Technical Illustration vs. Life’s Reality


There are illustrations and then there is re-working reality. Representing reality doesn’t have to be totally accurate but in a way, has to look better than the real thing. The ‘rebuilt’ hose and couplings get the point across, but for the lighting to get better would be beyond the scope – and ROI – of the project. The valve has a combination of Illustrator and Photoshop; just enough time was given to clean up the image for a sale.

Could it be more accurate? Of course, but the investment in time against what was paid for the piece would never justify itself.

On the cylinder illustration below, the text doesn’t curve exactly right, but at 350 pixels wide, it’s hardly noticeable and not critical. The shadows could be darker, but only on the web. In print, the image will get darker from dot gain, so it’s a good compromise for both.

refrigerant cylinder

Often industrial equipment doesn’t photograph well. Installation instructions are hard to understand from photos.

One of the “bread & butter” ways of illustrating is to make diagrams and drawings of parts that need a near reality image, either for an on-line or print sales catalogue, or for pictorial assembly and operations instruction booklet.

But not too close to reality. You just want to get the point across for the client to see. This is art that isn’t art, but in the eye of the client it should be clean and respecting the product. Assembly drawings should be clear and open so not to clog up during printing; to serve their purpose as information.

It’s important to find that sweet spot of making and selling a technical image & still making a living.

Digital vs. Analog for Colour Control

watercolour - girl skiing

My illustration of the girl skiing was done with mixed-media water colours on art board. It was photographed and film stripped into position. There is a huge loss of detail going from analog work to film to print, You can lose 15-20% detail in a commercial print project from camera work and approximately 18% dot gain in 4-colour CMYK print methods. What you get is “analog generation loss” of quality, controlled mostly by guess work and moderated by experience. Saving old artwork often will mean reworking it digitally if within costs.

The girl skiiing is a scan from the final printed brochure. There is loss of quality and subtlety in the fine detail and in colour print reproduction. Digital work, however remains pristene from origination to press.

Illustrator - Dogwood flower

The dogwood flower and leaves were done digitally in Illustrator [Wacom tablet] using vectors to form colour boundaries. The graduations of colour [controlled palette] can be done with gradient fills with complete colour control on all anchor point controls. Digital wins on final controls but the secret is knowing when to stop ‘adjusting’ for best return on a project.

When painting with brushes the fun is in the accidental flow and blending of colours, and digital photography of analog work has come a long way to capture the subtleties of watercolours or any paint medium. Print control of dot gain has come a long way as well to allow better control for print to paper in software such as Adobe InDesign; which has ‘flight controls’ to simulate dot gain on different matt coated or gloss papers.

WHIMIS 2015 – Redrawing to Correct “Analog Generation Loss”

Generation loss vs. redrawing

Back around 2008, I was helping with a Powerpoint presentation on the infamous WHIMIS label and all the variations on things that are safety cautious.

I can only wonder why an important set of images are so horrible. They must be based on, as an old friend would say, “the image looked like a photoengraving of a facsimile [FAX] of a photocopy”.

The pictograms are most likely reproduced from old hand drawn originals and printed reproductions [repros] that were copied over and over until the detail is gone or distorted. Paste up artists would often reuse images from 2nd or 3rd generations, then retouch the printed material, then photostat [large camera and repasted quick-print] it back into production. This analog reprocessing degraded the quality over and over, often until images were often unrecognizable.

whimis skull pictogramwhimis skull pictogram
whimis biohazard pictogramwhimis biohazard pictogram
whimis corrosion pictogramwhimis corrosion pictogram
whimis exclamation pictogramwhimis exclamation pictogram
whimis exploding pictogramwhimis exploding pictogram
whimis flammable material pictogramwhimis flammable material pictogram
whimis gas cylinder pictogramwhimis gas cylinder pictogram
whimis health hazard pictogramwhimis health hazard pictogram
whimis oxidizing pictogramwhimis oxidizing pictogram

Here are my versions of the WHIMIS 2015 [Canadian] pictograms, redrawn for better detail for size reduction, printability and recognition.

“Generation loss” is defined as:

“Generation loss is the loss of quality between subsequent copies or transcodes of data. Anything that reduces the quality of the representation when copying, and would cause further reduction in quality on making a copy of the copy, can be considered a form of generation loss. File size increases are a common result of generation loss, as the introduction of artifacts may actually increase the entropy of the data through each generation.”

The pictograms are usually used at a small size on WHIMIS labels on industrial chemical containers. I needed them for a PowerPoint and projected on a number of screenings for a large audience. To do it best, the images had to be redrawn. I did quite a number of industrial and safety icons, but the WHIMIS used today [since 2015] are available here. WHIMIS 2015 Canadian set includes PNG images [pixel] and PDF [vector] that are large but can be easily rescaled without loss of detail. The black diamond versions would only be used for B&W prints.

You’re welcome to use them, but they are my own versions so you might have to get approval. Let me know in the contact page if you can use them.

If you like, buy me a coffee sometime.