screen, screen angle, dot uniformity, registration). This is the high-quality printing that has existed for the last 30–40 years and was printed on modern presses using the four-color printing process (CMYK).

As the media “publish” more and more low-quality cell phone images, the expectation of quality will be diluted. High-resolution, sharp, well-composed images will become the exception, not the norm, and high-quality printing will no longer be required. The printing industry has invested huge amounts of cash over the past twenty years developing digital imaging technology––primarily ink-jet and electro-photographic technologies––that can mimic continuous tone. Sure, printers can print low-quality, pixelated images just as easily as they can high-resolution images, but as a graphic arts professional trained to identify those low-quality images, I must object.

How can we stop high-quality image annihilation?

Destroy all low-quality image sensors worldwide. Not a viable option unfortunately, but if it were, I would eliminate a few typefaces as well.

What do you think? How can we stop the slaying of high-quality images?

Author: John Carew

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